Nonprofit Grant Writers: Everything You Need to Know about Grant Writing for Nonprofits

Nonprofit Grant Writers: Everything You Need to Know about Grant Writing for Nonprofits

Nonprofit organizations rely on the skills of many professionals to continue operating and supporting the causes that are close to their heart. Grant writers are one of these important roles; they play a crucial part in securing funds. These skilled individuals create compelling proposals on behalf of nonprofits to bring in much-needed financial support for projects and initiatives. They bridge the gap between organizations and funding sources to help make a real difference in their communities.

Grant writers do more than just ask for money. They tailor their proposals in a way that connects with potential funders. Successful proposals outline the organization's mission and project details, and why it deserves financial support. By combining creative storytelling and strategic data presentation, grant writers bring ideas to life and appeal to decision makers.

However, finding skilled nonprofit grant writers isn’t easy. Nonprofits need talented individuals with just the right blend of experience, skills, and passion for their cause. There is strong competition for these professionals because organizations want to hire someone capable of tackling the complexities of the grant application process. The ideal applicant should have experience of securing vital funding from a wide range of sources, such as federal agencies, foundations, and community donors. This ensures the nonprofit doesn’t have to rely on one particular source of funding. However, nonprofits have funding limitations, but still need to pay competitive salaries to attract top talent.

This article looks at the importance of grant writers in nonprofits, the skills and qualities to look for, and the process of finding and hiring the best writer to work for your nonprofit organization.

Why Nonprofit Grant Writers Are Essential

Nonprofit grant writers are essential in organizations that are dedicated to making a positive impact in society. Their role is about more than putting words on paper; they have the task of translating big ideas into actionable plans. This is how they secure the financial resources that can turn these ideas into reality. Simply telling the potential funder what the nonprofit hopes to achieve isn’t enough. The proposal must detail the specific steps they plan to take to reach the overall goal, and how money will be spent.

Resources are often limited, so effective grant writing can make the difference between a project securing the financial backing it needs, or having to be scrapped due to lack of funds. Writers use their expertise to convince decision-makers to invest in causes.

Effective grant writers think ahead, rather than just focusing on securing immediate funding. Their proposal also sets the stage for long-term sustainability, helping nonprofits to establish relationships with funders and encourage a steady stream of support for future endeavors. These connections are essential for organizations that want to create long-term change and overcome systemic challenges within their communities.

Beyond the financial aspect, nonprofit grant writers weave narratives into the proposals that capture the principles of an organization, the impact of its previous work, and its hopes for the future. Through this storytelling, they highlight some of the pressing issues facing society. This helps to earn support and encourage action to create meaningful change.

Without grant writers, nonprofits would struggle to connect their vision with reality,in a way that funders can relate to. These writers empower organizations to pursue their goals with confidence, knowing that they have the resources and support necessary to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those they serve.

Today, there is a growing need for positive change, and many organizations compete for limited funding. This competition makes the role of nonprofit grant writers essential. Their ability to stand out against others seeking financial help, and successfully secure funding for mission-driven initiatives can make a real impact on the issues that matter. They often have to research and write convincingly on topics they feel passionately about. For example, when writing a proposal for money to conserve endangered species, they will need to provide the most recent data on details such as current populations compared to previous years.

The Qualities of Successful Nonprofit Grant Writers

The best nonprofit grant writers have a unique blend of skills, attributes, and experiences. Stringing together words is just the most basic part of their job. They also have to act as strategic thinkers, storytellers, and advocates for the causes they represent.

One key quality that successful nonprofit grant writers have is their ability to carry out in-depth research. They dig deep into the issues their organization considers important, and gather statistics and case studies to support their proposals. Then, they present this information so that it holds the interest of the reader.

For example, a seasoned grant writer for a homeless shelter, would research homelessness statistics in her community, and highlight the urgency of the issue in grant proposals. The statistical details would be easy to locate in the proposal, but the writer would create a narrative that shares details of issues and contributes to a better understanding of the problem. This information and its presentation would increase the chances of securing funding for the shelter's programs.

