How to Break Into the Lucrative World of Grant Writing

How to Break Into the Lucrative World of Grant Writing

As a freelance writer, you’re likely constantly searching for well-paying, recurring gigs. But often the pickings are slim. You might feel stuck with one-off assignments that pay only meager returns.

That’s where grant writing offers a huge opportunity.

I started grant writing as a college intern, then for a small after-school nonprofit program, and never looked back. Now, 13 years later, I run a seven-person team at Professional Grant Writers, and we work with organizations around the world to develop and maintain robust grant writing programs.

Why you should consider writing grants

Grant writers are in high demand for nonprofits hoping to raise money for operations, capital expenses, events and programs. 

This type of work can be incredibly rewarding. You could have the opportunity to work with a nonprofit that is impacting the world, affecting change on a local, regional or even worldwide basis. You can work for causes that speak to your values, and perhaps have opportunities to learn more about certain social issues and meet amazing agents of change. 

Even better, as a grant writer, you’ll help fund that important work, making it possible for these changemakers to continue or even expand their efforts.

Do grant writers make good money?

Yes! This work pays well: as a freelance grant writer, you can start out charging about $25 an hour and work your way up to $100 an hour, though this varies depending on the organization you’re working for. 

Even better? Nonprofits often look to enter into long-term contracts with a reliable grant writer. They may have a large volume of grants due every month, so you can earn good, steady income – all while working from home.

If you dip your toes into this arena and want to turn it into a full-time career, a typical grant writer salary is about $48,000/year according to Payscale, and $54,000/year according to Glassdoor.

Here’s something to watch out for, though: while some nonprofits may ask to pay a grant writer a commission, or a percentage of the grant award, this is considered an unethical practice. Instead, look to earn an hourly or project rate for your work. 

What is grant writing?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to write a grant, let’s take a step back and review some of the basics.

Grant writing is the process of filling out a grant application for funding from an entity like a foundation, corporation or government body. The process can be straightforward, involving simply writing a few sections of text and disclosing some basic financial information, or it can be complex, with lengthy guidelines that require nuanced, well-crafted responses. 

Grant writers need to have a keen eye for detail, a love of research, and a working knowledge of nonprofits, finances, sociology, politics and more. It’s a trade that requires a wide-ranging skill set  and a sense of curiosity. With all of these components, grant writers can craft reasoned, compelling applications that help their clients win crucial funding.

How to become a grant writer

Keen to launch your grant-writing career? Here are a few tips for getting started.

Consider a grant-writing certification

If you’ve never written a grant before, consider taking a grant-writing course and even earning your grant-writing certification.

Introductory grant writing classes are usually available at community colleges and universities, or you can find online training that will cover the basics over the course of just a few weeks. Nonprofitready.org offers several free courses on grant writing, and GrantSpace and the Grant Training Center offer instruction, too.

From there, you may want to pursue a more strenuous course through the Grant Professionals Certification Institute. Lots of grant-writing certification programs exist, but this one is the most extensive and well respected.

I decided not to get certified because I had significant experience in grant writing before launching my business, but if you’re just starting out, certification can help you gain credibility and overcome a limited background.

Connect with organizations that rely on grants

One way to get started is volunteering at a nonprofit, even if your tasks are nowhere near grant writing. Assist at fundraising auctions, help an office with data entry, join a board, work a phone bank, solicit event sponsorships — any of these options will help you get a foot in the door with a nonprofit and learn about the organization’s needs.

Contributing your time to administrative and fundraising initiatives will help you see the inner workings of this type of organization, more so than direct-service volunteering. You’ll build connections as you build your business.

Nonprofits often form a small, tight-knit community, so your volunteering will help get your name out there — and maybe even turn into a paying gig.

Finally, consider volunteering your grant writing services to a local nonprofit as you’re starting out. While I wouldn’t recommend doing this for long, it will help you build a solid portfolio. Having a few grants under your belt and a nonprofit or two to vouch for you will help you sell your services as a paid grant writer when you’re ready.

