questions to ask a grant writer applicant

6 questions to ask a grant writer applicant

More nonprofits are open to the idea of hiring a freelance grant writer for their organization. Here’s our list of six questions to ask a grant writer applicant.


1. How long have you been writing grants?

It’s a great idea to get a sense of a grant writer’s experience and past work history. Asking them about their history with grant writing can tell you a lot about their skills and expertise.


2. What are your primary areas of expertise?

Some grant writers are generalists, while others specialize in certain subjects, like housing or youth services. You may want to hire someone who has written grants about the same type of work your organization does. This way, they’ll be familiar with the subject matter. They’ll be starting from a competent position, rather than starting on a learning curve.


3. What are some successes you’ve had?

Next, ask the grant writer applicant about successes. We don’t suggest asking a grant writer applicant for a success rate. Not only is grant writing highly competitive, but sometimes the success or failure of a grant has nothing to do with the writer. At times, a crummy proposal can get funded because the organization’s director is pals with someone on the foundation’s board of directors. Other times, an excellent, organized grant writer can miss a deadline if their main point of contact within the organization becomes unresponsive or falls ill. That being said, it’s still a good idea to ask a freelance grant writer what successes and accomplishments they’re proud of. This will give you an idea of their track record.


4. How do you charge?

It’s often impossible for a freelance grant writer to give an exact price for writing a grant without seeing the application and assessing the organization’s readiness to complete that application. There are one-page applications and 15-page applications. Big difference there. Perhaps an organization is starting from scratch with grant writing, meaning there’s a lot more work involved for the grant writer. Or maybe the organization has written 50 identical proposals and just needs a boost. Ask instead if the grant writer charges hourly or per project, and if they prefer to be paid up front, on completion, etc. Do they accept checks, or prefer PayPal? And if you have a grant application on hand, ask for an estimate.


5. Am I grant ready?

This is easily the most overlooked question to ask a grant writer applicant. Organizations are often NOT ready to hire a grant writer, so it’s important to give a freelance grant writer enough background information so they can determine if you’re even in a good position to get funded. Grants are not free, easy money. Foundation grant success is as much about relationship building as it is about great writing. A knowledgeable grant writer can help with all of this. It’s a good idea to ask if they think you’ll be competitive in the grant writing arena. And, it’s also a great way to judge whether they know their stuff.


6. What is your process like?

You’ll want to get an idea of what it’s like to work with this person. What is their process? How do they collect information? What’s the best way to communicate with them? You’ll want to make sure their process sounds thorough and that it’ll be easy for you to work with them. You can also ask about project lead times, response times, and work flow.


There are lots of other questions to ask a grant writer applicant. Add your thoughts in the comments!


Learn more about our grant writing services here.

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  • Avatar for Julia


    02.12.2011 at 20:05 Reply

    Great info, Megan, right on!

  • Avatar for Dearonda Harrison

    Dearonda Harrison

    17.04.2015 at 11:59 Reply

    Great post. I like that you pointed out grant winning proposals are about relationships and not necessarily a superb writer. A lot of my clients don’t realize that.

  • Avatar for Jessica Festa

    Jessica Festa

    20.06.2016 at 10:43 Reply

    This is excellent information. Number 3 is such a hugely overlooked but incredibly important area! When we work with clients, we always start with doing some researching and background checking to ensure they are in fact ready to pursue grants and if not helping them to improve and address the areas that need attention. Thank you for confirming our assertion that organizational development must happen prior to approaching grant funding sources!

  • Avatar for Michelle Crim

    Michelle Crim

    03.03.2020 at 07:30 Reply

    Very good information. This helps dispels many of the myths around grant writing.

  • Avatar for Marc Levin

    Marc Levin

    01.04.2020 at 07:11 Reply

    Thanks for putting this short guide together. I think it will save both sides of the hiring experience some grief. I also liked your lead piece on how funders are responding to COVID 19. It is one of the few bright spots on a grim landscape. I want to share one frustrating counter example, though. I am writing a $4 million grant application in response to an RFA issued by the US Dept. of Labor in February that will provide up to $4 million over 3.5 years to to up to 17 grantees to establish a prisoner reentry program focused on preparing prisoners for permanent, gainful employment. The model they propose is excellent: a seamless transition from prison to the community with all the right stakeholders involved and lots of follow-up.. My client would do the job well. However the proposal is due on 4/15. I contacted DOL to ask if they planned to extend the deadline due to the terrible chaos that COVID 19 has unleashed throughout the criminal justice system. Their answer: No, they have to release the $$ by June 30th. How anyone can possibly implement the program seems irrelevant to their decision. What a shame that $65 million that will essentially be wasted ,at least in the short run, and can’t be used for emergency relief.

  • Avatar for Creig Marcus

    Creig Marcus

    02.11.2022 at 14:46 Reply

    I have received several offers from orgs asking if I would be willing to accept payment only if the grant is successful, based on they want me to “write myself into the grant for pay”.

    I explain that is not feasible, since the funding cycles take time and I have to make money to live, and that grants generally do not allow the grant writing costs to be included (I write mainly federal government grants). Number 5 is particular true, and I often find they are not ready to provide information that is needed, no vision/goal what they want to achieve, or lack the capacity to implement the grant if funded.

    Great article, thank you!

  • Avatar for Laine Seaton

    Laine Seaton

    03.05.2023 at 08:20 Reply

    An excellent article. The line ‘grants are not free, easy money’ is key. I’m finding that helping to educate clients and potential clients on what’s needed for a successful grant is a large part of the job. Too many rush into starting a nonprofit without researching what’s involved and the time and effort it takes to become viable. Some have great missions and visions, but don’t want to be bothered by the details, and then they wonder why they’re struggling and can’t fundraise. Sigh.

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