Can Your Organization Afford a Grant Writer?

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As you peruse lists of grants and funding opportunities, do you find yourself asking, “Do I actually have time to write a grant application?”

Many nonprofit leaders find themselves in this predicament. Can you really carve out time to write a lengthy application for a grant that isn’t a sure thing? Even if you write a killer proposal for a well-organized project, you may not get funded. That’s just the nature of grants.

And for nonprofits on a tight budget, hiring a grant writer may not seem like the best use of limited funds. But we would posit that grant writing is an investment. When you allocate funds to hire a professional grant writer, you’re investing in a product you can use multiple times.

Here’s what we mean. Once you have a beautifully crafted proposal for an on-target project, you can use the application for other funding opportunities. Of course, you’ll need to modify it to match the new funder’s requirements, but the bulk of the work will be complete. There’s no downside.

But can your organization afford a grant writer? Here are some things to consider.

Think about the time required to write a grant

A lot goes into grant writing, including locating funding opportunities from governing bodies, private foundations and other grant-making organizations. Consider the time it takes to find opportunities that mesh with your project, write the proposal narrative, create budgets, pull together documentation and letters of support, research and write needs assessments and more. It amounts to a full-time position.

That’s why hiring a grant writer is the best way for your organization to seek grant funding without overextending your existing employees. When you have someone solely focused on the grant application, you’ll get a better product than if you try to find time to write the application in between your other job duties.

Look for out-of-the-box ways to pay for a grant writer

You can’t pay a grant writer using a portion of the funds they generate. Grant programs don’t work like that, and if you try it, you may have your funding revoked. Plus, the practice stands in stark contrast to the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) for nonprofit fundraising and is frowned upon by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Grant Professionals Association.

What you can do is look for a foundation to pay for the grant writer fees. Many private and corporate foundations are taking this approach to build capacity among smaller nonprofits. 

Consider how grant writers are paid

Grant writers don’t work on commission. You should expect to pay a grant writer a fee, even if their efforts never generate money for your organization. Freelance or contract grant writers generally bill by the hour or as a flat fee for the entire project. A grant writer’s experience will dictate their hourly rates. Highly experienced grant writers may charge $100 or more an hour; novice grant writers may charge $20 an hour. Grant writing is like any other service. You get what you pay for, even if you have someone else foot the bill. 

Hourly rates are suitable for smaller, less complicated grants. If you’re applying for complex federal grants, the grant writer’s hourly fees could get relatively high. It’s not uncommon for a federal grant application package to require 50 hours of work or more.  In these cases, it is to your advantage to hire a grant who works on retainer. That means you pay the writer a flat fee in exchange for a certain number of hours. If the project exceeds those hours, you pay the balance at an hourly rate. This approach lets you know exactly how much you’ll spend on the grant writing project.

An important caveat: Seek out an ethical grant writer who won't take your project if it isn't viable. Unfortunately, there are plenty of writers out there who will happily take your money even though they know your project doesn't have a chance of being funded. 

Hiring a grant writer is a sound investment

Hiring a freelance grant writer makes perfect sense when you consider the time required to compile a grant application. Remember – writing a grant application is an investment for the future. The application doesn’t just go away after you hit submit – you can reuse the work in future funding opportunities.  

Additionally, most federal grants are going to be at least $100,000 and usually a good deal more. Paying $10,000 to a grant writer to secure that funding is an amazing return on investment, especially considering federal grants usually allow an indirect cost recovery of 10%. Therefore, the indirect costs you budget into your project can be used to offset a portion of the grant writer's fees. 

With more creative ways to pay for grant writing services available today, you really can’t afford not to hire a grant writer for your nonprofit.


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