I once wrote a grant that won $4,000,000. If I’d earned a 10% commission, I’d’ve been a wealthy woman.
I didn’t. I was paid a nice fee, but no commission.
The reason was simple: professional grant writers don’t earn commissions. They are paid fees.
So why, you may wonder, do so many online ads offer grant writers a hefty commission if and when they “earn” a grant? The reasons for that are simple too: either:
(a) the client is broke, and they think this is a terrific way to get money for nothing and/or
(b) the client has no idea what a grant really is (except that they’ve seen Google ads for “free grants” all over the Internet), and/or
(c) the client has the idea that grantwriters are really fundraising gurus who know where and how to dip into free pots of money (it doesn’t occur to them that anyone with that kind of knowledge surely doesn’t need to work for a startup on commission!).
There are two basic reasons why grant writers don’t work on commission.
The first is that grant writers have no control over the factors that make a “sale.” Sure, they can write a persuasive proposal. But once the proposal is sent out into the wide world, the quality of your writing won’t be enough to help it succeed.
The reviewers have to love the project, be impressed by the people involved with the project, and believe that the project fits their guidelines and is BETTER than the 100 other projects that have been pitched to them this quarter. In the best of all worlds, too, your client went out there ahead of time and did some spadework. They met with the granting agency, took all the advice they could, selected the right people, and put together the budget with great care.
If they didn’t do their up-front work, or if the reviewers don’t love their idea, or if their personnel aren’t impressive enough, or if they’re just unlucky…they lose.
If you were paid a fee, you don’t.
But the biggest and most important reason why grantwriters don’t work on commission is that grants don’t work that way. Grants are donations to do specific work as described in a written document with a budget attached. NO grantmaking agency will allow “pay the grantwriter his fee” to be a budget line item. So where does that “extra” money come from to pay you?
The only way to find the grant writer’s ten percent in a grant budget is to monkey with the budget numbers, and then doctor their books.
For example, your client could claim it will cost them $20,000 to rent buses to take disabled kids from school to their afterschool special needs recreation program. But it really only costs $10,000. So if you win the grant, they pay for the buses with $10,000, pay you $10,000, and then doctor the books to make it look like the money was legitimately spent on bus rental.
Not only did the money come to you in a highly questionable manner, but you, in essence, just lifted $10,000 of money that was intended to support the needs of disabled children.
Oh – and one other point to consider.
When you write a grant proposal, it can take months (or even a year) to get a final decision out of the grant making agency. Then it can take months for money to come through. Sometimes, the client has to request their money in chunks as they need it. As the grant writer, you have to depend upon your client to let you know “oh! We got the grant – and your cash will be available in a few weeks.”
If you met your client online, worked for them once, and then went on your way – how likely is it that they’ll be in touch when and if the cash comes through? And if they don’t, you’re out that cash forever.
Up next: What Does a Grant Proposal Look Like?