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Can I Make Money as a Grant Writer?

Alexis Swenson grant writing unicorn
by Alexis Swenson, Grant Writer
October 10th
Can I Make Money as a Grant Writer?

Introduction

People ask us all the time: "Can I really make money as a grant writer?" Our short answer and long answer are the same: abso-freakin-lutely! We’re just kidding, we do have a longer answer...it’s the rest of this blog post. ;)

In this post we’ll talk about career options, getting clients, rates and salaries you can expect as a grant writer, and when to make a career change. We’ve included real world examples throughout this post to show how really possible it is to make money as a grant writer.

Career Options as a Grant Writer

The first thing you should know if you don’t already is that we 100% believe that freelancing is key to your grant writing career to take off. We believe this especially if you have little or no experience grant writing because we can train you how to. No master’s degree required! Then, once you have gained some experience freelancing, there are multiple different directions you can go in. We’ll highlight the most common career options as a grant writer below.

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Grant Writing Jobs = Remote

If the freedom to literally work from anywhere with a wifi connection seems too good to be true to you, it’s not. We promise. A career in grant writing can make that happen for you. From rural Alaska to a cattle ranch in Wyoming and everywhere in between, we’ve seen it all. You can, without a doubt, have a successful grant writing career while working remotely the entire time.

Full Time Grant Writer

After completing your grant writing training and having some freelance work under your belt, you are well-positioned to apply for a full time job. Depending on your other background experience, job titles that might be applicable for you might include nonprofit leader, executive director, development director, grant writer, etc.

The point is that because you took the time to invest in your skills, sought out clients, and provided beautiful deliverables, you are now qualified to apply for those positions.

Brandis and Julia-Grace, both students in the Collective, are perfect examples of this path. Brandis was working at a full time job that she really didn’t enjoy. When she started to do more technical grant writing for other companies, she was just doing it as a side hustle while still fully employed. However, one of her freelance clients ended up offering her a full time salary position with benefits because they loved her work as a freelancer. Incredible!

Julia-Grace was feeling pretty burnt out in her journalism job and she was interested in earning higher pay. She decided to figure out how to work into some other career, began learning about grant writing, and was able to complete a funding strategy for a few different freelance clients. Then, she found a local job with her health district. It was an entrepreneurial position in that she is now able to build out the grant writing practice within this health district. Because Julia-Grace had freelance experience in grant writing and beautiful, relevant deliverables to showcase she was able to land that job. Again, incredible!

Full Time Consultancy

You may discover that you enjoy freelance grant writing so much that you want to do the work full-time as a consultant. You can choose to build a team, get nitty gritty about the clients you onboard, establish systems that help your business run smoothly, and continue scaling.

This is the route Meredith took. She started freelancing as a grant writer, landed a grant writing job she held for five years, and then decided to go full-time consulting. She started growing a bit, hired a few team members, and launched from there!

Side Gig Freelancing/Consultancy

It’s possible that freelance grant writing on top of your primary income is completely satisfying to you. You can continue to operate in that way. Or, perhaps you’re a retiree and interested in doing something meaningful. We see this a lot in our program. Folks view grant writing as a great skill to give back to their local food bank either as a volunteer or to just make a little extra cash in retirement.

Another real world example is ________, a Southwest Airlines Flight Attendant. She loved her work and the perks, but it wasn’t intellectually stimulating enough for her. She took to grant writing as a side hustle to satiate her desire to be pushed, learn new skills, and keep her brain sharp.

Best Change of Career

Many times (almost all times), a career path is not linear. You may end up trying multiple different paths before you settle on what works best for your lifestyle. This can translate to you bringing a unique background to the table wherever you land. For example, Celia brings her design work to the table.

Celia left the corporate world some time ago to raise her family and was looking to re-enter the workforce, but she wanted to explore a career change. She had precise parameters when selecting a new career including great pay, flexible hours, flexible location, and she wanted to contribute to something meaningful for her personally. Grant writing checked all of those boxes. Celia’s background in graphic design has been particularly helpful when building out prospectus' for clients (part of our funding strategy process).

Or, take me as another example. I (Alexis) started a professional writing services firm offering copywriting, ghostwriting, and grant writing services. The majority of my work is grant writing related, but I absolutely love the variety in different writing styles I can offer my clients. For me, my greatest strength is compelling writing—that’s my background—and I bring it with me for every client project regardless of the format.

How to Get Clients as a Consultant

The thought of finding clients as a freelancer or consultant when you’re just starting out can be daunting. We’ve developed a system to help ease the overwhelm and get clients. These eight tips will help you to grow your business and open up your career options as a grant writer.

#1

Define Your Niche

Whatever you are passionate about, focus and build your grant writing business around it. Whatever it is that fires you up - renewable energy, social justice, infrastructure, animal rights - focus on finding those clients.

#2

Informational Interviews

Create a list of 15-20 organizations that you would love to serve or have as a client. Reach out with a warm email and once you set up that meeting, prepare a list of questions to ask that organization. Questions like "How does your organization find grants? How much are you looking to fundraise this year? What works well in your organization when it comes to grant writing? What doesn't work well?"

After all of your interviews, you'll have a much better understanding of the common pain points. This will help you offer solutions to the problems your potential clients are having.

👉 In our mini-course, "How to Start a Grant Writing Consulting Business", we have sample interview questions that can help you structure your informational interview.

#3

Develop Rockstar Expertise for 1-2 Grant Programs

If you can become an expert on 1-2 grant programs it will allow you to approach potential clients with awesome opportunities.

