grant writer work on commission

Why grant writers should not work on commission

It can be very attractive for a nonprofit to hire a grant writer on commission. And it’s probably also attractive for a freelance grant writer, desperate for work, to accept a job like this. But this is a bad practice for both parties. Here’s why:


1. Grant writers have little control over whether nonprofits win grant awards. Sure, a proficient grant writer is going to deliver a nonprofit a more competitive proposal, but ultimately the decision rests with the foundation. Even the most well-crafted, most compelling grants get turned down, at no fault of the grant writer. Foundations have many more applicants than available funding. In addition, much of what goes into a grant proposal is out of the grant writer’s control. It’s not the grant writer’s fault if an organization is, well, disorganized, or if the program just isn’t as strong as another applicant’s. It’s simply unfair, then, to penalize the writer by not paying them for their work.


2. The foundation probably doesn’t want to pay your grant writer. Foundations generally restrict their funding to direct program costs. Even if they don’t, they’re still likely to be a little turned off by a grant request that includes a commission for a grant writer. They generally are uninterested in funding this kind of overhead.


3. Commissions make your budget unpredictable. It’s imperative that nonprofits have a set budget with all expenses accounted for. If nothing else, grant makers will raise an eyebrow to budgets that have question marks.


4. It just simply devalues your grant writer. Grant writers perform an important, professional service, and nonprofits should treat them respectfully.


The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) also considers this practice unethical and will revoke the membership of any grant writer who works on commission. Not good.


What are your thoughts on the subject? Share them in the comments!


Why grant writers should not work on commission was last modified: by


  • Angie

    02.02.2011 at 12:51 Reply

    Another big reason it’s frowned on: it creates ethical challenges. Grantwriters need to get paid. If they only get paid for a successful award, they are much more likely to write “whatever it takes” (i.e. bend the truth) in the proposal. This can go beyond just “embellishing” program outcomes and success rates — at its most extreme, it has even led a documented case of large scale forgery.

  • Michael Hodgson

    02.11.2011 at 12:52 Reply

    I’d add to Jo’s comment by saying that in the UK, the Institute of Fundraising also discourage paying fundraisers and consultants on a commission basis.

  • Jo Garner

    02.11.2011 at 12:53 Reply

    Love your work! I think you have summed it all up perfectly. The only other thing that I would add is that in Australia, professional fundraisers, members of the Fundraising Institute Australia, abide by the FIA code of ethics and professional standards – which of course does not allow fundraisers to receive commission for fundraising services of any kind. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Laura Ferejohn

    02.11.2011 at 12:53 Reply

    Thank you for this clear and concise explanation of why grant writers shouldn’t work on commission. I have this conversation almost 2-3 times a week. I think I’ll print this out and hand to the next client who asks!

  • Hiring Non profit grant writer

    09.01.2012 at 20:04 Reply

    […] Stable funding. Grant writers do not work on commission. If you are somehow able to cajole a grant writer into working for a percentage of a grant […]

  • Sekai Senwosret

    10.01.2012 at 09:49 Reply

    If fees are a problem for client I have on occasion co-wrote grants and did more mentoring. This helps your client, especially new organizations, appreciate the work involved in grant writing. But totally agree working on commission is not desirable for all the reasons you mentioned.

    • PGWAdmin

      10.01.2012 at 09:50 Reply

      This is a great idea, Sekai. I have also worked in this capacity, and I agree with the benefits you mentioned. Thanks for adding your thoughts!

  • Kristin Hand

    18.04.2012 at 12:51 Reply

    This is understandable from the grant writer’s standpoint. It is also advisable that the organization not request an arrangement of this nature. Directly paying someone a percentage of a grant which the person helped the organization receive could violate the organization’s not-for-profit status.

    It is appropriate for a grant writer to receive a salary from a not-for-profit organization, but is not appropriate for the salary to be in any way connected to the amount of grant funds the writer submits for and the organization receives.

  • Jessica Festa

    06.06.2016 at 08:37 Reply

    Thank you for confirming this. Our consulting group gets calls all the time asking that we work on commission and when we respond that it is unethical (with references to ECFA, AFP, and other associations) they become indignant.

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