Grantwriter FAQs

Here are frequently asked questions about grantwriting. Select any of the questions to read the complete answer.

How can I improve my writing style?

Many local schools that offer grantwriting classes also offer classes on writing in general.

Here are some excellent books on style:

This website will forever cure you of using jargon (and give you a few chuckles, too):

The Jargon Finder

What should a contract include?

Attached are two sample contracts for freelance grantwriting.  These are not offered as legal advice and are not in any way guaranteed to be valid.  They are samples that you and your client can use to clarify the agreement between you.

Sample Contract 1 | Sample Contract 2

How can I become a freelancer?

If you’ve been a successful staff grantwriter for a number of years, you may want to consider striking out on your own. Before you do, think about whether you have the requisite experience. To be a creditable freelancer, you should:
  • Have secured funding in response to at least a dozen proposals from a variety of sources.
  • Be familiar with the grantmaking climate in the fields you intend to serve.
  • Be able to offer guidance to your clients on how to design a fundable project, articulate needs and goals, design an evaluation, and develop a budget.
  • Know how to research funding sources and advise your clients about developing relationships with funders.

You should also consider whether you can be happy and successful in the freelance environment. Ask yourself:
  • Have I built up a reputation for excellence that I can take with me as a freelancer?
  • Can I make enough money to make up for lack of benefits (health insurance, sick leave, vacation, retirement, etc.)?
  • Do I have some financial back-up (such as a solid savings account or a partner with a good job) to help me get started and tide me over the slow times?
  • Will I miss having regular hours and contact with co-workers?
  • Do I have the self-discipline to set my own hours and work on my own?
  • Will my home environment allow me to get my work done on time? (Hint: Don’t count on doing all your work while the baby’s sleeping.)

If your answers to these questions convince you that freelancing is right for you, give it a try! Many grantwriters have made the leap to independent consulting and are thriving. There’s plenty of work for qualified, experienced grantwriters in the Puget Sound area and beyond.

How do I find clients?


Do I need a website?

Yes. Websites are the modern equivalent of a brochure. You can introduce yourself, describe your services, experience, policies and rates. Most consultants say they don’t usually find new clients through their websites, but when someone is interested the website provides invaluable information.

How do I charge for my services?

You may charge by the hour or the project, but NOT by a percentage of the grants received. See "How to hire a freelancer."

How do I start my new job?

As a new staff grantwriter, the first step is to learn as much as you can about your new organization, its mission, and its environment. Sell yourself on the organization before you sell it to others. Review everything you can find: current and past program materials, newsletters, annual reports, previous grant proposals (funded and not funded), articles about the organization, and reports to funders.

Get to know the people who provide programs. Interview them to learn more about specific programs and how you can best support their work. Begin to establish a relationship that will expedite the flow of information you need for your grantwriting. Critical issues for the grantwriter include:

  • How do the programs change people’s lives?
  • How do we know that? (The answer should include measurable results, i.e. data.)
  • What community needs do the programs address?
  • Where does the program need to be one, two, and three years from now?

Talk to direct service staff and observe or take part in the actual service your organization provides (sit in on a class, volunteer at a food bank, attend a concert, etc.). You will be able to write much better proposals if you have had some interaction with the people you are serving.

After you have familiarized yourself with the organization from the inside, begin to look at it from the outside.

Donors:

  • Read through the files and talk to the staff to understand the relationships that exist with donors.
  • Who funds the organization now?
  • Who has funded it in the past?
  • Have mid-term and final reports gone out regularly?

Call each funder to introduce yourself. Ask if the organization is current on all reports and if not, assure them you will send them what is missing. Then do it. If they have not come to visit the organization, invite them to do so and make the arrangements.

Environment:

What factors influence the organization? These might be socio-economic, geographic, demographic, etc. Identify sources of data to help describe the needs the organization addresses.

How do I establish a grants program?

  • Develop an annual calendar and work plan, listing funders to be targeted, request amounts, expected revenue and deadlines.
  • Maintain thorough and accurate paper and electronic files, including all correspondence, notes and research relevant to each funder.
  • Research new funding opportunities using free and subscription databases, Internet search engines, print media, local forums and networking with colleagues.
  • Produce well-written, compelling proposals tailored to the requirements and priorities of the particular funders being approached.
  • Steward existing funders through regular updates, phone calls to program officers and timely submission of required reports.
  • Work with your program staff to develop proposals for current and future programs; evaluate new funding opportunities as they arise.
  • Work with your finance staff to develop accurate program budgets, financial reports and other documentation required for grant applications and evaluation reports.
  • Work with your board of directors to identify linkages to corporate and foundation funders.

How can I research corporate grants?

Corporate foundations must file 990-PFs where they record their grants. But if a corporation makes its charitable contributions directly from the company itself, a listing of its grants may not be so easy to find.

Some corporations have reports about their corporate contributions or community relations activities on their websites. Some of the larger corporate giving programs are listed in grants databases. (Note that the Foundation Center's Corporate Giving Online is a subset of the same funders contained in the Foundation Directory Online.)

But the easiest way to find corporate donations is to go to NOZA. With a subscription, you can simply enter the name of the company, and you will get a list of its grants and contributions listed on the web in nonprofits' annual reports, press releases, and other publications. NOZA is available for free at the Redmond Public Library.

You can also try Googling the corporation, linking the company name with "gift," "grant," "donation," etc. Try Google News Archives for past donations.

  • Search tip: If you put a tilde ~ (upper left corner of your keyboard) before a word, Google will search related words. "Bartell Drugs ~donations" will bring up references to charity, charitable, contribution, etc., as well as donations.

What about government grants?

Federal Grants

All federal proposals must be submitted through grants.gov, the web portal for government grants. The process is complex, but not impossible so long as you leave yourself plenty of time.

If this is your organization's first grants.gov application, begin the registration process right away--it can take several weeks. Save all PINs, passwords, log-ins etc. in a place where others in your organization can find them should you be run over by the proverbial bus.

Call the federal agency to which you're applying and ask for assistance. The program officers will be glad to help, but if you wait till a week before the due date they won't have time.

Submit the finished proposal several days before the due date. If you wait till the last day (or minute), the servers may clog up and your proposal may be deemed late even if you pressed "Send" at 4:59 p.m., EST. Submitting in plenty of time will also allow you to correct any technical problems.

Grants.gov is the portal for researching federal grants, but be sure to check the agency's website as well (HUD, NEA, NIH, Dept. of Education, etc.).

Other useful federal websites:


Washington State

  • Sources for state grants are listed at King County Library System's Nonprofit and Philanthropy Resource Center under "Washington State."  
  • State grants are also listed on GrantStation, available free at local libraries.
  • Counties, cities and municipalities also make grants. Go to their home page and look under the subject area that interests you.

Where can I find international grants?

Here are some sources for researching international grants:

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