Why we don’t work on commission.

In case you didn’t know, it’s Ethics Awareness Month for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and the Grant Professionals Association (GPA). I am a newish member of the GPA Ethics Committee, and I’m really excited to celebrate this month and share about Grant Ethics (along with continuing Mental Illness Awareness Week, which is all weeks for me).

In honor of Ethics Awareness Month, I want to tell you about a situation that recently came to my attention. A prospective client came to me and in the course of our discussion he discussed how he had previously tried to work with another “grant writer” and he felt sort of scammed by her. He proceeded to tell me about the contract structure in which she charged a monthly retainer and also would receive a 3% “bonus” on every grant she won, with a cap of $20,000 for grant. It was a commission disguised as a bonus, and not that well.

Why don’t we work on commission? Well, the GPA has a written response in their Code of Ethics:

Please note that it is in violation of the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) Code of Ethics for any member to accept a percentage of a grant award as compensation for grant writing, or any services related to a grant submission. In alignment with the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Code of Ethics 24, GPA’s Code of Ethics* states, “Members shall not accept or pay a finder’s fee, commission, or percentage of compensation based on grants and shall take care to discourage their organizations from making such payments.” The funder is awarding dollars based on several variables, including the community need, the efficacy of the project, and the organization’s capacity to implement, deliver, monitor, and sustain the project. The funder is not awarding funds based entirely on the expertise of the grant proposal developer.

Please note that a member of the Grant Professionals Association would not be able to respond to this Request for Proposal without risking his or her professional standing and/or credentials.

Well, that’s all well and good. There are variables outside the control of the grant professional/grant writer. But that’s not all. Let’s break this apart.

If you pay a grant writer 3% of the grant award, where does that money come from? Let’s say it’s a $3 million grant. That’s $90,000 or $20,000 if there’s a cap. Do you have an extra $20,000 laying around in your budget? You can’t use the grant funds for it because the grant funds are under an agreement with the funder to use as you stated in your proposal. And you likely did not write grant writing expenses into the grant because they are ineligible expenses. And we KNOW you didn’t hide them in the grant under something else, because that’s fraud.

So where is the $20,000 coming from?

We do not accept commission not just because we believe we should be paid for work done and not on an outcome we can’t control, but also because there is no way for you to ethically and legally pay us if we did agree to that. We would be putting your grant in jeopardy and also your organization, which could be reported for fraudulent fundraising activities to your state’s Attorney General. And yes, people have gone to jail for grant fraud. Don’t let that be you.

What was surprising to me was that the grant writer in question was actually a rather well known person. It was also disappointing that someone so well known was engaging in such unethical and possibly fraudulent practices. It’s a reminder that while many people dive into grant writing with good intentions, they may or may not actually be tuned into the industry and the profession.

If you’re a grant writer reading this and it’s news to you, don’t fret. There are many ways to properly price your services.

In addition to the great advice by Holly Rustick in 4 Proven Tips to Price Your Grant Writing Services, you should know that the GPA Code of Ethics does allow for bonuses, if they are in alignment with the client’s regular bonus structure and not based on a percentage of the grant. I’m not a proponent of bonuses. I just want to get paid for the work I do, but know that if that’s a structure you want to experiment with, be careful to keep it ethical and not let a bonus become a commission.

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