Traditional grant writer jobs begin with a bachelor’s degree in English or journalism. Whether or not you took that route in college, you know in order to succeed as a writer in any area you have to write, write, and write. The same holds true for grant writers. Employers will ask for the bachelor’s credential but also will want to see some experience as a grant writer. How do you get that?
The American Grant Writers Association is the certifying body for these professionals. This association provides both online and in-person seminars (cost: approximately $700) that result in your qualification to sit for the grant writer certification examination. It will also offer advice on the professional networking necessary to establish your credentials and earn a reputation.
You can consider other options to launch your career. First, you should decide whether you want to work as a full-time employee for an educational institution or nonprofit organization (for example). The average salary range can run from $40,000 to $80,000 per year. This of course depends on the geographical area of the United States and the type of organization doing the hiring. The foundation for a world-class symphony orchestra in a major U.S. city will pay more than a small charter school in a rural area. In the case of the rural school, the salary offered might run as low as $25,000. An urban university will often combine the responsibilities of grant writer with those of giving and other fundraising, thus enriching the salary potential. Sometimes the job title for the person coordinating these efforts is “director of development.” With full-time jobs the availability of benefits always enhances the offer. Nonprofit social service organizations traditionally offer low salaries, but their benefits surpass those of other companies.
Some institutions seek to hire half-time or quarter-time grant writers. For some writers this provides a very fluid and creative structure to the workweek. Some prefer a part-time job as a grant writer with the freedom to spend the balance of his time freelancing, raising a family, or writing that novel. Others might take two or more part-time jobs with several companies.
Yet other companies or agencies will contract with grant writers for an hourly rate on an as-needed basis or hire them for a flat fee to apply for a specific grant. In some cases, the company works through an agency that provides the grant writer. Such an agency might charge as much as $3,000 to provide a grant writer; the writer receives the smaller portion of this fee. In other cases, mostly to save money by “eliminating the middle man,” companies seek out independent contractors to handle their grant needs.
Another avenue of income for grant writer jobs is to act as a coach for a company seeking grant funds. This means that the writer is hired to guide and supervise the grant-writing efforts of the company’s professionals. For example, a grant writer at a school will meet regularly with teachers in the various departments and track their projects for the current or next academic year. The writer will coordinate and polish the teachers’ efforts.
In any of these cases, the grant writer is paid regardless of the result of the grant application. Also, the grant-writing fee is not paid from the money granted. If you accept a position or sign a contract, you should be certain that the parties involved are all in agreement. However, as in any profession, you will not remain active in your field if you do not obtain results.
Whether you want to enter the profession by way of the traditional college degree and subsequent hiring process, or whether you decide to dabble as a freelancer, your goal is establishing a track record as a successful procurer of grant monies. Some writers tumble into the field of grant writing through a friend or relative who works at an agency that needs to apply for a grant. Others already work at an agency—even in a volunteer capacity—and find themselves nominated to steer a grant application through its stages. In one example, the wife of a successful businessman volunteered for the boards of her local charities with her sole purpose being the desire to write their grants; this ultimately led to a paying position.
Just as different types of writers embody various characteristics—think of the poet versus the humorist versus the copyeditor—you must assemble a skill set in order to succeed. You will need good interviewing skills in order to learn from people just what it is they want. You will need good organizational skills in order to track grant application deadlines, which can be fixed or rolling. You will need to be quick about providing additional support information requested during the application process. Your special writing gift will need to include the ability to channel much detail into a cohesive, concise report. You will need patience and persistence. You will need to be somewhat outgoing; successful grant writers must enjoy asking people for money. Just as car salesmen are natural extroverts, you must cultivate the personality to convince people that your cause is the one idea they should decide to fund. And you have to remain subjective about the process: if the grant application guidelines specify no more than five pages, you cannot submit six pages just because your project is so interesting.
Those who choose grant writer jobs will embark on a fascinating journey with a wide selection of alternate routes to reach their ultimate destinations. Decide what you want out of this career, and then have fun going for it.