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Grant Writing Ethics

Ethics in grantwriting is fairly simple. Be honest. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This applies to both narratives and budgets. If you're not sure of your claim, modify your language. If you can't prove you're the oldest arts organization in the state, say you're one of the oldest arts organizations in the state. Then you don't have to spend hours on research to make sure you're right.

If something major changes in your program or budget while you have a proposal pending, or after the grant has been awarded, call the funder and tell him or her what has happened. Grantmakers always appreciate honesty, and will usually work with you to accommodate the change. If they don't, it's still better to tell the truth.

If you discover that an error has been made, or that someone else has been less than honest, tell the funder as soon as you learn the truth. If a funded project was not carried out as promised, or an evaluation was not done, apologize to the funder and try to set things right as soon as possible. You may be surprised to find how understanding grantmakers can be. Remember, as many politicians and executives have discovered, the cover-up is nearly always worse than the original misdeed. Commissions, contingency fees, or percentages

Fees for freelance grantwriters or consultants present a constant problem. At least once a week someone asks, Can I hire a grantwriter (or agree to work for an organization) for a percentage of the grants awarded? The answer, simply, is no. Commissions are considered unethical by almost all professional organizations and funders. They are also a bad idea for both organizations and grantwriters.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals states in its Code of Ethical Principles and Standards of Professional Practice: Members shall not accept compensation that is based on a percentage of charitable contributions; nor shall they accept finder's fees. The Northwest Development Officers Association says in its Statement of Ethics: Members shall . . .receive compensation based on usual and customary compensation practices in the development field. Accept no compensation based on a percentage of fundraising goals.

Grantmakers frown upon contingency fees, and many will not fund your organization if they find out you pay consultants on this basis. Funders seldom allow a grantwriters fee to be included in the program budget, and hiding the fee in another line would be dishonest.

Freelance grantwriters and consultants are professionals who are paid for their time and their expertise. They may be paid either by the hour or by the project. They are not salesmen who get a cut of the proceeds if they close the deal. Nor are they like personal-injury lawyers, who get a third of the award if they win the case. Grantwriters are skilled professionals who use their expertise to help an organization obtain support for its work. They should be paid for their time, even if the proposal is not successful.

Proposals succeed or fail for a number of reasons, most of which are out of the grantwriters control. Among these are:

* The strength of the project: its feasibility, whether it meets a clear need, and whether it has a well-planned budget.
* How well the project fits the funders interests.
* The non-profits reputation, track record and financial history.
* Relationships: how well the funder knows and trusts the non-profits board and staff.
* Competition: how many other requests the funder has received.
* Funds and Timing: how much money the funder has available in this cycle.

Finally, an extremely important element is the quality and persuasiveness of the proposal. This is the part the grantwriter controls, and it is important. But even the most beautifully written proposal will fail if other factors are not in its favor.

"We're a small organization, just starting out. How are we supposed to pay a grantwriter if we don't have any money?" If you don't have any money, you're not ready to apply for a grant. Grants should never be an organizations first dollar. You need to raise funds from individuals first: people who believe in your organization and are willing to make a contribution to get you started. A good place to begin is your board.

Percentage fees are a bad idea for the grantwriter as well. Do you want to spend hours on a grant and not get paid for your time? You may spend ten hours writing a long, involved application for $5,000 to a local agency, and spend two hours writing a two page request for $500,000 to a national foundation. Does it really make sense to earn $500 for the first and $50,000 for the second - or nothing, if the grant doesn't succeed? Such an arrangement is pretty much a kick-back, and unethical.

For all these reasons and more, percentages are a bad practice for freelance grantwriters.

Remember: The Grant Resource Center stays up to date on the latest grant programs available so please check in regularly. We verify and update the information presented on a daily basis, so you will always have access to the most current information possible in one location. We're famillar with virtually every source of Federal and private grant money, so all you have to do is decide what type of grant you need and get started.