Nonprofits and small businesses in America often rely on grants as a primary source of revenue. That said, not every organization can have a full-time grant writer to apply for good fit opportunities and others may not know how much to pay.
Knowing exactly what common grant writing fees look like is crucial. In this post, we'll explore how much grant writing costs, answer commonly asked questions around fees, as well as what you should look for when you're hiring a grant writer.
Let's dig in.
How Much Does a Grant Writer Cost?
Grant writer salaries can vary significantly depending on the type of project you have hired them for, their experience, and whether they are a contractor or a full-time employee.
We will break down common costs associated with grant writing by category below.
Beginner Grant Writer Costs
Beginner grant writer costs are typically at the lower end of the spectrum. However, like any position, beginner grant writing salaries can vary wildly depending on the type of project you are hiring them on for, how many hours it will take, and the average wages for the state where your organization does business.
Most beginner grant writers who take on projects as a contractor receive a salary range between $29 at the low end and $36 at the high end, according to trends reported by Salary.com.
While it is typical to pay contractors by the hour, some grant writers will receive a bulk stipend for the completion of an entire proposal or project. Typically, these stipends are calculated based on a similar salary range and an average projection of how long the project will take to complete and how intensive the work will be.
For example, a short, straightforward proposal for a local family foundation may be quite simple and require only a few hours to complete while a federal grant proposal may take several weeks to complete.
You may also want to consider whether a beginner grant writer is appropriate for the project you are working on. If you need specific expertise for a complex proposal, you may be better off hiring someone with more experience.
It is not uncommon for nonprofit organizations to hire grant writers as part of their permanent full time staff.
This is typically good practice for organizations who apply for and manage several grants at one time.
Zippia reports that beginning grant writer salaries start at approximately $38,000/year with the median grant writer salary of U.S. grant writers being $52,719. While $38,000 is the average starting salary in the range, it is important to consider other factors when deciding how much a grant writer salary should be at your nonprofit.
For example, a grant writer working in New York City will have a wildly different salary than a grant writer working in a smaller market. You can search on Salary.com to find salary ranges for grant writers based on different areas.
Intermediate Grant Writer Costs
Intermediate grant writers typically have several years of experience and often have specific expertise on a certain subject matter. They will be able to offer more professional guidance than a beginner grant writer would and their compensation should reflect this experience.
According to popular online freelancing platform UpWork, intermediate contract grant writers are typically paid $60/hour for their work. Much like beginner contractor wages, this cost can vary depending on the length and complexity of the specific project.
Intermediate grant writers working full-time will often receive an annual salary nearer the median range of a grant writer working in the United States—about $50,000-60,000/year depending on the market and the type of work required.
An important note: Unlike contractors, full-time grant writers come with additional employee costs like paid benefits.
Expert Grant Writer Costs
Expert grant writers can have substantial costs associated with their employment—and with good reason! Expert grant writers often bring decades of nonprofit, fundraising, and grant writing experience with them—as well as experience working with specific funders and institutions.
Particularly complex proposals that require a high level of expertise, like those required for funding from the federal government, are often managed by expert grant writers.
Expert-level contractors with advanced skill sets can earn about $125/hour or sometimes more depending on the grant writing work.
Reports on contract grant writer wages from ZipRecruiter report average national wages on the higher end at about $95/hour, with that number increasing depending on how competitive the market is.
Grant writing experts who receive an annual salary make upwards of $80,000 annually, with some major markets such as New York paying as much as $95,000 or more.
What Should You Hire Your Grant Writer to Do?
A grant writer’s primary task is, well, writing of course.
However, that is only one part of a grant writer’s repertoire and set of responsibilities. Grant writers often have responsibilities that span the pre-proposal, pre-award, and post-award phases of the grant cycle.
Drafting Grant Proposals
First and foremost, a grant writer's primary responsibility is drafting grant proposals. This task can look very different depending on whether the proposal is for private or public funding, the requirements of the proposal, and the goals of the nonprofit applying.
A typical grant proposal includes information about the nonprofit organization and its budget, proposed project, and funding need. Most often, funders ask very specific questions that the grant writer must respond to in their proposal.
Grant writers also need to be aware of any auxiliary information or documentation that needs to be attached to the proposal—such as a recent audit, Form 990, or IRS 501(c)3 letter of determination.
Many grant writers are responsible for researching and identifying the actual grant opportunities that are a good fit for the nonprofit to apply for.
Fortunately, there are many tools available to help grant writers with their research responsibilities.
For example, Instrumentl offers an extensive grants database that uses smart-matching technology to connect nonprofit organizations with current grant opportunities that align with their goals and mission.
Visit Instrumentl’s website to learn more about how it can help you grow your nonprofit and facilitate efficient, successful grant research.
Managing Grant Deadlines and Submissions
Grant writers must also manage grant deadlines and submissions as part of their work.
Grant writers often spend as much of their time writing as they do project managing. They keep the team on task and set internal deadlines for review so that they can ensure the proposal is completed on time.
Multi-tasking and deadline tracking is the name of the game when it comes to grant writing!
