Grant Writer vs. Grant Manager: What's the Difference?

Understanding the difference between a “grant writer” and a “grant manager” can be confusing. After all, it’s not uncommon for someone at a nonprofit to wear both of these hats at once!

In this post, we will break down the difference between grant writers and grant managers in terms of their responsibilities and how they complement each other in their different roles. Keep reading to learn more!

What is a Grant Writer? What Do They Do?

A grant writer is responsible for writing requests for funding, as well as letters of inquiry, which often come before an organization is allowed to submit a proposal. Often, grant writers are also responsible for conducting funding research to find some good funding fits for their organization.

A grant writer is more than “just” a technical writer. Yes, there does need to be some technical wizardry used to create a winning proposal, but there should also be the artful weaving in of true stories showing your nonprofit’s impact. These true stories provide an emotional hook, and your goal should be to create an “aha!” moment for the reader.

Many grant writers also coordinate with other teams (program, finance, etc.) to develop an appropriate budget to send along with the proposal. Different funders have different requirements, and it’s often up to the proposal writer to make sure these are met.

Big shoes to fill, right?

It gets more complicated.

In very small shops, the grant writer can also be the director of communications and the grant manager. Oh, and maybe the events manager and the director of the annual fund, too. That’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of balls to keep juggling at once. Sometimes, the grant writer is also responsible for writing final grant reports, meaning you’ll need to keep close tabs on program outcomes, statistics, and success stories.

Being responsible for grant writing can be stressful, especially if your nonprofit has unrealistic expectations. Typically, the success rate for new applications is around 10 percent, but for nonprofits with a long history of successful grant submissions, that rate can jump to more than 80 percent.

What is a Grant Manager? What Do They Do?

A grant manager handles all the administrative aspects of the funding cycle, freeing up the grant writer to be their creative, insightful, and fund-generating self.

In larger organizations, grant managers often hand off application requests to the grant writing team and follow-up with funders to submit required reports, including reporting on outcomes gained from the funder’s investment.

However, this doesn’t mean that only large organizations should have a grant manager.

A grant manager keeps a close eye on upcoming deadlines and often makes sure the proposal has been properly prepared, all the needed attachments are included, and that the proposal is turned in on time. Grant managers often leverage grant management software to help them maximize their efforts.

For example, Instrumentl’s Tracker feature can help grant managers keep track of different deadlines for different funding opportunities all in one place. The screenshot below gives you an idea of how helpful this tool can be.

Don’t confuse a grant manager with a foundation’s program officer. The roles are very different. A program officer on the foundation side provides guidance to potential applicants, reviews submitted proposals, then recommends the best ones to the foundation’s board for approval. In the post-grant period, the program officer will handle incoming grant reports and track the funding success rate and impact.

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Grant Writers vs. Grant Managers: Differences in Responsibilities

No matter if you work as part of a large, medium, or small team, grant writers and grant managers have huge responsibilities with immediate impacts on their organization’s funding stream.

What’s confusing is that the term “grant manager” is sometimes used by organizations to describe the work of a grant writer.

Let’s cut the confusion and look at the differences (and the crossovers) between these two different grant-related positions:

Grant Writer Grant Manager
Understand the foundation’s guidelines; if there’s an RFP, become familiar with and follow its requirements Understand all the NOFA,  RFA or RFP’s requirements
Collaborate with appropriate staff—subject matter expert, finance, etc. Understands terms of the award and funding requirements
Gather and maintain organizational data, external data, research data Monitor spending vs. budget requirements
Highlight success stories, outcomes, community impact, etc. Keep tabs on program activities
Write draft Collaborate with subject matter expert, finance, payroll, evaluator (if any)
Rinse & repeat Check the document draft to ensure budgets are correct, facts and data are accurate, provide feedback to grant writer
Prepare final package, assuring all attachments are included, and if necessary, hand-deliver to meet the deadline Responsible for all grant reporting (quarterly, periodic, final)

You can edit this demo text!

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Do these sound like two completely different types of people? Spot on.

A grant writer needs to thoroughly believe in the organization, be passionate about sharing its mission, be creative with storytelling, and be attuned to the “hooks” which will grab the reader.

In contrast, a grant manager is more like an auditor, someone who gets deep in the weeds with detail, who is product-quality oriented, and is quite left-brained.

Can one person fulfill both roles?

Not easily, although they are often expected to do so.

Both grant writers and grant managers should be comfortable spending long hours working alone yet be able to develop and maintain genial relationships with other staff. While your work is helping keep the lights on at your nonprofit, your colleagues may find your frequent questions about programs, operations, outcomes, expenses, and more to be tiresome. This is especially true if you’re on deadline.

How Can Grant Writers and Grant Managers Benefit Your Nonprofit?

Does your organization receive funding from government sources—federal, state, city, or county? If so, you already know that the requirements to apply for that money are usually much more stringent than those of private foundation funders. That’s when having an experienced grant manager can be a necessity.

An experienced grant manager can:

  • Keep you on track
  • Fully understand the nuances of and requirements for an application
  • Ensure deadlines–whether for proposals or for reports–aren’t missed
  • Inform you when a funding opportunity isn’t a fit
  • Develop budgets in collaboration with finance and program managers
  • Help you track outcomes from different funding opportunities
  • Keep their finger on the pulse of the project
  • Manage documents 

And of course, every nonprofit can benefit from a savvy grant writer or two.

Whether your grant writer is in-house, or if you have a trusted freelancer, you can count on a grant writer to not only find new funding opportunities but to create dynamic proposals that are both fact-based and pull on the reader’s heart strings.

Look at the metrics: if you are paying a grant writer $75 per hour (a common price point), and it takes them 4.5 hours to finalize a grant for $25,000, that'll cost your organization a little over $350.

If you win the award, that’s a super-charged ROI of more than 7,000 percent!!

Sure, there are always proposals that receive the “thanks, but no thanks” letter from a funder, but that 7,000 percent ROI puts things in more perspective, doesn’t it?

Wrapping Up: Grant Writers vs. Grant Managers

Grant writers and grant managers have different and distinct responsibilities from one another. Each role is important and very complementary.

We hope this information has made it easier to understand the differences between grant writers and grant managers. We strongly recommend having both positions if at all possible. Doing so will help your nonprofit raise money from all types of grants to further its mission.

We say grant writers and grant managers for the win!

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