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Diane H. Leonard, GPC

About Diane

Ethics throughout the Grant Profession: Writing, Implementation, and Reporting

So Much More Than a Percentage Based Compensation Discussion

Ethics are defined as “the moral correctness of specified conduct.” In the case of grant professional ethics, a specific code of conduct has been modeled after the pre-existing Association of Fundraising Professionals code of ethics and through the work of the Grant Professionals Association’s (GPA) board of directors. Over the past years, this code has become the standard that grant professionals refer to in their work.

The GPA Code of Ethics ( outlines the expected standards of practice for grant professionals and specifically outlines ethical requirements regarding professional obligations, solicitation and use of funds, and presentation of information. While the code covers a wide range of practices, one of the most common reasons that members of the GPA report citing it is related to the payment of grant professionals.

Most of us have had to answer the question of “can I pay you based only on what is funded?” or “do you make a percentage of the big grants?” from potential employers, colleagues, family, and friends. While the issue of non-percentage based compensation is an important component of the Code of Ethics (especially for full-time consultants such as myself), there are other extremely important aspects of the code of ethics that grant professionals must pay heed to.

For example, during a recent #grantchat (a GPA supported Twitter chat for professional dialogue between grant professionals), when the topic was on grant related ethics, a lively dialogue took place about the ethics of grant application management and what our role as grant professionals is in creating implementation practices. A few consultants shared that they even have specific clauses in their contracts that address ethical grant implementation by clients. This Twitter conversation pointed out the many dimensions of grant ethics and how education of both nonprofit administrators and new grant professionals is one of the key strategies that we all need to employ to elevate grant practices to the highest ethical level.

How should each of us go about ensuring that we are upholding the highest standards? I recommend that we ask ourselves and our clients key questions pertaining to all aspects of our grant seeking management processes. The discussion and answers that follow will help keep you on the ethical path that you seek.

Ethical Considerations in Grant Seeking and Writing

  • Have you as the grant professional disclosed any relationships with a potential new or ongoing funder that would be considered a conflict of interest?
  • Have you helped your employer or clients understand the importance of trying to build an honest and open relationship with a potential funder prior to applying?
  • Are you and your client being honest about the capacity of the organization to perform the proposed program?
  • Have you worked with your colleagues or clients to write a proposal that creates realistic expectations within the program design, goals, and objectives?
  • Have you worked with your organization or client’s finance staff in order to develop an accurate project budget for the proposed request? Does the budget reflect the organization’s standard employee increases and not inflated salaries or benefits for the proposal?

Ethical Considerations in Grant Management

  • Have you helped the “grant team” go through the grant contract to understand their program performance and financial reporting obligations?
  • Have you worked with the “grant team” to ensure that they understand the funder’s rules for handling potential budget revisions prior to the actual execution of any changes in expenditures by the grantee?
  • Does your organization or client have a policy in place for the disclosure of privileged information?
  • Does your organization or client have policies in place regarding publicity for grant-funded programs?

Ethical Considerations in Grant Reporting

  • Have you worked with the “grant team” to set up a benchmarking process so that the organization can continually monitor its progress toward achieving the promised measurable goals and objectives (rather than only at the time of reporting)?
  • Have you worked with the “grant team” to determine how best to communicate any significant deviations from the anticipated results to the funder prior to formal report due dates?
  • Do you have all grant reporting requirements clearly outlined on your employer or client’s main calendar? On their grants/donor management software? Do you have reminders on your personal calendar as a means of checks and balance?

While asking yourself and your clients these questions will help bring your grant program to a higher standard, remember that there will always be other factors to consider and questions that may arise. At such times if your intuition says these could fall into a gray area, I suggest that you refer to the GPA code of ethics because it is always a good place to start.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you can avoid many of these questions and issues by starting each grant search with the establishment of an honest and open relationship with potential funding sources. By doing so, when questions arise, rather than making an decision that may be questioned as an unethical or inappropriate one down the road, the funder will already be engaged in a constructive and trusting dialogue with you and your organization.


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