Skip navigation

This post discusses professional codes of ethics in grant writing. It is one of an ongoing series on Grant Writing as a Career. Earlier posts discussed several kinds of grant writing consultants’ services and various fees they may charge for them.


Professional Codes of Ethics:

As professions, Law and Medicine, among many others,  have long had codes of ethics. Formal adoption of such a code is a mark of maturity in domains of human inquiry and practice. In recent decades, grant writing has joined the ranks of such domains. Many of its practitioners, organized into associations, now espouse and enforce a code of ethics as a set of norms to govern their professional conduct.


Both how and when a client pays a contractor for developing a proposal are enduring focuses of ethical concern in grant writing. One of the most persistent questions surrounds the use of deferred payments, or compensation based upon either contingencies or commissions.


Grant writing consultants’ websites may declare: “For ethical reasons, we do not work for a contingency fee, commission, or percentage of grant award.” They may also assure potential clients that: “We do not accept projects that are unlikely to be funded and do not require a finder’s fee or contingency fee.”


Such declarations and assurances are consistent with the ethical positions of several professional associations. On the practice of deferred payment, the Grant Professionals Association, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and the American Grant Writers’ Association are in complete agreement. As a matter of ethics, all of them require their members in good standing to eschew deferred payment arrangements.


Reasons for Ethical Concerns:

One reason that deferred payment is unethical is said to be the nature of the client. Often the consultant’s client is a small rural school district or a small and/or new non-profit organization. It is argued that such clients cannot afford to pay exorbitant fees to obtain grants. High fees would siphon funds away from tackling the acute and chronic needs of the clients’ beneficiaries. However, the associations’ ethical rules are universal; they do not vary with the nature of the client – large or small, for-profit or non-profit. The possible effects of deferred payments on particular clients’ working assets do not appear decisive in adopting such rules.


Another reason that deferred payment is unethical is said to be out of concern about its actual source. Problems can arise if a client plans to pay a consultant out of a future grant award. Many grant makers and grant programs prohibit using their funds for this purpose, although exceptions do exist. Using a grant award this way may create a breach of trust with the grant maker. It risks post-award revocation or rescission of the grant and risks losing the grant maker as a continued source of future grants. It also risks moving beyond the consultant and client failing to observe a code of ethics and becoming a violation of law.


Of course, there are other reasons that deferred payments raise ethical issues. Some of these will be the focus of later posts in this series.



  1. It seems unethical to me to charge an organization, large or small, for services of preparing a grant proposal if the organization does not receive the grant. As a grant writer, I cannot guarantee an award. But if they do not recieve an award, then I would feel unethical receiving money from them for nothing returned. The ethical question can go both ways.

  2. If you elect to be paid only if a proposal is funded, that is your prerogative. it is not necessarily wise, but it is an available choice. Other professions do not observe such an ‘ethical’ standard. Attorneys are paid whether the client wins or loses a case in court. Physicians are paid for services whether a patient lives or dies. Teachers are paid whether students graduate high school or drop out. Police officers are paid whether crime rates rise or fall. Investment advisers are paid whether portfolio values soar or plummet. Given that so many others are paid regardless of outcome I invite you to explain why grant writers should be paid differently.

    On its face, the premise that it is unethical to be paid if a service is not rendered seems sound. However, it depends on just what you have in mind in the phrase ‘nothing returned.’ Every client for whom a grant writer develops a proposal still has that proposal at the end of the day , no matter if it is physical or electronic in form, funded or denied funding. Very often that proposal, or its elements, can be reused in later and/or different attempts, in the event the first submission fails to win a grant. For many grant writers the work product, i.e., the proposal, is something, not ‘nothing,’ and it has value as an instrument of fund raising even if it fails on any given occasion to win funding with any particular grant maker.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: