I frequently get asked if I will work on commission. I do not, because the arrangement does not work for me, personally, and most of the time I think it is a bad idea for the client as well.
As an organization looking to raise funds, especially a start-up, the idea of finding someone to work by commission is an attractive one. But development is a long term process and you need to ask yourself if hiring a grant-writer on commission is a smart idea. Consider a few points:
1) Although the goal is to win the grant money, the process of writing a grant proposal has many intrinsic benefits to the non-profit, regardless of whether funding is achieved. During the process a competent grant writer, preferably one with program/ organizational experience, will help you develop a better program, create a strategy for seeking additional funds and help build your capacity as a fundraiser so in the future you can do much more development work independently. You will never be wasting your money if you shop around and hire the right grant writer.
2) Your chances of winning a grant are not any greater with a commission-based grant writer, but if you do win the grant, the fee to that grant writer will most likely be much higher. The commission-based grant writers I know of charge between 5-10% of the award. And this can be a tricky thing to account for as well because most foundations will not allow their funds to be used in this way.
3) Most commission-based grant writers will only take your job if it is pretty close to sure thing , the grant award is large, or the application can be completed quickly and easily. The reality is it often takes several months to a year of building relationships with funders before you are in a position to receive funding. Most funders will limit the size of first time awards.
4) Hiring a grant writer to work on commission usually means you will be contracting with a larger firm – because most independent grant writers cannot afford to work by commission. Expect the level of service to be much less personal and expect that your grant will be written in sections by various people in the organization. if you are looking for a one-shot grant, maybe not a big deal for you. But if you want a long-term relationship with a grant writer it is very important that you work with someone who has the time and capacity to get to know your organization.