Rather than preach against contingent pay as unethical behavior, I prefer to share with contingent-pay seekers (and providers) some real-life consequences of such arrangements which mainly puts the livelihood of the grant writer at risk. I believe grant writers should never agree to contingency pay. It is simply not fair for hard working grant writers to receive little or no pay for their efforts due to many reasons beyond their control. I'll list several of those reasons which I have seen crop up time and time again, resulting in rejected proposals. In those instances, a grant writer's time and effort were wasted and she or he received no compensation for their good faith professional services:
- Say an organization wants someone to write a grant proposal for a project costing $118,000 and that the grant writer was to be paid a 5% commission if the grant is approved. It is almost always a requirement by funders that every dollar to be raised for and spent on projects be accounted for on a line-item basis. For many funders, the line item in the budget showing $5,900 for grant-acquisition services, would be reason enough to deny the grant. It would make no difference what the commission size or even if the contingency-pay were a flat fee. Grant-writing expenses are seen as part of an organizations operating budget. Few if any foundations, corporations, or governmental organizations are willing to make a grant when a portion of the money granted is to be used to pay a grantwriting fee. Remember, the grant is being requested for a specific project, not to offset operating expenses nor to disguise a professional fee. A non-profit or a grant writer that fails to take the possibility of such a caveat into consideration may be facing a rude awakening. Discerning and experienced program officers can readily see right through, and will reject, poorly delineated projects, "soft" and questionable budgets, and a host of other weaknesses which cannot be overcome by well-crafted grant proposals. An ineffective and failing "selling" job might be made during a presentation meeting by an organization's officials. You do not know in advance the foundations which are over committed to funding other organizations, have limited resources, thus they will not have funds available for you at the time, nor possibly for some time to come.
- What if the grant was to be paid out over a number of months---or even years? Would an organization be willing to pay the grant writer for the services rendered in full at the moment of grant approval? Should the grant writer be willing to accept a compensation payment schedule in sync with that of the grant award which could be spread out over several years?
- The grant writer should be ready to accept the fact that she or he will receive little pay for a major work, should a much lesser amount be granted than was originally requested. A grant writer could conduct the best possible research, make the most helpful recommendations, and even voice strong protests and caution when called for--- but project directors and executive directors will prevail should they insist that the grant request be written in spite of flaws and concerns. They will say to the grant writer: "We'll send it anyway, what have we got to lose?" They should ask the grant writer that question who stands to lose a great deal. Most grantors have greater vision than grant-proposal-submitting organizations. Grantors routinely look for assurance from the organizations that what they fund will be reasonably evaluated and measured in the longer term for effective and efficient use of their money, and that the organizations have future financial sustainability plans in place, or pending---especially that there are well developed long-range, strategic plans in place or being planned. A grant writer's best efforts expended in the writing of a given proposal simply cannot be extended or expected to meet such governance and policy-making requirements and expectations. Grant proposals, even the best of them, are all too often prepared and presented to potential grantors when the organizations have no, or few, other important sources of contributions to show, especially from their boards of trustees. Chances are slim to none for grant awards when there are no other visible and viable sources of support available to the organization. The hope for grants to be awarded to ensure payment for the grant writer's efforts is even more uncertain, and most unlikely, when proposals are stretched beyond practical and common sense limits, and they are presented to new, potentially uninterested, prospects---some even to distant, uncaring potential benefactors---as is often the case.
In the end, grant writers should be paid for their time and efforts by the hour or project, whether or not the grant is received. I question whether an organization unable to pay a fair fee for work done is likely to survive. Few non-profits forced to operate in ways not fully in accord with accepted professional standards flourish and grow.
I believe in the standards that have resulted from thousands of grant writing professionals working to help raise billions of dollars over decades of time. For me, not everything should be a matter of personal opinion; codes of ethics are established through collective wisdom because we do need absolutes by which to work and live. When I see all the wrong that can befall an organization or a grant writer in contingent-pay schemes, I cannot imagine for the life of me why either would want to go that route.