What’s a Grant Writer, and Why Would I Want to Be One?


by Lisa Jo Rudy

Deb’s Note: This is the first in a series of in depth posts about grantwriting. In the upcoming weeks we’ll be featuring series on grantwriting, technical writing, taxes and more.  If you have a series to suggest, send it to wegetletters@gmail.com.

Grant writers write proposals to funding agencies requesting cash or in-kind donations. The donations support projects and/or institutions that do something that the donating institution wants to see done.

Grants are available for individuals, non-profits, and even for-profits. Most of the time, though, grants go to non-profit institutions that do some kind of work that’s considered to be good or worthwhile for the larger community.

Classic grant recipients are social service agencies ($100,000 to create a GED program for pregnant teens), arts agencies ($50,000 to pay for installation of a new exhibit of local artists’ works), science and academic institutions ($1 million for a new nanoscience building), and health organizations and institutions ($250,000 for a lab to investigate promising cancer treatments).

Grant writing is a specific niche, and it’s not for everyone. Here are the basic qualities of a good grant writer:

* You’re really, really deadline oriented
* You’re very good at following detailed instructions
* You’re good at managing people who aren’t quite as good about
deadlines and details as you are
* You’re able to get passionate about a cause
* You can think creatively within a structure
* You’re able to think and write sequentially and logically
* You’re willing and able to fit your words into a predetermined
format and length

If this fits your personality, you might want to consider building a niche in grant writing.

Why bother?

People who can write really persuasive grant proposals are in great demand. What’s more, grant writers are often involved in the creative process of project or program development, and – from time to time – may even be written into the grant as a member of the project team.

Most importantly, of course, a professional grant writer working for a professional client is paid very well. Bottom line: an experienced grant writer who can take on the development and writing of a federal grant (just the 15-page narrative, not the budget or supporting materials) can make anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 for the project.


Up next: why “commission-based grant writing is a bad idea”

Lisa Jo Rudy is a veteran grant writer with more than $25 million in funded federal, foundation, corporate and individual grants to her credit. She taught grant writing and fundraising writing at the University of Pennslyvania for more than ten years. Her largest successful grant proposal to date won $4,000,000 from one of the world’s largest foundations.






11 responses
  1. justelise Avatar

    I was planning on taking a graduate-level course on grant writing when I decided to go back to school. It sounds like a good way to go.

    It also sounds like a good field for aspiring project managers with strong writing skills. You definitely need both skill sets for it.

  2. A Sanders Avatar
    A Sanders

    I just took a semester-long course on grant writing as part of my graduate degree and let me tell you something: It is HARD! You have to be an absolute stickler for details. Many organizations will toss the whole application if a “t” isn’t crossed or your outcome-based predictions and assessments don’t make sense or veer off into unrealistic territory. I was surprised at how much of the class was focused on analyzing and predicting rather than proposing. Which is why, I suppose, grant writers are paid very well. 🙂

  3. LIsa Avatar

    There is a lot of focus on following detailed directions; sometimes it seems it’s almost like a test to see if you’re really paying attention. Deep in the guidelines of one federal granting agency was buried a note that if you wrote in anything other than Helvetica or Arial 11 point the grant would be pitched.

    Very silly, but also very easy to do.

    My experience, though, is that grant writers typically are NOT asked to come up with the tools for assessment/evaluation (unless it’s something very lightweight like “after the show, everyone will be asked to fill out a questionnaire”). If your proposal is for a very large chunk of change, a trained evaluator will be hired – and it’s that person job to develop an evaluation plan.


  4. Theda Avatar

    So how would you recommend getting started? Take a grant-writing gig to “practice” on, and charge a very low amount? Or take a course? I’ve considered it except I have no experience with grant writing, but then again, how do I get experience without trying it out first?

  5. A Sanders Avatar
    A Sanders

    Lisa, that makes sense (regarding the trained evaluator). The evaluation (as it relates to measurable objectives) portion of the class was so different from the rest of the instruction that it almost seemed like the course covered two different jobs! Theda, I would definitely recommend a class since it’s such a highly specialized form of writing.

  6. Kathleen Avatar

    The trick is finding a class. I had the opportunity years ago to learn grant writing. The company was going to train me and everything. I was young and had no idea what kind of opportunity that really was. So I said no thanks and moved. Today I still kick myself for passing it up.

    1. Caroline Reeder Avatar

      Theda, if you want to learn more about grant writing as a career, I’ve just published an ebook titled, “Careers in Grant Writing” that goes into detail about a day in the life of a grant writer, what skills and training you need, how to find free and low cost training opportunities and more. It’s available for immediate download at: http://www.careersingrantwriting.com.

      All the best,
      Caroline Reeder

  7. Tania Mara Avatar
    Tania Mara

    If there’s a niche in the freelance writing world I’ve never really cared to try, this is it. However, this post got me thinking. I realised I do have many of the required basic qualities, although I always thought grant writing wasn’t for me. Perhaps I’ve been overlooking some good opportunities.

    I’m going to read the next parts in this series to learn more and see if this is really something I should try.

  8. Vaishali Avatar

    I am interested to know about Grant Writing learning opportunities in Sandiego.
    Please help,

  9. Janis Avatar

    As a grant writer for a non-profit organization, I can tell you that not all grant writing positions are that lucrative. I get paid a salary and therefore am not paid based on success of individual grants. It’s good to note that grant writers for most academic institutions are the professors and researchers themselves. They write those 15 pages and its your job to make sure the budget follows all the guidelines, letters are appropriate, reports are complete, like the current and pending support information, and even the CV can sometimes be requested in a very specific format.

    1. Noemi Tasarra-Twigg Avatar
      Noemi Tasarra-Twigg

      Would you say that being paid a percentage of the grant is a better deal?

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