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Grant Writing: The Ethics of Compensation

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Presentation_at_GPA_2015(The following guest blog article was written by David Lipten, Ph.D., owner/consultant at GrantWorks. Email David at granted2u@gmail.com). Of all of the questions a new client poses, one of the most frequent is, “Can I pay you out of the grant proceeds?” The answer is usually no. There are a couple of good reasons for this.

One is that it is unethical to work under this kind of contingency. Grant writers do the same amount of work whether or not a proposal is funded. You wouldn’t expect to have to pay a doctor only if you were 100% cured, right? So, in the same way, grant writers should be able to expect to receive compensation for any/all services rendered.

But, the most important reason why a grant writer usually cannot be paid out of the proceeds of a successful grant is that the funder most often forbids it. Unless it is made explicit by, for example, a line item on a budget form in a grant package, one should assume that such an expense would be impermissible. This is so because, like any fund seeker, foundations and other supporting institutions have a mission to fulfill. They are legally obligated to nurture charitable causes and good works. In other words, they must pay for the kinds of things that the client actually proposes to do with the grant proceeds. If they were to pay for expenses associated with conducting business as usual, including paying a grant writer, they would not only be in breach of their own missions, they may also be breaking the law.

This is not to say that there aren’t occasions when such costs can be written into a project budget. But, a grant writer should never advise a client that this will be the case unless they know that the source to which they are applying explicitly allows this to occur. Chances are, though, that the grant professional will submit a number of applications on behalf of a client and that the likelihood that this will be the case is fairly slim across a spectrum of sources. So, advising a client that a grant writer’s fees can be paid for by the funded grant is equally unethical since it is mostly untrue.

In the best of circumstances, writing a grant should be a team effort. In that case, the final product should usually be one that both the grant professional and the client are happy with. And, if the client is, indeed, happy with the work product and agrees to the proposal being submitted in their name, there shouldn’t be any issues surrounding paying for services rendered.


About the Author

David Lipten, Ph.D., successful grant writerDavid Lipten, Ph.D., has written winning federal grant proposals on behalf of a number of electric utilities, garnering nearly $40 million in U.S. Department of Energy grants, among other successes. He is based in Tallahassee, FL.


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