#4

Set Up a Professional Email

It will help people perceive you as the professional you are. You can also set up your grant writing business as a Google business. It's common for people to search "grant writers near me" and by setting yourself up as a Google business, Google will then direct people to you.

#5

Seek Repeat Clients

When you work with a client, ask yourself if you would like to work with them for 5 years. If you do, awesome. If not, then that client may not be worth your time. If there is a possibility of an annual contract with a client you love serving, go for it. While Request For Proposals (RFPs) or Request For Qualifications (RFQs) can be time-intensive, when you get that $50,000 contract to work on for the year, it's totally worth it.

#6

Value your time

Let's say your working time is valued at $100/hr. If you are going to a marketing luncheon and it's going to take you three hours altogether (commuting, following up with leads, attending the lunch, etc.) you've spent at least $300. Do you think you will recoup that cost at that price? The answer is it depends. How many leads or connections resulted from that luncheon? When you value your time, you stop wasting time on business development activities that don't get you the clients you want.

#7

Grow Your Business by Growing Your Team

As soon as you can afford to get help, get help. For example, our students will go in together on a graphic designer or serve as each other's quality review or proofreader. Speaking from personal experience, hiring an editor is literally always worth it. Editors catch things you missed and ask questions that you never realized needed to be asked. You can strengthen your ability to win projects when you work as a team.

#8

Use a Funding Strategy to Open the Door

A funding strategy is a roadmap of grant opportunities for an organization to pursue. This unique element of our course teaches you how to help organizations figure out which grants to pursue and when. This can be a great first project for you and your client.

Putting in the work to follow this process is the best way we’ve used to find great clients for your freelancing work.

Grant Writing Salary?

Okay, so this is really what you came here for, right?

Real quick: it is within reason for a grant writer to earn $5,000 a month. Keep in mind this is our sensible, conservative perspective. The average salary for a grant writer is $69,000. That average means there are people making less and making more than $69,000 a year. But, really, the sky is the limit!

For specific rates on what grant writing consultants charge, check out our free training and take a screenshot of the pay rates slide. Our goal for you is to pay for your investment in our program in three to six months. Plus you don't have to get a master's degree to get this technical training!

There are four main traps folks fall into that prevent them from making a decent salary while grant writing:

#1

Not Knowing Your Why

First of all, yes, you can make money grant writing, but you must know why you even want to get into this. Grant writing is hard work and if you don't know why you're doing it you're not going to have the grit when you need it on a late night.

What is it that you're looking for? Are you looking for more flexibility to be home with your kids or are you looking for flexibility to travel and geographically limitless? Just understand why you want to do it. It can't be all for the money; it has to be for the why and the motivation behind it.

#2

Thinking Grant Writing is All You Need to Know

Grant writing is a technical skill set, but to run a successful business, you also need excellent project management and entrepreneurial skills. You need to know how to do business development activities, find new projects, do the contracting, find insurance, and more. None of those things have anything to do with the act of grant writing, but they’re vital to your success.

#3

Not charging enough

You need to charge appropriately for your services to actually make money. When you start working on projects, even if you're doing it as a volunteer, you've got to document every hour that you spent writing those projects. Then, you can then look back and see whether you accurately scoped and priced the value of your services.

There is a lot of strategy in how you price your services. Are you newer in your career and trying to be priced fairly? Or, are you advanced in your career, an absolute rock star, and you can be priced premium only?

#4

Not niching down

You need to figure out your target clients and projects. What type of projects and clients do you find interesting? Niching down allows you to start getting referred to similar clients. This makes it possible for you to make money grant writing since you’ll have one or two grant programs that you pursue year after year.

For example, if it costs you $6,000 of time to create a grant application from scratch, but if you’ve already done that application before you've got a sample narrative. You have all those templates in place including the funding guidelines. It will take you less time to prepare the application in the future. Therefore, it becomes more profitable for you since you’re still charging the same amount per application because the value of your work doesn’t change.

When to Change Careers?

You probably thought that because our logo is a unicorn that we hold all the magical secrets of life. We wish 😅. We are so sorry to disappoint and say that we don’t have the answer to this commonly asked, difficult question. Only you can know this. Sometimes, your closest family and friends can be excellent soundboards or observers as well.

Our best advice is to think about your current situation. We think it boils down to this one question: Is your career life-giving or life-taking?

Are you bored? Does your work align with your personal values? Is it helping you achieve the lifestyle you want for yourself and/or your family? Are you constantly burned out? Are your shoulders stretched up to your ears all the time? Are you generally more irritable than not? Is it because of your job?

These are really challenging questions because we all have bills to pay, at least one mouth to feed, and various other considerations depending on your location, background, family history, economic position, and more. Some of these things are beyond your control, but not all of them are.

We’re not here advocating for you to quit your job at the drop of a hat, but rather to consider how your life could look different if you changed one or two things. Would adding a freelance grant writing side gig make sense in your life? Is that a sensible, actionable step for you?

Final Takeaway

Simply put, yes, you can make money as a grant writer. The secret to success? Stick with what you enjoy the most and are the best at. We firmly stand by freelancing as a perfect way to get started with your grant writing career. Then you can take it in whatever direction you want that plays to your strengths and helps you build the life that you love.

Grant Writing Resources

Are you curious if grant writing might be a good fit for you? Check out our free training on how to become a freelance grant writer.

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Want To Learn More?

We made this video to answer your questions about how to build a career in grant writing without the fear of where you will find clients or the fear of failure. We cover the top three mistakes that keep people from making the leap from a soul-sucking job to something more meaningful.

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