Administering Grants Once Awarded
The responsibilities of a grant writer don’t always end once the grant has been written and submitted.
Most awards require the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or grant agreement between the two parties involved in the grant (the funder and grantee).
Grant writers must ensure that the stipulations of the agreement are followed and that the grant is being utilized as outlined in the proposal. The grant writer will also communicate program updates with the funder, manage site visits with the funder, and draft and submit any required reports through the grant term.
These responsibilities are more common for grant writers who work as full time employees of an organization, whereas a freelance grant writer may not have as much responsibility for reporting or post-award processes.
Click to find the best grants for your nonprofit from 12,000+ active opportunities.
How to Pay Grant Writing Consultants: The Controversy
Paying a grant writing consultant can be tricky since they are not a permanent employee of your nonprofit organization.
There are two primary ways a grant writing consultant can be paid:
they can receive a percentage of the award for which they applied or
they can receive an hourly or flat rate fee as agreed upon in the original contract between both parties.
Flat rate fees are fairly simple. Often these flat rates are determined via contract between the two parties.
Your nonprofit could determine approximately how long the project will take (e.g. 40 hours) and will set a flat fee based on an appropriate hourly rate (e.g. a 40 hour project at a $30/hour rate would be a flat rate of $1,200). This flat rate payment is best practice across the industry.
Another, more controversial method of payment is paying a grant consultant a percentage of the total amount of the grant (e.g. for a $100,000 award a grant consultant paid out at 10% would receive a payment of $10,000).
This is a controversial method of payment because the fee, while determined by the amount of the award, cannot be paid out by the grant itself. In fact, it would likely be outright illegal and breach of contract if you use that particular grant to pay the grant writer. Most grant contracts prohibit payment for anything that occurred before the award date, including writing the grant proposal.
The percentage-based pay is also a bad practice because winning a grant is never guaranteed, regardless of the quality of work or amount of work put into the proposal.
Moreover, the American Grant Writers' Association maintains grant writers shall "not accept compensation that is based on a percentage of contributions or contingent upon the award of a grant."
Given that this type of payment method is discouraged by trusted professional organizations throughout the sector, it is best to pay a flat rate.
Rent vs. Buy – Should You Hire a Grant Writer?
Not every nonprofit hires grant writers to work for their organization. In fact, many nonprofits choose to rely on internal staff for their grant writing needs.
Let’s weigh some of the pros and cons to hiring a grant writer for your nonprofit organization.
Pros of Hiring a Grant Writer
Here are some of the top benefits of hiring a dedicated grant writer:
Expertise in Specific Areas
Grant writers often have specific areas of expertise that can help your nonprofit develop winning proposals.
This does not just mean expertise in a specific subject area, but expertise with specific funders or specific types of proposals or applications.
Additionally, grant writers also have industry knowledge about best practices for grant writing and are able to craft engaging proposals that adhere to those norms.
Higher Chances of Winning Grants
Hiring grant writers means a higher chance of submitting successful proposals and winning grants.
Relying on existing nonprofit staff to cover tasks typically reserved for a grant writer often means that these staff members are stretched thin. This results in a greater likelihood of submitting weaker proposals with mistakes and errors.
A dedicated grant writer can focus solely on developing the strongest proposals possible, managing the entire grant process from beginning to end.
Cons of Hiring a Grant Writer
While there are several advantages associated with hiring a grant writer, there are some notable disadvantages as well. It is important to weigh the negatives against the positives when deciding whether your nonprofit organization should hire a grant writer.
Costs and Budget Considerations
Hiring a grant writer can be expensive. And nonprofits, especially startup or small nonprofits, often operate on shoestring budgets.
A way to offset this challenge is to be on the lookout for sustainable sources of funding, such as general operating funding. General operating grants or funding can support various needs within the organization—including costs and salaries associated with fundraising and grant writing.
Dependency on External Personnel
Grant writing can also result in an over dependence on external personnel instead of strengthening your nonprofit’s internal workforce. As illustrated previously, hiring grant writers to work in house can be incredibly expensive.
Relying on contractors, while sometimes more affordable, may burden the organization with a reliance on external personnel. This could lead to a weaker overall team with a never ending rotation of external partners who come in to work on individual projects and then leave creating a disjointed team environment and weak company culture.
Recommendation: Balancing In-house Efforts With Consultancy
At the end of the day, the answer to whether your organization should hire a grant writer depends greatly on the specific needs and situation of your nonprofit organization.
Most new or start up nonprofits do not have the financial capacity to hire a full-time grant writer for the organization. In fact, most new nonprofits that are just getting started may struggle to simply find the funding to cover basic costs.
Getting started hiring a consultant can mean getting a head start and leveraging insights and expertise to give your nonprofit the upper hand when it comes to winning awards that can sustain your organization for years to come. Once you have obtained initial investments to support your mission, you can work your way up to hiring in-house fundraising staff to develop a robust infrastructure for revenue growth and advancement.
Work with your team on a hybrid grant writing strategy that works for your organization’s particular objectives and needs.