Build your network in the fundraising community

In addition to lending a hand at a specific nonprofit, join your regional professional fundraisers organization or local nonprofit employee organization. Any professional organization along those lines that meets regularly is a good place for you to meet other people in the industry and eventually shop your services.

Other professional groups can be helpful, too. Maybe there’s a young professionals group that meets for cocktails and networking, or something similar. These won’t be as directly helpful as shaking hands directly with nonprofit professionals and other fundraisers, but it can’t hurt to get your name out there.

Make business cards, build a website, and add your grant writing work to your email signature; these are all great ways to create a legitimate business and to market your services effectively. And when you attend networking events, hand out as many business cards as you can.

I find that even though grant writing is a growing profession — especially among freelance writers — there’s still lots of room for more writers.

How to write a grant proposal

How do you write a grant proposal? Each grant proposal is its own beast. A grantmaker like the Gates Foundation, for example, does things differently than the small family foundation based in rural Kansas. Each has its own worldview, and its own process of vetting potential grantees.

Most grant applications do have some similarities, though. The application will likely ask for an organization’s mission statement, vision, and program details. It will also ask how much money the applicant is requesting, and you’ll need to include a detailed budget that shows how the funds will be put to use.

The most challenging — and important — parts of any grant proposal are the outcomes section and the accomplishments section. Here, grantmakers want to know: What are you planning to accomplish with our money? What exactly is going to change in society as a result of your work? And, have you done this work before? If so, prove to us that your organization has a long and impressive track record of moving the needle for a specific population or in addressing a specific problem. 

The grantmaker wants to see detailed, well developed statistics that the applicant organization is capable of making changes in the world, in accordance with its mission and vision. Most grant funders receive piles and piles of grant applications, so those with proof of their efficacy are the most likely to be funded time and again. It’s your job as a grant writer to lay out all of this proof and argue that your client deserves the money. 

Want more ideas? We write frequently about the various aspects of grant writing and offer tips and best practices on our Professional Grant Writers website.

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Photo via Tero Vesalainen/ Shutterstock 

Filed Under: Freelancing

23 comments

  • Meredith says:

    This is a GREAT blog post! Another resource that aspiring grant writers may consider in their journey to becoming grant writing unicorns is the online grant writing course at http://www.learngrantwriting.org. 🦄

  • Gayle Lynn says:

    Hello,

    The Buck $tarts Here; How To Write Successful Grants Webinars

    I have been a grant writer for decades and agree with everything Megan Hill kindly shared. I did not take any courses, I learned from a coworker, plus I managed Grant’s and was a grant reader for the State Dept of Education in CA…that experience really taught me how to write successful grants.

    I will be providing a webinars starting in mid Dec., 2020 for those who wish to learn. I have written successful Grant’s and taught others how to do so for youth programs, churches, schools, fire depts., etc.

    Now I enjoy teaching others how, and Coaching them.

    I will place notifications on facebook, Mastermind.com and other sites.

    I truly look forward to speaking you.

    Gayle Lynn
    Thank you, Megan.

  • ranaayyan says:

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    If you run other sites in any niche and language, feel free to share the list along with the above information.I am looking forward to working with you!

  • Eliah says:

    I am an experienced grant writer with over a decade of successful career in the industry. However, I live in Europe where this particular industry in nowhere near as developed as it is in the USA. Do you think it is reasonable to try and find the grant writing job in the USA before I settle there? Me and my family have been thinking about relocating to America for a long time, so I am currently trying to find a sustainable way for doing that. Thanx in advance for your advice!

  • Hello,

    Take a look at the OpenGrants Academy certification–it is cost-effective in that you literally walk out with a client book. I get paid $125/hr… and write SBIRs at a rate of 20k or more per grant… 3 or 4 a quarter…

    I think it was the best investment I have ever made… they do all the client-finding and whatnot and pay you upfront (30%) if you pass your certification test and choose to freelance with them.

