Myths & Urban Legends: The Grants Edition

Grant writing myths and legends.

Write grants, they said. It’s free, easy money, they said.

Grants can be like an urban legend - Someone heard that one guy say on that one late night commercial that there’s all this free money out there. All you have to do is buy that book or call this number and you’ll get all the secrets and tips!

In fact, there are a lot of myths about grant funding, grant writing and grants in general. Here are some of the most popular ones we’ve come across:


Grants are free, easy money!  – FALSE.

Every grant that I have ever worked on takes time, effort, and coordination with multiple people in multiple departments. Time is a valuable commodity. To paraphrase the author, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, “unless your time is worth nothing, free isn’t really free.” Your time is valuable. Your staff’s time is valuable.  If you are paying your staff to write grants or writing grants yourself, you can easily calculate the hours spent on said grant (researching time, cultivation time, actual time spent physically sitting at a computer screen and entering information) and you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that none of this is free. If, for some reason, you manage to submit a grant that seems too easy, there is a high probability that you won’t get the grant. Because if it was easy, everybody would do it. And if everyone’s doing it... well, you get the picture.

One Size Fits All – FALSE.

Have you ever heard someone say, “Let’s just write one grant and then send it out to as many funders as possible.”? Because I have. And it doesn’t work. Funders, like people, appreciate sincerity and knowing that they are getting a grant that is well matched and tailor made for their mission and focus areas. They know when they have received a cookie cutter grant. They know when they have received a grant that is an exact replica of the one you sent them last year. Make time to write a thoughtful, deliberate grant that speaks to their mission and vision while also highlighting how your programs are a match. It’s fine to use some of the same information because the purpose of your programs usually doesn’t change year to year. But don’t rinse and repeat.

Grant funding is an instant solution to our money problems – FALSE.

This one might be hard to understand but let’s think of it a different way: your friend consistently makes bad financial decisions and it has finally caught up with them. They need you to loan them some money. You love your friend. Sure, you want to help. But you’ve got some serious concerns about how they manage their money. How can you be sure they will use this money to make their life better? Will this money really make a difference? How can you be sure they won’t just come back to you, the minute the money runs out? This is how a funder thinks. When they evaluate your grant application, your financials, your budgets, etc., they will certainly notice if your organization is having money problems. And even though they may love your program, they don’t want to fund something that isn’t going to be around in the long term. If they do fund, you should be prepared to wait up to 12 months for the funding to come through. I’m writing a grant due this month that will not be funded until Dec. 13th. Grant funding not for instant solutions.


I can model my program after whatever the grantmaker wants – FALSE.

I call this “chasing the dragon”. Best case scenario: It might work the first time. But eventually, when funding runs out, you’re going to be scrambling to find other funders to keep that program going because the grantmaker that initially funded it won’t provide support forever. And when you can’t find the money for the program, the program goes away. It’s important, as a nonprofit, to stay true to your mission, vision and goals. The right grantmaker for your programs is out there, I promise. Trying to build programs around what grantmakers want may cause you to stray from your mission. And it could you leave you stuck holding the proverbial bag: a mishmash of programs that are not right for your organization or your core constituency. And grantmakers will discern that your organization is more interested in chasing dollars than serving your mission which may lead to less grant funding over the long term. As TLC once famously said, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to”.

Grant writers can be paid by commission/when we get the grant – This one is FALSE too.

But what happens if you don’t get the grant? Grant writing is hard work. Anyone writing grants will tell you that. And every grant is written with the intention of being rewarded funds. But not every grant can be funded. That’s the nature of the beast. And if you only pay your grant writer when you get a grant, you may have a hard time keeping a grant writer. In the past, I’ve been offered commission as a way to incentivize me to write a better grant. Commission-based grant writing isn’t an extra motivation though. Amongst professional grant writers, commission-based work is actually seen as highly unethical. If a grant writing service has been rendered, it’s best stick to the terms of the contract and pay accordingly. And if someone is offering to write your grants with the agreement of commission as payment, it would be wise to continue your search for an ethical grant writer. Cutting corners may be costlier in the end.

I have to write the proposal all by myself – FALSE.

Even if you have every single bit of information needed to write a proposal, it still takes a village. Have a few different people read over your proposal and provide feedback. A second and third set of eyes can always help improve your grant application. In most cases, you will need to connect with different departments to get different pieces of information though. The finance department should be on speed dial. There are always odd financial questions that pop up. Your program director or manager is a wealth of knowledge and can always assist in new ways of telling the story of their program. Even reaching out to your board members, to ask if they have a connection with the grantmaker might yield some insight into the grant writing process. No (wo)man is an island. And grants can be hard. Take all the help you can get.  


I can write a quality grant proposal in just a few hours the day before its due – FALSE.

Please see my last blog titled: How to avoid grant emergencies? Seriously, folks. Don’t wait until the last minute. It will only end in tears and heartbreak. Trust me.

It's just too complicated to write a grant proposal – FALSE.

You might be thinking by now that grant writing might be more trouble than it is worth. But don’t lose heart! Grant writing can be rewarding and fulfilling. There is an abundance of resources available and Mockingbird Analytics is able and ready to help you with your grant writing needs, whatever they may be. We can help you learn or write the grants for you.

Get in touch with us today to find out about our grant writing services or schedule a free consultation.


Other topics you might be interested in: