Calling All Freelance Grant Writers: How to Narrow Down Your Nonprofit Niche

Hi Changemaker!

Just as an FYI, this podcast today is Part 2 of what we launched last week – Episode 133: 3 Fabulous Fundamentals to Grow a Freelance Grant Writer Biz.

In Episode 133 we discussed the following fabulous fundamentals:

  • Your why at wanting to be a freelance grant writer,
  • Your idea of what success looks like, and
  • Your goal of becoming a freelance grant writer

In this article and podcast, I am going to go over two more fabulous fundamentals in growing a freelance grant writing business, that will show you how to define your niche.

Before you start reading or listening, make sure you click here to get the accompanying free downloadable that goes with the podcast. Plus, you will be automatically registered for the Freelance Grant Writing Master Course Waitlist! The one coming up opens on September 7th, 2020. But if you are reading this episode and it has passed that date, don’t worry you’ll still get on the waitlist for the next opening.

I only open the doors to the Freelance Grant Writing Master Course once or twice a year, so be sure to get on the list if you are excited about working from home while doing something that positively impacts the world’s nonprofits and gives you a prosperous living.

How to Define Your Nonprofit Niche

In this article, you will learn how to get clear on who you want to serve as a freelance grant writer or nonprofit consultant, as well as what types of grants are best suited to you to write.

This is super important as serving all nonprofits isn’t always the best place to start. Why not? Well, it is hard to really market specifically, cultivate clients, and get experience and expertise in a certain field.

You may have heard that creating an avatar or ideal client is important in any business. That’s true – even in this business. You want to know what types of nonprofits you enjoy serving otherwise you might either take on clients that drive you crazy or have a hard time getting any clients because your message is too large.

  • If you just don’t even know how to market, or
  • wonder why your clients drive you crazy and end up being WAY too much work, or
  • just aren’t sure why you are not attracting leads…it could be due to not creating a niche market.

This article will help you get clear on your messaging and show you how to gain more clients while focusing on less.

In the Freelance Grant Writing Master Course, I go over this in more detail and quizzes so you can get clear on specific niches.

Understand the different types of nonprofits

You first need to really identify what types of nonprofits you want to target and to know that you need to understand the different types of nonprofits. I like to identify three different types of nonprofits.

The cash cow, the expanding monkey, and the pups.

Cash Cow

The Cash Cow is a large, well-established nonprofit. Generally, $5+ million annual operating budget. They have tons of experience with similar projects that they are asking you to write a grant about (and may even have similar grants already written that you can pull from), they have received both federal and foundation grants and they tend to know when grants are opening up.  Many times, with the cash cows, they will hire you as a support to write a certain federal grant because they understand the amount of work it takes to write it.

Pros: The pros at working with Cash Cows are that they are easier to secure grants as they have an infrastructure in place, previous grants to gather information from, and they generally are willing to pay a substantial price for your skills. Due to this, an additional pro is that you as a freelance grant writer need to secure fewer of these types of clients.

Sounds perfect? Well, here the cons.

Cons: Cash cows usually already have internal grant writers and, if not or they need extra support, they will be much more selective when hiring a grant writer. Track records matter here with the types of grants you have written and secured as a grant writer. This may be for a more seasoned grant writer or the very least after you have grant writing experience.

Expanding Monkey

This is your mid-sized nonprofit with some experience. The expanding monkey has won grants, maybe state contracts, and foundation grants with some smaller federal grants. However, they may be starting a brand-new project or expanding current projects and need to hire a grant writer. Generally, they want you to do some grant research to find more funding.

Pros: The pros of working with an expanding monkey is that you will work with a variety of nonprofits and can be creative in helping build out new projects.

Cons: The cons are that that expanding monkeys may need more support in developing infrastructure; i.e. MOU templates, budgets, etc.

Pup Nonprofit

The pup is categorized as a start-up nonprofit or less than $100,000 in annual operations per year. They may have received no grants or very small mini-grants. They have little infrastructure in place. They want you to find grants and these are probably more foundation grants rather than federal grants until they build up more credibility and infrastructure.

Pros: The pros of having Pup nonprofit clients is that you get to help nonprofits get their first funding sources or substantially increase their funding. This is definitely geared more toward out-of-box and creative thinkers who love helping develop projects. It is also much easier to get Pup clients when you are a new grant writer as they do not require as much experience and, let’s face it, new grant writers may be charging less than experienced grant writers.