What to Look for When Hiring a Grant Writer
Grant writers have a robust set of skills and their expertise can vary depending on their specialization, background, and years of experience. Below are a few key competencies to be on the lookout for when hiring a grant writer.
Relevant Experience and Win Rate
Experience and win rate are vital when identifying a strong grant writing candidate.
You will want to hire a grant writer with strong past experience at a type of nonprofit similar to yours and a successful win rate—meaning they have submitted a significant portfolio of grant proposals that have resulted in success.
However, note that a strong win rate will look different depending on the type of awards the writer has applied to.
If they had submitted five proposals with only two resulting in wins, but those proposals were for highly competitive awards for large amounts, that can be significantly more impressive and indicate a better track record than submitting many less competitive, successful proposals for smaller dollar amounts.
Specific Certifications (e.g., Certified Grant Writer®️)
Another element to look for when hiring a grant writer is specific certifications (such as the Certified Grant Writer certificate from the American Grant Writers Association).
While this is not a requirement for any grant writer, it can help you identify professionals who are very serious and committed to their craft and their professional advancement in the nonprofit sector.
We will review several grant writing certificates in greater depth later on in the article.
Clear Communication Skills
Like with any writer, clear communication skills are vital.
Not only is clear written communication an essential for a professional grant writer, but clear interpersonal communication skills are just as crucial.
Grant writers are also project managers who have to work with multiple staff, external partners, and other colleagues to create a seamless process leading up to the submission of a proposal.
Understanding Your Organization's Mission and Goals
Central to any nonprofit is its mission—it undergirds everything your organization stands for.
Without a strong understanding of a nonprofit’s mission a grant writer cannot accomplish their objective of developing winning grant proposals.
They need to be able to make connections between the objectives of a grant program and the overarching goals of your organization. They should be able to clearly communicate how the grant will contribute to achieving your nonprofit’s goals.
Recommendations and Reviews From Previous Clients
Knowing your grant writer has a strong network of support can help in your decision to hire them! It is always good practice to confirm recommendations or referrals from previous clients.
It can also explain why certain grants were not successful or did not result in an award. Unsuccessful grant proposals do not necessarily mean that the grant writer is not worth hiring—there are several external conditions outside a grant writer’s control that can result in an unsuccessful proposal.
A recommendation from a past client can explain why the grant writer is a strong writer and a good choice despite past results. Remember, an unsuccessful proposal does not make the grant writer!
Familiarity With Grant Sources Relevant to Your Industry/Cause
A key component of grant writing is having a strong familiarity with funders relevant to your organization’s industry, cause, or area of expertise.
Not every funder will fund every nonprofit cause or mission, so it is important for a grant writer to be familiar with certain networks of foundations and funders that support different types of work. Identifying a candidate who is familiar with funders you work with or plan to submit to will help improve your chances of submitting successful applications.
Attention to Detail and Organizational Skills
An important skill that any successful grant writer should have is attention to detail.
Each grant proposal has different questions and nuances and a grant writer needs to ensure that each proposal is written to the specific requirements of a funder or organization. Grant writers also should have a keen ability to edit and proofread for grammar, readability, and tone.
Availability for Revisions and Feedback
A great grant writer should also be a great collaborator.
Grants will be under revision for quite some time and require the input of program staff, executives, and other project collaborators. A good grant writer will be able to accept feedback and revisions and know when to incorporate edits and when to work with the team to make decisions about revisions that may not be for the best.
Ethical Considerations (e.g., Not Charging a Percentage of Grants Won)
Perhaps the most important thing to look for is to identify a candidate who will adhere to industry best practice and always take into account ethical considerations of grant writing and management.
Think back to previous sections in this article where we talked about why you shouldn’t use a percentage of a grant won to pay the grant writer. You don’t want to work with a grant writer who demands this sort of pay structure.
Certifications and Their Importance
Though not necessary, certified grant writers have received extensive industry training that contributes to a vast assortment of grant writing competencies.
Let’s dive into some of the grant writing certifications that are available!
Certified Grant Management Specialist®️
Through the National Grant Writers Association, grant writers can receive an in-depth grant writing and grant administration training known as the Certified Grant Management Specialist certification (CGMS).
According to the organization, the certification and the training series associated with it is intended to elevate sector professionals, develop their skills, and confer formal recognition of a grants professional with demonstrated knowledge of grant management practices.
You can learn more about the National Grant Writers Association and the Certified Grant Management Specialist certification here.
This certification is available to grant writers, grant managers, grant consultants, as well as other professional nonprofit staff. It provides comprehensive guidance on how to draft compelling and successful grant proposals for government, private, and corporate grants.
The course focuses on the “finer points” of grant writing to teach grants professionals how to submit competitive proposals.
While this certification is not specific to grant writing, it still provides key insights into fundraising strategies and best practices in the nonprofit sector.
Moreover, the AFP offers a directory of grant writers that nonprofit organizations can contact for assistance on general fundraising or for a specific project. This is a great resource for nonprofits who are just starting out and looking to build a network of trusted grant professionals. It is important to note that you may be required to become a member of the AFP to gain access to its member directories.