Developing the GREAT Grant Writer
The title of grant writer does so little to describe the potential role that this person can play in an organization. Because grant writers can be pivotal to an organization’s success, having a plan to develop good grant writers into great grant writers can only enhance an organization’s results.
Writing Style and Quality
Writing is a core competency for most grant writers. But it is the style and quality of presentation that makes the difference. Good grant writers carefully look through the grant requirements and funder questions; then, they systematically answer them.
Great grant writers convey a more powerful and persuasive story to their readers. They present a comprehensive organizational picture—assuming that their readers know nothing about their organization. They choose their words carefully, knowing that they must paint a clear picture of the need. Their words express accurately the impacts that will benefit both program participants as well as the community. They write cleanly and provide specific and relevant responses that are uniquely designed for each specific funding source.
Program immersion is a critical development tool. Good grant writers talk with program staff (who have touched the clients or provided the services) and because of that are able to create a vivid picture of their organization.
But great grant writers go one step further: they go right to the top by speaking with the program director. Great grant writers identify program challenges that are negatively impacting the organization’s proposed program plan. For example, is there a need for staff training, and, if so, could it be called capacity building? Great grant writers will help program staff to frame the measurement tools that will make possible the presentation of more comprehensive outcomes to funding sources.
Great grant writers become immersed in understanding the program delivery, the challenges, opportunities for the population served, and the gaps in service delivery. When they are invited to visit programs or participate in staff meetings, they not only learn but they begin to develop relationships with the people committed to the program—and thus become key supporters of the grant writing process.
Relationship building is a critical skill for grant writers. Good grant writers will periodically go on visits to foundations with their organization’s leadership. They will listen to the funder expectations. But great grant writers prepare information and prep their leadership by identifying priorities that will connect with the foundation.
Great grant writers also need to maintain strong relationships with their finance departments. By working with their business offices, they can outline the projected project needs and get help developing budget frameworks for every project. Planning meetings with the finance department creates opportunities to ensure a strong budget narrative ties expenses to program strategies.
Great grant writers are developed by giving them opportunities to participate in a wide variety of prewriting meetings. It provides them background knowledge that helps them build stronger proposals and ensures that an organization’s grants align with the strategic priorities, as well as those of the foundation to which they will submit their request.
Research skills enable great grant writers to not only find new sources of funding, but to connect their programs to evidence-based research that can serve as a benchmark for defining the need and making the case for the service. Great grant writers are given opportunities to read the latest research about their programs or the most recent study on community needs.
Frequently, program and leadership staff will attend issues-based conferences or meetings, but how often is a grant writer invited to learn how they can impact the program as well. As mentioned, great grant writers have strong relationships with both program staff and their leadership team. These colleagues provide data and references that allow great grant writers to fill the informational gaps.
Internal Relationships and Communications Skills
To develop great grant writers, an organization’s leaders need to ensure that they are trained as project managers. By serving in these roles, they develop strong interpersonal relationships with program staff and strengthen their communications skills.
Great grant writers regularly manage multiple grant writing projects and work with program staff, finance departments, and leadership to make certain the application is complete and has appropriate approvals. As project managers, they develop schedules for grant prep time, collect program information and research to support the need, work to break down the program implementation strategy for the funder, set aside time not only for writing but for leadership review of the grant, and work with multiple departments to ensure that all the materials are ready before the deadline.
Great grant writers build a schedule of grants to prepare and grants under management to assure reporting and communication is taking place to maintain a strong relationships with the funder. Project management training and tools can help the busy grants manager maintain high levels of communication while juggling multiple responsibilities.
Great supervisors support the efforts of their great grant writers by helping them develop their skills. A conversation between grant writers and their supervisors about developing their competencies in critical areas of writing, research, program, relationship building, and project management skills can lead to a development plan that will have direct, beneficial impact on grant results for the organization. Often the learning opportunities are shared internal knowledge, local workshops, or even books. This support need not be a costly endeavor, but can have priceless results for both the grant writer and the organization!
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