    I would do it again and again… https://academy.opengrants.io/

  • Gregory Creppel says:

    I’m looking for help with writing a grant for my nonprofit organization we don’t have money to pay for a grant writer can somebody please help do this for free we’ve been working in our community for 15 years teaching our Native American culture and selling cupcakes to put a Native American camp on our goal is to get a building where we can host our own Native American camps we are now a 501 c 3 nonprofit

  • Q.Murray says:

    Can someone who has a grip on grant writing please point me in the right direction On where exactly to begin and become certified. Im a truck driver but my passion is helping the youth(hence starting my own nonprofit)…..Im a writer part time and am interested in grant writing….thank you

  • Ella says:

    I am very interested in becoming a grant writer. My goal is to be able to help non-profit organizations achieve their funding goals especially churches. Many preachers don’t have funding because they don’t know how to go about writing Grant’s so I want to be a help to the body of Christ plus other organizations.

  • Gina says:

    Hi I was recently asked if I could do some grant writing for a non profit where I volunteer. I want to know what percentage of the grant should I charge as a fee and how to ensure that the fees are actually turned over to me.
    How do I ensure that I am notified of the amount and date that the grant is received?
    How do I make sure mine percentage is paid over? Is there a contract?

  • Jackie says:

    Hello, I am not a writer but I am very interested in writing grants for non-profits or small businesses, and getting paid. I have volunteered for many years with grassroots organizations, but for free. Is there any special certification I should consider (besides the grant writing certification) to prepare myself for this kind of work? Would a certification from a grant writing course and experience in grassroots organization be sufficient for businesses to take me seriously?

  • Jasmine says:

    Wonderful article. I have been wanting to get into grant writing for years. What online courses and books do you recommend?

  • Cherise Lundy says:

    Do you think that getting a MA in grant writing is a horrible idea? Concordia University out of Chicago offers a MA in grant writing, management and evaluation – just got accepted and it seems to be a wonderful program. Can you google it and let me know what you think? Your honest opinion…..

  • Megan says:

    Thank you for this post. I began my grant writing business in 2014 and have volunteered with a couple of organizations but am still struggling to bring in business. My success rate is 95% and I feel I have found a career I truly love. Do you have any additional suggestions?

  • Marjorie says:

    I need to lean how to write a grant and learn how to find those non profits that want grants written. Any books or other resources you can siggest? Thanks.

    • One great resource is the Foundation Center; they have tons of resources on writing grants. Best of luck!

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

    • Meghan says:

      Marjorie I actually just started an Advanced Grant Writing Program through Arizona State University just yesterday. The textbook we are using is “The Complete Book of Grant Writing” by Nancy Burke Smith, and E. Gabriel Works. I’m really enjoying my reading so far, and you might really find this book helpful when you are just getting into Grant Writing which is what I’m doing as I’m volunteering my time outside my normal job for a non-profit I recently helped find, and create.

      • Barbara says:

        I am a returning student after 40 years at Scottsdale Community College. Grant Writing appeals to me, I currently am finishing up my Associates. I am unclear where to go from here? I have read that I need a Bachelors Degree – was happy to see you have a program at ASU.

  • John says:

    Excuse my ignorance, but what exactly is grant writing? Are you writing for NPOs applying for grants (but I would have thought this would be called something like “grant application writing”)? Or offering grants from benefactors? Or something else? To someone who has never heard of “grant writing” before the article leaves us guessing what it is.

  • Amandah says:

    I’ve written two grants and would like to learn more about grant writing. I love to research and write so it’s a good fit. Thanks for posting the link to the GPCI!

    Some words of advice regarding volunteering with a nonprofit…

    Make sure the nonprofit is run properly, like a business. You don’t want to walk into a situation where you begin to help with grant writing only to find out that you’re going to have to re-apply for the position, even if it’s a volunteer one. You may not be chosen to be the grant writer for the next year.

    But…

    If your grants are being approved for thousands of dollars, there should be no reason for you to re-apply. However, if bylaws weren’t properly written or established, you may have to re-signup to volunteer as a nonprofit’s grant writer. It is what it is.

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