One of my first jobs out of college was working at a nonprofit, organizing an after school program and supporting the program behind the scenes.
It was a small office, so most projects relied on an all-hands-on-deck mentality. My roles included fundraiser, volunteer coordinator, event planner and social media manager.
Eventually, grant writing fell into my lap, too… and now it’s my full-time business.
Could it be a fit for you, too? Here’s how to become a grant writer.
Grant writing is the process of developing a detailed application for funding from a specific entity.
You’re essentially making the argument that your nonprofit’s work deserves funding, and you do that through showing the organization’s past successes, details of current and future plans, expertise, and overall ability to change the world. By showing off what your nonprofit can do, you help the funder understand how you’d spend their dollars and what impact they’d have on the world’s problems.
I’d always been drawn to charity work, from Habitat for Humanity builds to alternative spring break trips in college, and to writing, so the combination seemed like a perfect fit for me. I researched new grant opportunities from local foundations, researched data and studies to back up my organization’s approach to changing the world, and captured the essence of our programs and why we deserved funding.
It was hard work, and it still is. Only around 1 in 10 grant applications is accepted, even at bigger nonprofits that are household names. It’s a competitive arena, and the task has its share of frustrations.
But patience and effort result in rewarding successes — for you and the nonprofits you work for.
Over time, I realized there was a huge demand for qualified, successful grant writers. Lots of nonprofits outsource the work because they don’t have enough volume to justify hiring someone in house. I took that nugget and went solo, building a grant writing business that now employs seven writers.
[caption id="attachment_53268" align="aligncenter" width="1288"] Megan Hill is the CEO of Professional Grant Writers, a team of nonprofit experts and development professionals working with charities around the world. Photo courtesy Megan Hill[/caption]
If you’re a strong technical writer with a passion for charity, nonprofit grant writing can be a worthwhile field to explore. It’s very much in demand, but the work requires some extremely specific experience.
To become a grant writer, you should first gain a significant amount of nonprofit experience. Grant writing involves speaking competently about the inner workings of the nonprofit and its programs, so you want to make sure you’re well-versed in these areas.
Any nonprofit work will help you gain experience, from volunteering in an office to working on a fundraising campaign to serving as a project manager for a specific program. Better yet, sit on a board of directors for a local nonprofit, offering some other area of expertise you might have: accounting, law, business development, fundraising, etc.
Take your expertise and interests and use those as ways to open doors into nonprofit employment of some kind. This experience will help you better understand the inner workings of a nonprofit, which will serve you well as a grant writer who has to encapsulate a nonprofit’s strengths in each of these areas.
You’ll also be well-equipped to advise your clients on ways they can improve their operations and thus better compete for grants, and -- just as importantly -- judge when a prospective client isn’t a good fit to pursue grants.
From there, you’ll obviously want grant writing experience — a significant amount.
There are loads of classes and books on the topic, even certifications you can pursue. And there are generally local groups of fundraising professionals that offer conferences, trainings, and professional development opportunities. All of these resources will arm you with the knowledge you need to be a strong grant writer and a helpful consultant to your future clients.
In addition to working as an in-house grant writer, I took as many classes as I could to hone my skills. I pursued online grant writing classes, webinars about all things nonprofit, conferences dedicated to grant writing and to fundraising, and more.
Finally, start building a business. Develop a website, marketing materials, a business card, an email signature, and the like. Head to nonprofit networking events and meet as many people as you can to get the word out about your business.
Many nonprofits also look for volunteer grant writers, which is a great way to gain experience and perhaps earn referrals.
Entry-level grant writers in smaller markets may charge between $30 and $40 an hour.
But in bigger markets, on more sophisticated projects, and as you gain experience, fees can climb to $70 to $100 an hour.
Some grant writing jobs are short and sweet, and you’ll invoice for only two or three hundred bucks. But as you gain experience and climb the ladder, you may start writing detailed grant applications for federal government agencies that can bring in several thousand dollars a pop.
My first few years of grant writing involved lots of low-hanging fruit and low-paying gigs. Combined with other writing projects, I earned only about $35,000.
Fast forward almost a decade, and that number is cresting $80,000. My business is thriving, and I have several repeat clients, an army of writers helping me with my projects, and a comfortable income.
Your Turn: Are you interested in becoming a grant writer?
Megan Hill is a Seattle-based freelance writer and CEO of Professional Grant Writers, a team of nonprofit experts and development professionals working with charities around the world.