How to Break into the Lucrative World of Grant Writing

As a freelance writer, you’re likely constantly searching for well-paying, recurring gigs. But often the pickings are slim. You might feel stuck with one-off assignments that pay only meager returns.

That’s where grant writing offers a huge opportunity.

I started grant writing as a college intern, then for a small after-school nonprofit program, and never looked back. Now, 12 years later, I run a seven-person team at Professional Grant Writers, and we work with organizations around the world to develop and maintain robust grant writing programs.

Why you should consider writing grants

Grant writers are in high demand for nonprofits hoping to raise money for operations, capital expenses, events, and programs. The work pays well: as a freelance grant writer, you can start out charging about $25 an hour and work your way up to $100 an hour, though this will vary depending on the organization you’re working for.

Even better? Often, nonprofits look to enter into long-term contracts with a reliable grant writer. They may have a large volume of grants due every month, so you can earn good, steady income – all while working from home.

If you dip your toes into this arena and want to turn it into a full-time career, a typical grant writer salary is about $48,000/year according to Payscale, and $54,000/year according to Glassdoor.

Learn how to write a grant proposal

But how do you write a grant proposal? If you’ve never written a grant before, you should consider taking a course on grant writing and even earning your certification.

Introductory grant writing courses are usually available at community colleges and universities, or you can find online training that will cover the basics over the course of just a few weeks. Nonprofitready.org offers several free courses on grant writing, and GrantSpace and the Grant Training Center offer instruction, too.

From there, you may want to pursue a more strenuous course through the Grant Professionals Certification Institute. Lots of certification programs exist, but this one is the most extensive and well respected.

I decided not to get certified because I had significant experience in grant writing to launch my business, but if you’re just starting out, certification can help you gain credibility and overcome a limited background in this type of work.

Connect with organizations that rely on grants

One way to get started is volunteering at a nonprofit, even if your tasks are nowhere near grant writing. Assist at fundraising auctions, help an office with data entry, join a board, work a phone bank, solicit event sponsorships — any of these options will help you get a foot in the door with a nonprofit and learn about the organization’s needs.

Contributing your time to administrative and fundraising initiatives will help you see the inner workings of this type of organization, more so than direct-service volunteering. You’ll build connections as you build your business.

Nonprofits often form a small, tight-knit community, so your volunteering will help get your name out there — and maybe even turn into a paying gig.

Finally, consider volunteering your grant writing services to a local nonprofit as you’re starting out. While I wouldn’t recommend doing this for long, it will help you build a solid portfolio. Having a few grants under your belt and a nonprofit or two to vouch for you will help you sell your services as a paid grant writer when you’re ready.

Build your network in the fundraising community

In addition to lending a hand at a specific nonprofit, join your regional professional fundraisers organization or local nonprofit employee organization. Any professional organization along those lines that meets regularly is a good place for you to meet other people in the industry and eventually shop your services.

Other professional groups can be helpful, too. Maybe there’s a young professionals group that meets for cocktails and networking, or something similar. These won’t be as directly helpful as shaking hands directly with nonprofit professionals and other fundraisers, but it can’t hurt to get your name out there.

Make business cards, build a website, and add your grant writing work to your email signature; these are all great ways to create a legitimate business and to market your services effectively. And when you attend networking events, hand out as many business cards as you can.

I find that even though grant writing is a growing profession — especially among freelance writers — there’s still lots of room for more writers.

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Photo via Tero Vesalainen/ Shutterstock 

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