This post was written by TCCS member, Tammy Ellis
Everything you wanted to know about grant writing – a beginners guide.
Thinking of delving into grant writing but worried you don’t have grant writing skills?
In this blog post, I break down the fundamentals of grant writing.
5 Reasons Copywriters can be Grant Writers.
Grant writing can sound intimidating and complicated. But here are five reasons why copywriters make great grant writers.
- Grant writing is nothing more than writing persuasive copy with the purpose of convincing grant funders to provide support.
- Grant applications are sales pitches that advertise a vision (about research, a new idea, a community resource, etc.).
- 3. A successful grant writer writes about complex information in a concise and easy-to-understand format.
- The best grant writers are great researchers.
- Applicants have difficulty being critical, concise and following the funding “brief”.
Grant writing sounds like a job for a copywriter.
If you enjoy research, have great writing skills, and can promote visions, grant writing is for you.
Before you jump in writing your first grant- let’s look at the basis of grant writing.
The nitty-gritty of grant writing – Guidelines & Criteria
There’s no point in starting grant writing unless you carefully scrutinise the Guidelines and Instructions.
These documents provide all the funding body’s expectations and outline the submission requirements, rules, and questions/criteria that need to be answered.
You must familiarise yourself with these criteria.
Applications that don’t answer the questions or meet the criteria are marked ineligible and eliminated without even being reviewed.
The guidelines outline any applicant eligibility conditions such as:
- type of applicant (e.g., Business, Individual, Trust, NFP)
- age of the applicant.
The applicant must meet all the eligibility conditions.
If in doubt, it’s better to email the client to confirm their eligibility before you start writing.
Also look out for requirements such as font, font size, margins, and words or character counts.
Don’t underestimate how crucial these are.
Many applications have been eliminated for ignoring these requirements.
Hint: Most applications are written in a Word document first. Check the word or character length before copying the text into the online form.
The 6 Typical Application Sections
Applications usually contain some (if not all) of the following sections. And each section normally has a word, character or page limit.
- Title: This is the first impression and should summarise the proposal.
- Short Overview/Abstract/ Executive Summary: This is the elevator pitch, where you “sell” the vision to the funders. The overview needs to give the reviewer the “big picture”, including the goals and expected outcomes, and how these will be achieved.
- The Need/Problem: This section sells why the project is essential – what it will solve, or what gaps in resources or knowledge it will fill.
- Description of Project/Methodology/Program Design: This is usually the most detailed and longest section of the application. It’s where you describe the project and how it will be completed.
- Evaluation: This section explains how the applicant will measure the success or failure of the project.
- Budget/Resources: Budgets are often formatted in tables and figures.
So where do you start?
Here are six steps that outline the grant writing process.
The Grant Writing Process
- Fact-finding: Review the application guidelines/instructions and develop the grant writing brief to send to the client.
- Pre-writing review: Review the brief completed by the client, along with any material they provided.
- Research: Fill in any knowledge gaps needed to complete the application, either by asking the client directly (email or interviews) or by conducting your own research.
- Write: Craft the draft application based on the grantor’s criteria.
- Review: Allow two revisions.
- Submission: Some grant writers help the applicant upload documents or copy/paste the responses in the online platform. However, I recommend you don’t do this as:
i. It’s the applicant’s responsibility to ensure the correct documents are uploaded.
ii. A grant writer can’t legally accept the funding terms and conditions on behalf of an applicant, which in many cases is tied to hitting the Submission button.
* Steps 3 and 4 are interchangeable and may be repeated many times during the process.
Grant Writing – How much to charge?
How long is a piece of string?
Every grant and every grant applicant is different. Your quote will depend on:
- Your experience and expertise (whether you’re a beginner or an experienced grant writer)
- The client. How much information will the client provide? Will you need to conduct multiple interviews?
- How much research will be required.
- The specialty expertise needed (e.g., scientific, health and medical, technical)
- The size of the application.
|Size of Grant||Application size||Hours required||Grant value||Typical Funders|
|Small||Typically, the equivalent of 2-3 pages||Less than 5 hours||Less than $10,000||Private, community or corporate|
|Medium||Up to 20 pages, more detailed questions||5 to 20 hours||$10,000 to $100,000||State and Local Government, private, community or corporate|
|Large||20+ pages, including detailed methodology, budget and evaluations.
|20+ hours||$100,000 to $1,000,000||Federal Government, Academic funding programs. Project and Fellowship grants|
|The Big Ones||50+ pages, including detailed methodology, budget and evaluations.||40 hours to 100 hrs +||$1,000,000+||Federal Government, International Funders.
Project and Program grants
Include a rush fee if the proposal needs to be submitted in less than two weeks (for small grants), four weeks (for medium grants), or six to eight weeks (for larger grants).
And remember to include 10-15% for contingencies.
It is not usual once the client receives the first draft, they realise the application requires a change of direction and/or major rewrite.
Make sure major rewrites are quoted separately and explained in your Terms and Conditions.
On average, grant writers charge:
- $75 -$100/hr (beginners)
- $150-$200/hr (experienced)
- upwards to $350/hr for highly successful grant writers in competitive niches.
Many grant writers charge per hour, providing clients with an estimated and/or maximum charge.
Using the TCCS Quote Maker, you can estimate your hours and provide the client with a project-based quote.
A quick survey showed that average project quotes range from $200 for a short grant (a rework on a previous submission) up to $500 for a new small grant and $15,000 or more for new multimillion-dollar applications.
IMPORTANT: Ensure your fee is not commission-based and/or tied to the success of the grant. If the grant’s premise and the applicant’s ability to complete the project is flawed, even Hemmingway wouldn’t be able to write a successful grant.
And make sure your client has signed your Terms and Conditions and you have received your agreed deposit before you start.
Check out the TCCS Terms & Conditions Template.
Many clients may insist on you signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), especially for more significant grants to protect their intellectual property. This is normal.
The Grant Writing Brief
Now you’re ready to start. What information do you need to write the grant?
The questions in the guidelines/instructions/online template will form the basis of your client brief.
Hint: If there’s a question or criteria you do not understand, check the funding FAQs or send an email to the funder’s help desk.
The client must provide sufficient detail for each question/criteria.
Ask for any relevant content from the client, such as:
- previous grants submissions
- website content
- news stories
- yearly reports
- trademark and intellectual property applications.
Other useful information to ask in the brief:
- Why? Why is the applicant doing this project? This provides valuable information about their vision, passion, and motivation.
- Who is the audience? – Who will review the proposal and make the decision? Who is the end-user? Who will benefit from the proposal?
- Goals/Vision. Both short-term (this grant) and long-term goals. The long-term goals are useful to know when composing the responses and understanding the big picture.
- Credibility – Proof that the applicant can complete the project. This can include knowledge, experience, and previous projects completed. If experience is not asked directly by the funders, it is beneficial to weave this information into other responses.
Now you’re ready to start writing the grant and helping applicants successfully obtain their funding.
Looking for more hints?
Check out my ‘9 tips for grant failure’ to avoid when writing a grant.
After a successful Ph.D. cancer research career, I spent 10+ years in research development and grant management working in State Government, hospitals, University, and an Australian Medical research institute.
Here I honed my skills in writing and reviewing grants and developing granting programs and guidelines.
After jumping off the corporate bandwagon, I started my own business CollaborWrite Creative offering writing, editing, and proofreading services specialising in Scientific, Health & Medical, and Academic Writing.
In late 2019, we packed up the family to embark on a mountain change in the Austrian Alps.
Now I split my time between writing, learning German, and trying not to embarrass myself on the ski slopes.