Successful grant writers also have exceptional communication skills that can be conveyed on paper, without diluting the message. They can translate complex ideas into clear, concise language that strikes the right balance of professionalism and personalization. This means that a writer creating proposals to send to multiple funders can’t just resend the same proposal. Instead, they will adapt each one, even if the main message and details remain the same. For example, a grant writer for an eco-friendly organization would change the narrative of the proposal when applying for funding from a generalized source, compared to a source dedicated to funding these types of projects. The latter would already have a high level of knowledge about these issues and would understand specific terminology. Meanwhile, the generalized funding source might not be as familiar with the issues. So, these will need to be explained a little more without talking down to them.

Grant writers use their words to build relationships, playing on the importance of creating connections with funders, program officers, and community stakeholders. These partnerships can play a vital role in the program's success. 

In addition to the above skills, some of the most successful grant writers are resilient. They don’t take rejection personally. This trait helps them adapt when faced with challenges. They understand that rejection is a part of the process and use feedback to refine their approach.

Where to Find Nonprofit Grant Writers

Finding qualified nonprofit grant writers can take time and effort, but will be worth it. Using multiple approaches will attract a wider range of applicants, and help you find the unique mix of qualities, skills and personality that your organization needs. One method is using online platforms and generalized job boards, as well as those specialized in nonprofit recruitment. This includes websites such as Idealist, Indeed, and CharityVillage, as well as advertising the opening on LinkedIn. These platforms allow organizations to reach a wide pool of candidates actively seeking roles in mission-driven work.

Professional networks and associations dedicated to grant writing can also be valuable resources in the search for your ideal candidate. Organizations, such as the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) and the American Grant Writers' Association (AGWA) provide networking opportunities and access to a community of experienced grant writers. Engaging with these networks helps nonprofits to connect with professionals who have the skills and expertise needed to support their grant writing efforts.

If you want flexibility in the hiring process, specialized agencies or freelancers can provide a mix of flexibility and expertise. Freelancers often have a wide range of experience from working with various organizations across different sectors, while agencies may offer specialized services and resources tailored to nonprofit grant writing. These sources can provide valuable insights, and meet the additional demand during peak grant seasons, in addition to bringing fresh perspectives to your organization.

Nonprofits with limited budgets can consider reaching out to local universities, colleges, and community organizations with grant writing programs or workshops. This brings in fresh insights from newly qualified people or those with knowledge of the most recent aspects of successful grant writing. This approach gives talented individuals a place to start their careers, and is a cost-effective option for cash-strapped organizations.

By looking at different ways to hire, nonprofits can find talented individuals or firms capable of moving their grant writing efforts forward and supporting their mission-driven initiatives.

Crafting Compelling Job Descriptions for Grant Writing Positions

To appeal to qualified candidates who can attract a higher level of funding for your nonprofit, a compelling job description is a great start. This description should contain details such as responsibilities, qualifications, and expectations for the role.

Firstly, job descriptions need to clearly outline the main responsibilities of the grant writing position. This will include tasks such as researching funding opportunities, developing grant proposals, managing grant calendars, and maintaining relationships with funders. Providing applicants with a detailed overview of these responsibilities helps candidates understand the scope of the role, what will be expected of them, and whether the role is right for them. In short, it saves you and them from wasting time.

Secondly, job descriptions should specify which skills and qualifications are a requirement, and which, if any, are preferred but not essential. These can include experience in grant writing, research skills and data analysis, excellent communication skills, and the ability to work collaboratively within a team, as well as a degree in any or one particular subject. Outlining these qualifications attracts candidates who can excel in the role.

Job descriptions should also include information about the organization's mission, values, and culture, to attract someone who shares these. Another thing to include is the salary and any benefits. Although you want to attract someone who believes in your mission, it’s important to make sure applicants know the compensation involved. Then, they can decide if they want to apply. In your job description, use language that shows the significance of the work and the opportunity for professional growth to capture the interest of potential candidates. This has a value to attract the right type of people to the role of grant writer.

Lastly, remember to set realistic expectations in job descriptions. Nonprofit grant writing can be a demanding job that requires someone with attention to detail, perseverance, and the ability to work under tight deadlines. Being open about the challenges and expectations provides a clear understanding of the role, and to prevent misunderstandings.

An Effective Interviewing and Selection Process

Carrying out effective interviews and using a careful selection process will help you find the most suitable candidates for nonprofit grant writing positions. Organizations that look beyond a candidate’s technical skills and experience are more likely to find someone who shares the organization's values. Of course, their professional background is important too. However, some skills are more teachable, but values can’t be taught. 

During interviews, the questions should serve a purpose, such as determining the applicant’s knowledge of grant writing principles, their experience with grant applications, and their ability to explain complicated ideas to a variety of audiences. Behavioral questions can be used to provide insight into candidates' problem-solving skills, adaptability, and how well they work under pressure, which are all useful qualities for successful grant writers.

Interviews should also include questions that assess the candidates' passion for the organization's mission and their alignment with its values. These can relate to the interviewees’ motivations for working in the nonprofit sector and their commitment to social change, such as hypothetical questions that ask how they would react in different scenarios. 

In addition to traditional interviews, nonprofits may consider practical exercises or writing assessments as part of the selection process. Giving candidates a mock grant writing task, or asking them to analyze a sample proposal, allows organizations to evaluate their writing abilities, attention to detail, and ability to convey compelling narratives. However, this should not be something the organization intends to use, unless the candidate is compensated for their work.

Key stakeholders might choose to sit in on interviews, or at least those where the candidate has made it to a 2nd or 3rd interview. This allows them to use their diverse perspectives and ensure the successful person will work towards the organizational goals

Building Long-Term Relationships with Grant Writers

In any business, it’s important for employees to get along with each other and with employers. This is especially true in nonprofits and with grant writers. They are the people who can secure funding for the initiatives supported by the organization. Mutual respect and effective communication between grant writers and other professionals within the business will benefit everyone involved.

Nonprofit organizations should think of grant writers as partners rather than just employees or contractors. Involving them in the planning process, sharing insights into the organization's mission and goals, and seeking their input on funding strategies, will help to increase grant opportunities and equip the writer with the knowledge to develop better proposals.

Mutual respect is another foundation for a great working relationship between nonprofit organizations and grant writers. Grant writers bring a lot of value to the table. Acknowledging their contributions builds on partnership and commitment. In return, grant writers should respect the organization's mission and priorities, directing their efforts to achieve its goals.

Effective communication is the best way to create a positive working relationship with grant writers. This involves allowing them to share their expectations and listen to what you expect from them, providing constructive feedback, and discussing challenges throughout the grant writing process. Regular check-ins through email updates, phone calls, or in-person meetings will keep both parties informed every step of the way.

Organizations that create a supportive and appreciative work environment for grant writers will inspire a commitment from these writers. This appreciation can be shown by offering professional development opportunities and resources to demonstrate a commitment to investing in their growth and success.

Measuring the Impact of Grant Writers on Nonprofit Success

Measuring the impact that grant writers have on a nonprofit’s success is essential. This process determines how effective their contributions are and helps to improve funding strategies. Establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) gives organizations a way to track the outcomes of grant writing efforts and assess their impact on achieving organizational goals. The grant writer should bring value to the nonprofit and its activities, so that the cost of hiring this person is outweighed by the funding they secure.

One KPI to track is the success rate of grant applications submitted by the writer. The number of successful grant awards compared to the total number of applications submitted can show how effective the writer is. Additionally, organizations can analyze the amount of funding obtained through grant awards to measure the financial impact of grant writers on the organization's budget and sustainability.

Tracking project outcomes linked to funding secured by grant writers can show the tangible impact of their efforts. By monitoring metrics such as the number of individuals served, programs implemented, or community initiatives supported with grant funds, organizations can assess how much a grant writer contributed to advancing the organization's mission and making a meaningful difference in the community. It can also reflect on the other members of the organization who created these programs. 

To measure the quality of grant proposals developed by writers, organizations can use peer review or request feedback from funders. Sometimes, even in the case of rejection, the proposal might have been well developed, but due to limited funding, only so much money is available, and applications are high. However, evaluating factors such as the clarity of the proposal narrative, alignment with funder priorities, and the strength of the project design might help the writer to be successful next time. 

Understanding how grant funding contributed to programmatic achievements, organizational growth, and community engagement helps when assessing the annual budget and whether the organization has to make cuts. This knowledge will ensure they don’t cut back on essential tasks like grant writing, which often bring in more funds than they cost.

