A quick guide to paying for grant writing

Grant writing cost is one of those “how long is a piece of string” questions. How much should I pay the grant writer? What’s the best structure for payment? The basic answer is – “it depends!”

Some grant writers are highly experienced and have worked as grant assessment officers, meaning they have the “insider view” of what the grantor is looking for. Some are newer and are great writers but don’t have that inside view. Some have specialist skills and qualifications in things like research science and creative arts, others don’t. Some will help you design up the project you’re applying to do. Others will just write what you tell them. It’s a mix. You want to work with a grant writer with the right type of experience for your project, and you’ll need to pay fairly for any specialist skills. 

Generally, you’d want to be paying the writer on a project basis or an hourly basis. A good grant writer should be able to look at the application and figure out how much work it will be, and give you a fixed fee. This will include deadlines for milestones, draft versions, feedback, etc. You should expect an upfront payment, often 50%, with the remainder paid either on submission or once the draft is provided (in the case of flexible submission dates).

In some cases, it might be very difficult to fully scope how much work a project will be. In that case, working on an hourly basis makes sense. The grant writer should still tell you how many hours they think it will take (a range), give clear reasons why it can’t be scoped as a project fee, and keep you up to date on where they’re at with the number of hours. Usually, you’ll pay a set number of hours upfront (e.g. half the anticipated number of hours).

For the vast majority of grants, it’s unethical to do a percentage payment or commission, and usually illegal too. Most grants stipulate that you cannot use the grant funds to pay for grant preparation. Besides that, it’s actually not usually more work to apply for $10,000 or $100,000 or $1,000,000, and it’s not really fair that a grant writer would be paid less because you decided to apply for $50,000 instead of $70,000. If you’re new to grants, a good grant writer might recommend you aim lower first to get some runs on the board, and that would actually help your business while hurting the grant writer’s business if they were being paid a percentage.

The key thing though is that grant writers should be paid on work rendered, not on results – i.e. you still pay the grant writer even if you don’t get the grant. There are lots of things outside the grant writer’s control that could prevent you from getting the grant, and that doesn’t meant they shouldn’t be paid. You might not win the grant because another applicant had more impressive experience than you – imagine not paying your resume writer because there was a more experienced applicant and you didn’t get the job! There’s also things like Sports Rorts where political whims come into play – some of those grants scored 98/100 which is insanely high and still didn’t get funded. The grant writer did everything right, so should still get paid.

The exception is some economic development grants and tax incentives, which are not very competitive. For these, it’s ok to pay percentage and on results, if the grant writer works like that. Most don’t.

As a really rough ballpark guide, here’s what you might expect to pay. For something really super simple, you might be looking at $700-$1000. For something longer or more complex, the range would be more like at $200-$4000. For very large, long, complex applications, it’s anything upward of $5000, even over $10,000 for really complicated applications. It depends on the parameters, the resources available, and how difficult the application is (and they vary a LOT). Each grant application will need to be scoped and priced individually.

Another option is grant editing and coaching, which can be a great solution for people on budgets who are willing to DIY and build their own skillset but don’t know where to start. You can get a few hours of a grant writer’s time to help you figure out your strategy, what you need to write against the criteria, what types of examples will show your skills, and help make sure you’ve got the right structure. This service can usually be delivered flexibly according to your budget, so if you’re lower on cash but willing to do the work, it’s a great way to go.

If you’ve got questions on grant pricing, or grants in general, send me an email. I’m happy to help.