11 things about grant writing you may not have known

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July 15, 2021
5 minute read

Grant writing is often seen as one of the more mysterious freelance writing fields because it’s less well known. And that’s a shame because grant writing is also one of the most personally and financially rewarding niches for many freelance writers. 

Here we demystify this field by shedding some light on 11 things about grant writing you may not have known. We also show you how to establish yourself as a grant writer, in case you want to join in on this promising career.

1. What is grant writing?

Grant writing is a specialized writing niche. It helps organizations wanting to implement an initiative receive grants from funders with money to give for specific causes.

Organizations interested in applying for a grant must submit a grant proposal meeting the grantmaker’s precise application instructions to even be considered.

Because hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of companies may apply for the same grant, it’s also the grant writer’s job to make the organization’s proposal stand out.

2. Who gives out grants?

The federal government is one of the largest grantmakers. It gives out competitive grants (grants with limited funding) and formula grants (non-competitive grants given using a predetermined formula).

Organizations eligible for these grants are usually nonprofits with a 501(c)(3) status, government units (states, cities, etc.), and government agencies (state universities and colleges, etc).

While public-sector grants are the most common, private-sector grants from foundations and corporations are also available. These entities typically give grants to nonprofits instead of for-profit businesses. They may also give grants to individuals, such as students.

3. What is the median salary of a grant writer?

Estimated grant writer salaries go as low as $44,150 on websites like Indeed, to a high of $74,650 on the BLS (under the category of technical writer). Salaries can be more or less depending on your experience, grant success rate, location, and more.

Payscale is a great website to see your market worth based on your personal work history, skills, education, and other pay factors.

Beginner freelance grant writers may charge around $25 per hour. Those with more experience and record of successful grants can charge as high as $150 or more per hour.

4. How long does it take on average to write a grant proposal?

Foundation grants usually aren’t as complex as government grants. Private-sector grants average four to five pages and take between 15 to 25 hours to complete.

On the other hand, federal grants can take 100+ hours. You’ll probably need several weeks to finish these types of grants. That’s especially true when you factor in additional turnaround time for feedback and revisions.

5. Have any famous people been grant writers?

While there probably aren’t any famous grant writers you’d recognize by name, there are numerous celebrity grantmakers. People like Bill and Melinda Gates, Jack Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, will.i.am, and countless others have created foundations and offer grants for specific causes.

6. What are the top courses and schools for grant writing?

If you want to learn about grant writing, the best programs include:

If you want to call yourself a certified grant writer, only the American Grant Writers’ Association’s (AGWA) online Certified Grant Writer Series ($999) allows you to do that. AGWA has a registered trademark on the phrase. The course includes a free year of membership to the association.

7. Are there any hot spots for grant writing, geographically?

Cities with a high number of nonprofits may be great for grant writers wanting local, in-person work. The New York, Newark, and Jersey City metro areas combined have the highest number of nonprofits in the country. The Los Angeles, Long Beach, Anaheim (California) metro areas come in second.

But many freelance grant writers work remotely, so your location may not be that relevant.

8. What’s the biggest grant ever awarded?

Foundations give away an astounding amount of money. According to the latest data from the Foundation Center, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave away the most in one year in grants and other givings—for a total of more than $3.86 billion.

The largest single cash grant ever given in the U.S. may have been GlobalFoundries’ $665 million cash grant.

9. What percentage of grants get approved?

Success rates for grant writers submitting to new funders are between 30 and 40 percent. For organizations submitting to established funders who already know them, grant writer success rates go up to 90 percent.

10. Do grant writers get paid a percentage of the grant?

No, it’s unethical for grant writers to get paid on commission. Hourly or per-project fees are the most common pricing structures for freelancer grant writers. Payment would come from the organization’s budget, rather than the grant’s.

11. How long do grants take to secure?

It can take six to nine months to secure a grant, although some grant cycles are on a rolling basis. There’s a lot of work that goes into the grant process, so it’s best organizations start reaching out to grantors 12 to 18 months before it needs the funds.

How to establish yourself as a grant writer

If you’ve liked what you’ve seen about grant writing and want to establish yourself as one, here’s what you’ll need to do to land yourself your first grant writing jobs:

Learn how to write grant proposals

You’ll need to get your knowledge about grant writing up to speed by taking free or paid courses. This teaches you the basics to land paid contracts with clients or un/paid volunteer and internship positions.

If you already have a college degree in English, marketing, or contract management, that’ll give you a leg up in the beginning when competing against other candidates for a job.

Create a resume

Creating your freelance resume doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task. If you don’t have any practical experience with grant writing, put your education front and center. List out the courses you took and the skills you learned.

You can look at various job postings to see what qualifications and qualities employers and clients are looking for. If it’s something one of your courses covered, be sure to add that to the resume.

Gain experience

If you don’t have any experience with grant writing or a related field, or lack a relevant background, volunteering or interning is the way to go. It’s an excellent opportunity to bolster your resume with relevant experience and prove you can write a successful grant. You’ll also get real-world practice on someone else’s dime.

As a bonus, the organization may also provide you with a letter of recommendation that you can use when finding freelance writing jobs. The experience you gain from volunteering can be a gateway to help you find grant writing jobs in the future.

Update your resume

As you gain experience and win grants for organizations, you’ll want to update your resume. If you can boast a high success rate, be sure to put your winning percentage in your summary of qualifications.

You should tailor each resume you send out to the job posting. The easiest way to do this is to keep a “kitchen sink” resume. Every time you create a new bullet to match a posting’s requirement, add it to a master resume.

When you come across the same or similar requirement in another listing, all you have to do is copy and paste from your kitchen sink resume.

Join a grant writers’ association

Joining a grant writers’ association has numerous benefits, including creating a support network and offering opportunities for professional development. It also shows clients that you adhere to a code of ethics and are interested in growing professionally.

The top associations for grant writers include:

Is grant writing your next career?

Grant writers find endless opportunities to hone their skills and learn things they never knew before. It’s also a rewarding freelance writing niche where you play an integral role in getting projects, ideas, and programs funded that directly affect the lives of others. Though the barrier of entry and startup costs are relatively low, the impact you can have is sky-high.