Grant writing is one of the most lucrative niches for freelance writers. The demand for grant writers has grown in recent years, with the expansion of the nonprofit sector and the need for resources to fund an extremely wide range of programs and initiatives locally, nationally, and internationally. There are plenty of opportunities for freelance writers looking for remote grant writing jobs and for those looking to get into grant writing.
Who provides grants?
Foundations, corporate giving programs, and government agencies, provide funds to nonprofits and sometimes to businesses in the form of grants.
Grant-makers include large foundations such as the Ford Foundation or the Rockefeller Foundation; a wealth of smaller family foundations; large corporations such as American Express; and city or state government agencies.
You can see information about grants awarded in New York State here, and search online for grant-makers in your town, city, or region. There are plenty of Australian grant organisations, such as this one and in the UK, Grants Online is a good place to start.
Grant makers generally target their giving to one or more of the following areas:
- Environmental issues
- Public policy
- Social welfare
- Housing and homelessness
- Animal rights and welfare
- Human rights
- Arts and culture
- Community development
- International aid and development
- Startups and small businesses (especially in minority communities)
What do grant writers do?
Grant writers craft proposals on behalf of organisations (usually nonprofits) to secure funding for their programs and activities.
How to write a grant proposal
When beginning the grant writing process, you’ll need to make sure you have certain points covered.
Grant makers typically require some or all of the following components to be included in a proposal:
- The objective: one or two sentences stating the purpose of the project or program for which the organisation is seeking a grant
- The problem to be addressed, improved, or solved
- The target population
- Specific activities
- Project timeline
- How the project will be carried out
- Why the organisation is qualified to execute the project, including:
- Its track record
- Bios of key staff members and leadership demonstrating their expertise and competencies
- A proposed budget
- Results: specific outcomes that the grant-seeking organisation expects to achieve by the end of the project timeline
- Assessment: how the organisation plans to monitor and assess the effectiveness of its program or project
As you can see, the basics of grant writing are fairly straightforward.
If you can write clearly and respond to these points above, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful freelance grant writer.
What does it take to succeed as a grant writer?
Consider trying grant writing on for size if you have the following skills and talents:
- A passion for one or more of the causes listed above
- Excellent communication, editorial, research, and fact-checking skills
- An ability to tailor your writing to the guidelines specified by the grant-maker
- A logical, analytical mind
- A knack for storytelling
- An ability to incorporate your research, including quantitative data, into the proposal narrative
- A strong client focus
Who uses grant writers?
Grant writers typically work for nonprofits, either as employees or freelance consultants.
They may also work for schools, museums, colleges and universities, hospitals, or local government agencies. Or, some grant writers may work for a grant-writing agency.
How much do grant writers get paid?
Freelance grant writers tend to receive either a project fee or an hourly rate for their services.
Established grant writers often charge hundreds and even thousands of dollars per project, with hourly rates ranging between $40 and $100 USD or more, depending on the writer’s experience and the client’s budget.
Grant writers seeking full-time employment can expect to earn an approximate salary of $69,200 USD (approximately $100K AUD) and that’s just for those with less than a year of experience.
Seasoned grant writers can easily command a six-figure salary.
The growing demand for grant writers
If you’re looking for grant writing jobs, you’re in luck.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, grant writing is a highly valued skill that is in great demand, and opportunities for grant writers are projected to grow over the next decade. Take a look at this resource to get a sense of the career outlook for grant writers.
And you can also read about the importance of grant writing to nonprofit organisations here.
Foundation vs. government grant proposals
If you’re looking to get into grant writing, it’s important to know the basic differences between proposals to foundations versus grant proposals to government departments or agencies.
Proposals to foundations and corporate giving programs generally run fewer than 10 pages, and their specified guidelines tend to be similar.
By contrast, government grant proposals can be long, detailed, and highly complex, often requiring a team of writers to complete.
So if you’re a freelance writer who wants to break into grant writing, it’s probably a good idea to stick with proposals tailored to foundations and corporations—at least at first.
Alternatively, you might decide to work with a grant-writing agency, either as a freelance consultant or an employee.
Entry level grant writing – Getting started
If you’re wondering how to land your first grant writing job and have never written a grant proposal before, never fear.
Many opportunities are available, often right in your own community.
The best way to get grant writing experience is by reaching out to your local historical society, charity, museum, or any small organisation that’s unlikely to have a grant writer on its staff.