Cons: The cons are that these types of clients may require a wider range of work – even if they are more foundation grants – because you probably need to help job descriptions, history of the organization, templates, etc. Additionally, many start-up nonprofits do not have funding to pay for grant writers or extremely small budgets.

Go ahead and take a moment to figure out what types of nonprofits sound most appealing to you. If you have the downloadable, go ahead and write in it, but if not just make sure you list it down on paper. And then write down why this is appealing to you.

You can see just by doing this exercise how this would make it easier for you to start your research on listing down nonprofits to reach out to.

For example, if the Cash Cow nonprofits sound the best to you, then you will probably start reaching out to nonprofits such as March of Dimes, Habitat for Humanity, local universities, etc. Just note that these larger nonprofits usually have smaller chapters in communities so may not have the same budgets.

You can also spend some time on websites of the certain category of nonprofits listed to get a feel with what grants they have won, projects they run, and even look at their branding to get a feel for their values. This is all helpful when you reach out to them.

Are you a Generalist or a Specialist?

Okay, next is looking at if you are a generalist or specialist. As we noted before, you may want to work with different types of nonprofits. The other way is that you may work with all the different types of nonprofits; i.e. Cash Cow, Expanding Monkey, and Pups but work on specific grants.

The thing is, even when you narrow down a niche, you may have 75% of those types of clients, but you will get the other ones too that reach out to you. However, that 75% is good for a certain market because it helps you, uh, market. The other nonprofits or grant requests that may fall a bit outside of your niche are still welcome 😊.

You might be a Generalist if you love working with nonprofits that are varied, in different states, and have a variety of projects. You love a challenge! You love learning about the latest trends and projects going on all over the world and are at your best when you can learn about new projects.

You might be a Specialist if you absolutely are passionate about working for a specific cause. Maybe you were in a nonprofit that served at-risk youth and you want to continue to serve other nonprofits that have this same specific cause. You want to focus most of your grant writing on writing to specific federal and founding funding sources that fund at-risk youth projects. Maybe your passion stems from being an at-risk youth yourself and you want to become part of that movement. This is a topic that you never get tired of talking about.

Specialist in Certain Nonprofit Mission Areas

For example, here are certain nonprofit missions that you may want to work with and become a specialist in:

  • Education
  • Substance Abuse & Recovery
  • Civil Rights
  • Marine Animals
  • Senior Citizen Programs
  • Youth Programs
  • Climate Change
  • Gender Equality
  • Faith-based programs
  • Stray Animals and Animal Shelters/Health

Specialist in Certain Grants

On the other hand, you might want to specialize in certain grants instead of certain missions:

  • Federal grants (education grants, a certain grant program, etc.)
  • Foundation grants (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, etc.)

Specialist in Services You Offer Nonprofits

The other type of service you can specialize in is the specific types of services you as a freelance grant writer want to provide (i.e.):

  • Grant writing
  • Grant research
  • Grants management
  • Board Training
  • Nonprofit Set-up
  • Donor development
  • Fundraising, etc.

So now that you listed what type of nonprofit sounds most attractive to work with, list what type of nonprofit mission you want to support, what type of grants you want to write, and what types of services you want to provide.

As I mentioned, what you put down might be 75% of what you do, but it does really help to get this focus.

For example, if before reading this article you just knew you wanted to write grants for nonprofits but didn’t know where to start now you can see there is a strategy in place to make this a reality.

Now, you might realize you really want to work with expanding monkey nonprofits in the area of education and health and want to focus on writing federal grants and doing grant research. So, don’t you think that would help you start a list of nonprofits to reach out to? Heck, you might even include a book in your logo or something that represents education and/or health. Plus, now you could start researching education and health grants and study them, so you know them inside and out. This will help you win more grants by being focused and also help more and more of those types of clients to come to you. After all, you speak their language.


  • Identify what type of nonprofit you want to work with and why (Cash Cow, Expanding Monkey, Pup)
  • Write down if you are more prone to being a generalist or specialist
  • Write down what types of nonprofit missions resonate with you
  • Write down what types of grants you are most interested in writing
  • Write down what types of services sound most appealing

Also, please share some love and leave a review on iTunes! This really helps other people find the podcast and get the grant writing resources they need.

I hope you all have an awesome week!