Common Challenges and Solutions in Working With Grant Writers

Some non-profit organizations might experience challenges while working with grant writers, ranging from communication barriers to managing project scope and expectations. However, you can deal with these challenges and find effective solutions to make the most of collaborations between grant writers and organizations. The common challenge of communication barriers can occur when there are differences in communication styles, time constraints, or misunderstandings about project requirements. Overcoming this challenge as an organization involves prioritizing clear and open communication from the start, through regular meetings and by being available for discussions and clarification by phone or email. Establish regular check-ins, provide detailed project briefs, and be open about expectations and timelines. All these methods will keep both parties informed and on the same page throughout the grant writing process.

Another challenge is managing project scope and expectations related to grant funding opportunities and proposal requirements. Grant writers may find it difficult to balance the organization's objectives while following specific grant guidelines or funding priorities. The organization can help by involving grant writers in the planning process and providing them with in-depth information about project goals, target outcomes, and funding priorities. While this falls outside of the writer’s job description and expertise, this involvement can help them gain a deeper understanding that improves their proposal writing. Also, by setting expectations and clarifying project scope early, organizations can reduce potential misunderstandings and ensure that grant writers have all the resources and support they need to deliver successful grant proposals.

However, organizations may encounter challenges related to resource constraints, such as limited staff capacity or inadequate funding for grant writing activities. In these situations, outsourcing grant writing tasks to freelance writers or consulting firms can provide additional expertise and support. Using external resources helps organizations to benefit from the expertise of grant writers, without a long-term commitment. Often, they will see the value and this may lead to employing the writer, or seeking a full time grant writer elsewhere.


The process of working with a nonprofit grant writer involves strategic hiring and teamwork to achieve long-term sustained success for both the organization and the writer. The role of nonprofit grant writers cannot be understated. They can transform the organization’s visions into actionable plans, and secure important funding to move mission-driven initiatives forward. Using their expertise allows organizations to benefit from new funding opportunities, build relationships with funders, enhance the mission’s impact, and create positive change in their communities. 

Strategic hiring is particularly important. This involves creating thorough job descriptions tailored to nonprofit grant writing positions, holding effective interviews, and building long-term relationships with grant writers. All of this helps to attract and retain top talent. By encouraging a collaborative approach, creating mutual respect, and effective communication, organizations can increase the contributions of grant writers and improve their grant writing strategies for success.

In addition, it’s possible to measure the impact that grant writers have on nonprofit success through key performance indicators and project outcomes. The organizations can use the results of these to evaluate effectiveness, identify areas for improvement, and create growth.

Frequently Asked Questions

What qualifications should nonprofit grant writers possess?

A bachelor's degree in a related field such as communications, English, or nonprofit management can be useful. Experience in grant writing, research, and project management are valued too. Strong writing and communication skills are a must, so are attention to detail and the ability to work under tight deadlines.

Where can I find qualified nonprofit grant writers?

Qualified nonprofit grant writers can be found through online platforms, job boards specializing in nonprofit recruitment, professional networks and associations dedicated to grant writing, and through agencies or freelancing websites.

How do I assess the effectiveness of a grant writer?

You can assess how effective your grant writer is by their success rate in securing funding, the quality of their grant proposals, and their contribution to achieving organizational goals. Tracking metrics, such as the number of successful grant awards secured, the amount of funding obtained and the impact of grant-funded projects, provides insights into the value of a grant writer's efforts.

What should be included in a job description for a nonprofit grant writer?

A job description for a nonprofit grant writer should include details about the main responsibilities of the role, such as researching funding opportunities, developing grant proposals, and managing deadlines. It should also state essential or preferred qualifications and skills, including experience in grant writing, proficiency in research and communication, and a passion for the organization's mission.

How can nonprofits build strong relationships with grant writers?

Building strong relationships with grant writers involves teamwork, mutual respect, and effective communication. Involving grant writers in the planning process, acknowledging their contributions, and providing regular feedback can help nurture a positive working relationship. Additionally, offering professional development opportunities and expressing gratitude for their hard work can strengthen the bond between nonprofits and grant writers.

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