Offer writing samples as proof of your professionalism. It doesn’t matter if these samples aren’t related to non-profits or grants – people just want to see that you can write clearly and eloquently.
And if you can, demonstrate your expertise in your prospective client’s field. Do you have a degree in art history? That could help you break into museum fundraising. Sociology or political science? Research local social service and government agencies. Biology? Foundations specialising in disease research might be looking for someone like you.
This is the best way for beginners to get into grant writing.
An important note on the ethics of grant writing
Volunteering is a fine option for beginners or aspiring grant writers, but it’s a good idea to pursue payment for your efforts.
If an organisation asks you to write a proposal and pay you if and only if it succeeds in procuring a grant, refuse their offer.
It is unethical to raise funds for a grant writer’s services.
Grant-makers want to fund activities and programs that make a difference—not the writer who persuades them to do so. The responsibility for paying a grant writer lies with the grant-seeker, not the grant-maker.
Grant writing classes
If you’re keen to learn grant writing, you can find numerous online grant-writing classes and workshops—many of them free or low-cost. Your local community college or education provider might well offer a free grant writing class. Or you can check out the continuing education program at a public university.
Best online grant writing courses and workshops
The California-based Grantsmanship Center offers training for both new and more experienced grant writers. And New York City’s Foundation Center has recently partnered with Candid to provide comprehensive training in all things foundation fundraising, including grant writing as well as prospect research—the process of identifying grant makers that fund projects and programs in your geographical area and that share your client’s interests.
In the UK, grant writing is also called “bid writing.” Take a look at a UK-based online course here. And if you live in Australia, you can earn a grant writing certificate here.
Tips for grant writing
- Don’t be afraid to let your writing “sing.” A grant proposal may need to be rigorous, but it’s not a police report. There’s room for your personality and creativity to shine through. In fact, these qualities can often make your proposal especially effective and memorable.
- When appropriate, include stories about individuals who have benefited from your client’s or employer’s past programs and activities.
- A proposal can be a team effort, so be receptive to the staff’s ideas and input.
- Join a professional association such as the American Grant Writers’ Association or start networking through LinkedIn’s grant writing, fundraising, or development groups.
- For people working as (or looking to start working as) a freelance grant writer, you can also join this excellent Facebook community. It’s a client-free space where writers can talk with other professionals. Also, grant writers do share overflow work or details of clients they can’t take on in the group, so there is some peer-to-peer work sharing in this group too.
Grant writing jobs – go after them!
Grant writing offers a huge opportunity for freelance writers. As well as being a lucrative niche, it’s also a chance for your writing skills to make a real difference. The fundamentals of grant writing are not difficult to master, but they do require you to be concise, accurate, and persuasive. As a new or beginner grant writer, you can take free online courses, reach out to organisations in your local community, and build from there. You may be wondering how long it takes to become a grant writer, but the truth is, once you’ve written your first proposal, you’re a grant writer.
About the writer
Margaret Willig Crane (Peggy) uses the written word to promote the goals and agendas of diverse organisations, including disease research and advocacy foundations, hospitals, science-based organisations, and nonprofits serving the public good. For the past 20 years, she has leveraged the power of storytelling to educate audiences, raise funds, foster participation, and grow organisational impact. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Scientist, and on numerous health and education blogs and websites. See a selection of her writing here.
Thanks for the post Peggy. I’ve edited a few grant applications – related to biology – but never written one from scratch. Do you have any thoughts on how deeply you need to understand topic of the grant (biology can get quite complicated!)? And how much time do you spend with the organisation/applicant collecting and reviewing information? I”m a bit nervous to try grant writing because I’m worried I won’t have the right understanding of the science – grant writing seems to be different from science writing (or travel writing etc) where you interview experts to get insight.
Thanks for your question Charlotte. Peggy is on holidays at the moment, but I’ll ask her to reply once she gets back. Thanks for your patience!
You’re so right: grant writing for scientists is different from science writing! I’ve done quite a bit of science writing over the years–mostly for lay audiences–but I’ve never tried my hand at grant writing for applicants in the sciences. However, the world of grant writing is vast, and you may be able to write proposals for organizations whose programs are fairly easy to grasp, no doctorate required. If you decide to offer your services to organizations specializing in, say, human rights, hunger/food security, job preparedness, or community develo9pment, you would indeed meet with the relevant program officer(s) and others in positions of leadership to receive their input/guidance. Depending on the complexity of the issues and the grant-maker’s requirements, one or two meetings should suffice. You can also request copies of earlier proposals. Hope this helps!