One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, “how do I become a grant writer?”
Many of those inquiring are working in other fields with which they have become disenchanted. They are looking for more meaningful work, and to shift the focus of their lives to social good nonprofit causes. Oftentimes, they must work full-time while seeking training and a new grant writing position. And sometimes, resources to fund training is modest or lacking altogether.
My nonprofit journey began during graduate school. I decided I wanted to gain some “real life” work experience in my chosen field – the arts – and I actually had quite a bit of office experience from putting myself through school. I had worked for Kelly Girls (now the more politically correct “Kelly US”), Manpower, various campus faculty offices (which gave me access to brilliant minds and mentors), and even Arthur Murray Dance Studio. You might scoff at the latter, but that was one of my absolute best “development” experiences. Many people of means need to learn how to dance for special events like weddings, religious holidays, for vacation cruises and other travel adventures with friends, and some like to learn dancing simply for companionship. I had many meaningful “life” conversations with dance class participants while they were waiting in the lobby.
Well, I got off track. Back to grant writing as a career.
Although working part-time to put myself through graduate school, I found time to volunteer a few hours at the local art museum, in the art school. There I met new friends, and I kept track of hundreds of art class registrants.
With an academically trained mind that helped me stay on point and to be organized, I worked with the registrar to keep class records in tip top shape. And a year or so later when a part-time job opened at the art museum in development and marketing, I was invited to apply. I was a known commodity by then, a devoted young volunteer who knew how to conduct research and to write, one with demonstrated office skills. In fact, I eventually typed my final master’s thesis at the art museum after work. This job marked the start of my development career, which is now three decades long and then some.
Hence, I often suggest to aspiring grant writers that they volunteer for the development officer and/or department of a nonprofit in their community to get a hands-on understanding of what is being accomplished there. Each nonprofit is unique, however. Some raise money online through email campaigns; some host special events; some research potential supporters and write grants; some secure government grants and contracts; some focus on planned giving; and the best of them do a little bit of each type of fundraising, not relying solely on one technique or another.
If you want to become a grant writer, however, you should choose a nonprofit that is conducting that kind of work. And don’t think because you are an accountant, for instance, that you have no skills to bear. Budgeting in grant proposals and financial accountability overall are paramount concerns in today’s grant writing market. Seek a nonprofit that suits your interests and skills.
Early in my new job at the art museum, I was given the opportunity to take a course at The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles. The museum paid for my flight and registration. My parents were living in Southern California at the time, and so I was able to stay at home and travel to-and-from the week-long program in one of their cars.
Being somewhat of an introvert and new to the field, the class was a bit intimidating. Mostly I kept quiet and absorbed everything I heard. The Center’s guide, “Grantsmanship: Program Planning & Proposal Writing” became one of my most treasured books (and it still is, today). I often recommend that if you only have the funds to buy a book, this is the one.
I share a link to another page on my blog below, Professional Development Resources. There you will discover many nonprofit and development “support” organizations, and some host grant writing workshops. Check the continuing education programs at your local universities and community colleges as well. Some of these offer more long-term, in-depth courses that will also provide a certificate of completion. I still treasure mine from the week-long program of The Grantsmanship Center.
But in the end, there is nothing like writing a grant yourself and having it funded. That is real “resume material.” You might accomplish that as a volunteer or as a nonprofit employee.
If you have questions about grant writing as a career, reach out via my blog’s secure contact form. I often visit by phone or video conference call, or sometimes an email response will do. If you share your city of residence with me, I will most likely provide links to reputable potential grant writing classes in your area, and providers. With many years of experience, I have a good handle on the better quality support organizations.
Best wishes, and please do pursue a career in nonprofit grant writing. Our field needs more qualified help! And always remember that having solid office skills and even the most basic secretarial experiences can be very helpful to snagging your first a job in grant writing.
In spring 2020, I will be participating in a webinar with Qgiv on the topic of nonprofit prospective donor research, and I will also be hosting an NTEN & NetSquared Nonprofit Tech Club Austin program on basic prospect research using your own mailing list(s) and databases.
Having worked in somewhat remote regions of Texas with tall orders to raise seven figures (quite often by myself), I’ve become somewhat of an expert. If the latter program is live broadcast/recorded, I will post a link.
Photographs illustrating this article are from Adobe Spark.