Grant Writing Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Class Info

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What can you learn in a grant writing graduate degree program? Read about program requirements, pros and cons of master's degree and PhD programs, and potential careers.
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Grant Writing Master's and PhD Degrees at a Glance

Grant writers research funding opportunities and write proposals, letters of inquiry and reports to individual donors or foundations to seek financial support for a program or project. Grant writers can work for nonprofit organizations, schools, businesses, or government agencies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that employment of grant writers (who fall under the category of public relations/fundraising managers) is expected to grow by 16%, or about as fast as average, between 2010 and 2020.

There are no Master's or PhD programs that focus exclusively on grant writing. Grant writing is most often found as a single course or area of emphasis within a nonprofit management degree program.

Who is this degree for? Students interested in nonprofit fundraising Individuals who want to teach at the college level or conduct research for a nonprofit organization or government agency
Common Career Paths (with approximate average annual salary) - Grant writer ($58,000)*
- Grants administrator ($67,000)*
- Fundraising manager ($85,000 - might vary depending on experience)**
- University professor ($87,000)**
- Chief fundraising officer ($168,000 - might vary depending on experience)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years full-time or 4-6 years part-time
Common Graduation Requirements - 36-52 credit hours
- Capstone project/seminar or thesis
- Internship
- Exit exam
- 63-66 credit hours
- PhD exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree in any field
- Essay
- Letters of reference
- Master's degree in any field
- 3 years of professional or academic experience
Online Availability Yes No

Sources: * (May 2012 stats), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Grant Writing

Grant writing is generally offered as one course in a master's degree program in nonprofit management. In this broader focus, you'll learn basic principles and theories of nonprofit leadership. You might study grant writing, fundraising, volunteer management, board development, and governance strategy.

Students might be expected to participate in an internship, which usually takes place with a local nonprofit agency. Some universities prefer that students already be a volunteer or an employee of a nonprofit organization before they're accepted into a nonprofit management program.

Pros and Cons


  • Studying nonprofit management, rather than just grant writing, can give you a broader base of knowledge and increase employment opportunities
  • The nonprofit sector is one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S.*
  • Nearly all nonprofits employ one or more grant writers as part of their fundraising and development team


  • There is no graduate degree program specifically designed for students interested in grant writing
  • A graduate degree is not required to work for most nonprofits
  • Grant writers often work under pressure from tight deadlines

Source: *Urban Institute (2012)

Common Courses and Requirements

Most master's degree programs in nonprofit management require a minimum of 36 credit hours. This might include an internship and a research project. These courses are commonly found in a master's degree program for nonprofit management:

  • Grant writing
  • Organizational leadership
  • Volunteer management
  • Nonprofit finance
  • Program development

Online Degree Options

Online master's degree programs in nonprofit management are widely available. The flexible schedule of an online program is intended to meet the needs of individuals already employed in a nonprofit or other business setting. Individual courses in grant writing and graduate certificate programs that focus on one or more areas of nonprofit management are also available in an online format. Coursework for an online degree program in nonprofit management and an on-campus program typically are the same.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Volunteer with nonprofit agencies in your area while studying for your degree. This will allow you to see firsthand how these organizations are structured and managed and give insight into the grant writing process. You also might join a professional network for grant writers, nonprofit managers, or fundraisers.

Degree Alternatives

If you're mainly interested in grant writing, you might consider completing a certificate program that focuses only on researching, writing, and monitoring grant proposals. These programs are offered as continuing education programs at many colleges and can be completed in less than one year. Courses might be available on-campus or online.

PhD in Nonprofit Management

PhD programs in grant writing do not exist, and there are only a few schools that offer doctorate programs in nonprofit management. Most often, this field of study is found as part of a public policy PhD program. Admission to a PhD program is often competitive, and some schools may limit the number of applicants accepted each year.

Pros and Cons


  • Earning a PhD can establish your expertise in the nonprofit sector
  • With a PhD, you'll be able to teach at a postsecondary school
  • With a PhD, you may be better qualified for positions with research-based nonprofits


  • There are no PhD programs in grant writing
  • A PhD is not required to write grants or conduct research for a nonprofit agency
  • Job growth for top nonprofit executives is expected to be slower than average (5%) from 2010 to 2020*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 stats)

Courses and Requirements

A PhD in public policy program with a concentration in nonprofit management teaches students governance and management strategies for operating a nonprofit organization. In addition to grand writing, coursework might address nonprofit fundraising, research, and prospectus writing. Completing a PhD program can take up to 5 years and requires approximately 60 hours of coursework, research, and preparation for your dissertation. Defending your dissertation and completing a final examination are required to graduate with a doctorate in public policy.

Doctoral coursework may include:

  • Nonprofit leadership
  • Social justice
  • Organizational change
  • Research theory
  • Finance and budgeting

Online Degree Options

There are almost no online degree programs for students seeking a PhD in nonprofit management. Hybrid degree programs in public policy that offer a concentration in nonprofit management can be found though. Students usually are required to complete on-campus residencies.

Stand Out with this Degree

  • Volunteer with nonprofits in your area of interest. This will give you a broader base of experience when applying for jobs after graduation.
  • Join a professional organization for nonprofit managers, fundraisers, or grant writers.
  • If your interest is in grant writing, consider earning a certificate while concurrently working on your PhD in public policy.