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Old 01-10-2020, 12:45 PM
CairoCarol is offline
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Question for grant writers/non profit organization managers


I've received conflicting information on what standard protocol is for paying grant writers (in the US) these days, and am curious as to who is right.

When I was a grant writer, back in the 1980s, I held salaried positions and the budgets I wrote for my proposals did not include a line item specifically to pay for my services. Usually the budgets included an "overhead" charge (generally between 8 and 15% depending on whatever set of rules we were following) and that money went into the organization's general funds for operational expenses like rent, utilities, and paying staff, including me.

Now the organization I work with (as a volunteer) seems to think that grant writers should work on a contingency basis - for example, if a grant writer gets $100k n grant money, they are paid 10% of that amount, and it's written right into the budget. To me, that is horrifying and unethical, but supposedly our local community foundation thinks this is a legit way for us to proceed.

On the other hand, I just had a conversation with a rep from a consulting firm in Oregon that helps non-profits with their development work, and they were at least as horrified as I was - "you could lose your 501c3 status for doing something like that!" they said.

What say dopers?

.
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Last edited by CairoCarol; 01-10-2020 at 12:47 PM.
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Old 01-10-2020, 01:06 PM
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I was a freelance grantwriter for 30+ years. I charged by the hour and expected to be (and was) paid for my time whether or not the proposal I wrote was successful. I invoiced each client at the end of the month.

During my career I worked for over 50 local organizations (a few with national affiliations), doing one or two proposals for a few and working for a few for many years (one for 11 years, one for 12). Some organizations were tiny and some had multi-million dollar budgets. Only one ever stiffed me, i.e., refused to pay me.

Of course, by the time I started freelancing I'd already been a development director for 10 years on the staff of three different organizations-- all of them huge. I had a LOT of experience, so I could go in and do any kind of proposal on any topic very quickly after asking a few questions. I was never one to run up the clock-- can't say that for some of my colleagues.

Why start freelancing? I couldn't stand working with board members, and that ultimately drove me into self-employment. (And no, I didn't have any health insurance for most of those years. Fortunately, I didn't develop breast cancer until I was old enough for Medicare.)

Working on a contingency basis is not considered ethical or proper by the American Association of Fund Raising Counsel. We're not lawyers working for an award that we expect a cut of. We're more like doctors who expect to be paid even if the patient dies.
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Old 01-10-2020, 01:09 PM
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That's madness. I currently work for a large non-profit and have worked for a small non-profit and deal with countless others in my day to day work. Overhead costs are real costs (which is why funding agencies who restrict them to 0-10% are annoying), and should be included in the budget as a percentage of the whole. Proposal costs are part of that indirect cost line item.
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Old 01-10-2020, 01:25 PM
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I'm not familiar with non-profit grant applications. I work for a public works department, so when I'm writing grant applications or overseeing consultants who are writing grant applications for us, I'm on salary. The consultants are paid according to their proposal and contract as they do the work.

The big problem that I see is that no grant I've ever seen will pay for work that was done before the application was approved. If you're a grant writer on salary, then you'd be part of the organization's overhead, maybe, going forward. But all work for the application would have been complete before the project funding was authorized.

If you really want to know whether the grant program is willing to backpay for grant writing, contact the program and ask.

Last edited by Yllaria; 01-10-2020 at 01:26 PM.
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Old 01-10-2020, 01:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ThelmaLou View Post

Working on a contingency basis is not considered ethical or proper by the American Association of Fund Raising Counsel. We're not lawyers working for an award that we expect a cut of. We're more like doctors who expect to be paid even if the patient dies.

Seconded.

I am not sure what the group in the OP is thinking; or possibly they just aren't. Most of what I write for is state parks, historic sites, and a few times colleges. If I am being paid or if I'm doing it pro bono it is spelled out up front and is applied "win or lose". If I ever approached any of them offering a contingency fee basis I would be black-listed so fast it would leave skid marks on my hide.
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Old 01-10-2020, 01:52 PM
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Seconded.

I am not sure what the group in the OP is thinking; or possibly they just aren't.
Not sure which group you mean - the nonprofit or the community foundation - but my theory is that the nonprofit didn't know any better and that the community foundation doesn't REALLY believe that (I didn't hear it straight from them, I was told that that's what the foundation believes).

