Grants Demystified: Reasons Why Grant Writers CANNOT Work on Commission


Are you considering adding grants to your development plan?

Do you want to increase the number of grant awards you secure every year?

Would you like to submit your first federal grant application this year?

 I bet you answered “yes” to one (if not all) of those questions. We’re all looking for new ways to bring in more revenue for our nonprofit missions. You may have also considered hiring an employed or contract grant writer to improve your fundraising capacity. Before you do, know this: professional grant writers cannot work on commission. Why?

Working on commission violates the ethical standards of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Grant Professionals Association.

Here is a synopsis of the guidelines from both organizations: “In accordance with the standards of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Grant Professionals Association, payment of the fees is not contingent upon any set amount of funds raised.”

If I were to work on commission, I would lose my GPA membership (possibly for life) and my GPC (Grant Professional Certified) designation. I would also lose the respect of my colleagues, something I’ve worked for more than a decade to develop. This is actually one way you can determine if the grant writer you’re interviewing is experienced, because professionals will never offer or agree to work on commission. We have too much to lose if we do.

Grant success is NOT dependent solely upon the work of a grant writer.

Now this might sound like I’m dissing my entire profession or trying to push off responsibility. Neither is true. Certainly, grant success is partially dependent on how well a grant is written (or else why would an entire cadre of skilled professionals do nothing but grant writing). But grant success is also dependent on four critical organizational factors: Credibility, Capacity, Evidence, and Sustainability.

Obviously, a grant writer cannot control every element on that list. For example if the grant writer is just one member of the development department, someone else is likely responsible for about 80% of the development plan (like raising funds through special events, direct mail, etc.).

Considering these factors, paying a grant writer on commission is inherently unfair to the organization and the writer. Both are responsible for the win or loss.

I get it. Many service professionals work on commission. I’m asked at least once a month why we don’t work like sales people. My response is always, “Because I’m not a salesperson. I’m a development professional and a grant writer. I’m committed to missions, not dollars.”

How do you pay your grant writers?


By Heather Stombaugh, MBA, GPC, grant consultant to Laurus Strategies. Read more from the “Grants Demystified” series (among other nonprofit topics) at



3 thoughts on “Grants Demystified: Reasons Why Grant Writers CANNOT Work on Commission

  1. Kim September 10, 2014 / 1:30 pm

    What if the writer wants to accept the grant allowed admin fees (usually a percentage) for reporting and what not after the grant is approved? I have been told this isn’t a commission because of the work required once the grant is approved. Is that true? Thanks!

    • George Rattin September 10, 2014 / 4:24 pm

      Excellent question, Kim! I’ve seen this conversation in some threads in the last couple of years, and it can be controversial. I would argue that what you describe is definitely not commission but may fall under some other ethical areas. Some argue the practice you describe is standard/traditional/par for the course, that a grant writer has the necessary acumen to serve in a paid role on the back end as an evaluator, grants manager, compliance officer, etc. and is obviously a good choice for that job. Others argue that because the grant writer wrote the application out of which s/he will be paid for future work, there’s an inherent conflict of interest. Others still would argue that if you acknowledge this potential conflict in writing prior to submission, then there is no conflict.

      My two cents: go with your gut. If you think it feels unethical, don’t do it. I’d also keep my eyes out for guidance from the Grant Professionals Association or other national membership groups whose ethics committees discuss just this sort of situation. If you’re a member of a national organization, your membership requires adherence to ethical guidelines that are updated from time to time to address such issues. Their guidance is just that – guidance – so do find your own answer first!

      Thanks for your comments!


      Heather Stombaugh, MBA, GPC :: Grants Consultant
      Laurus Strategies :: Non-Profit and Public Affairs Consulting

      • kutu62 September 10, 2014 / 9:28 pm

        Thanks that makes sense! Thank you for taking the time to clear that up. The information you have given here is second to none!

        Now if I only understood why the article is by Heather but the reply is from George but has a signature of Heather? Not that any of that matters just makes me wonder.


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