Anyway, thanks to you all for confirming my point of view. The fact I had to ask is a by-product of having live abroad for almost my entire adult life - I thought maybe I had lost touch. Glad to know that, on this matter at least, I hadn't.
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Old 01-10-2020, 02:00 PM
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Originally Posted by CairoCarol View Post
Not sure which group you mean
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Originally Posted by CairoCarol View Post

Now the organization I work with (as a volunteer) seems to think that grant writers should work on a contingency basis
Them be the people I mean. I hate to use clinical inside jargon among lay-people but that is something I would consider nuckint futs.
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Old 01-10-2020, 02:06 PM
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Originally Posted by MoonMoon View Post
That's madness. I currently work for a large non-profit and have worked for a small non-profit and deal with countless others in my day to day work. Overhead costs are real costs (which is why funding agencies who restrict them to 0-10% are annoying), and should be included in the budget as a percentage of the whole. Proposal costs are part of that indirect cost line item.
The fees of a grant proposal writer should be included in the budget of the organization as a whole. That's not contingency based on the return of any specific proposal or project.

When organizations paid me, they paid me out of whatever line item they had established for fund raising. But when/if I wrote a specific proposal for a specific project, there was never a contingency line item in that project budget basically stating that if the money came in, I'd get paid XX dollars and if it didn't I was SOL.

As I said, I charged by the hour, invoiced once a month, and got a check in the mail.

What part of that is "madness"? Or did you misunderstand the OP?
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Old 01-10-2020, 02:07 PM
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I work with grant writers all the time, albeit everyone in the ecosystem I work in is for profit. But no one EVER works solely on a contingency basis. The writers I work with charge an hourly fee and sometime they will reduce their hourly rate with the stipulation they get a small percentage of the grant should it be successful. In the actual grant budget there are generally direct costs and indirect costs; and the grant writer, as a hired gun, is NOT part of either of these. The grant recipient has to come up with the money to pay the writer from some other funds.
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Old 01-10-2020, 02:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ThelmaLou View Post
The fees of a grant proposal writer should be included in the budget of the organization as a whole. That's not contingency based on the return of any specific proposal or project.

When organizations paid me, they paid me out of whatever line item they had established for fund raising. But when/if I wrote a specific proposal for a specific project, there was never a contingency line item in that project budget basically stating that if the money came in, I'd get paid XX dollars and if it didn't I was SOL.

As I said, I charged by the hour, invoiced once a month, and got a check in the mail.

What part of that is "madness"? Or did you misunderstand the OP?
?

I was replying to the OP, and the suggestion that the grant writer take a percentage of the total grant awarded is what I was calling madness.

I'm saying just what you're saying: grant writing is part of the overall budget, and does not get a separate line item. It is rolled into indirect or overhead costs, which there should be included in every proposal budget.
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Old 01-10-2020, 02:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Sigene View Post
I work with grant writers all the time, albeit everyone in the ecosystem I work in is for profit. But no one EVER works solely on a contingency basis. The writers I work with charge an hourly fee and sometime they will reduce their hourly rate with the stipulation they get a small percentage of the grant should it be successful. In the actual grant budget there are generally direct costs and indirect costs; and the grant writer, as a hired gun, is NOT part of either of these. The grant recipient has to come up with the money to pay the writer from some other funds.
(Emphasis mine) Yes, I should have specified the difference. I was talking about a grant writer who is on staff and part of the organization's F&A costs.
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Old 01-10-2020, 04:36 PM
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Originally Posted by MoonMoon View Post
?

I was replying to the OP, and the suggestion that the grant writer take a percentage of the total grant awarded is what I was calling madness.

I'm saying just what you're saying: grant writing is part of the overall budget, and does not get a separate line item. It is rolled into indirect or overhead costs, which there should be included in every proposal budget.
Sorry. When you said "this" is madness, the antecedent of "this" was unclear (to me). I'm terminally literal-minded. It's a blessing. And a curse.
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Old 01-10-2020, 04:38 PM
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You should be paid regardless of whether the grant is successful. Non-profit director here.
  #14  
Old 01-11-2020, 11:59 AM
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Okay, I understand the situation more now. The local community foundation does indeed permit grants to include contingent fees for hired grant writers. The rationale is that, while it isn't a great approach and you shouldn't do it if you have alternatives, some non-profits are so strapped for cash that it is the only way they can afford to pay for grant-writing expertise.

There's a blog article discussing the topic at length here.
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