Toby Amir Fox
Please Don’t Call Me a “Grant Writer” — I Am So Much More
I truly hate being called a “grant writer.” Yes, I do write grant proposals, but I do so much more than simply put words on paper. Please don’t misunderstand me. I love writing grant proposals, but I also love doing the myriad other tasks that are involved in the development and implementation stages of grant proposals.
A Typical Week
Just a sampling of my job duties this past week clearly illustrates that I don’t just write:
- I researched new funding opportunities.
- I met with program staff to identify and better understand their current needs.
- I participated in a conference call with another agency about a possible program collaboration related to a grant opportunity.
- In partnership with our program staff, I wrote a two-page solicitation letter and created a budget.
- I met with our agency’s evaluator to discuss two large assessment initiatives scheduled for this summer.
- I attended an all-staff meeting.
- I met with our PR/Communications Coordinator to discuss the use of research in our agency’s publicity efforts.
- I had an informal meeting with my supervisor to update her on the various projects I am working on currently.
- And, I ate lunch five times!
After reviewing this list, perhaps it is easier to understand why I cringe when people refer to me as a “grant writer.” My job duties focus on nearly every aspect of grant development — from proposal development to internal and external collaboration to identification of potential funders to evaluation and reporting. I am involved every step of the way. A funder that gives my agency a grant contract can rest assured that I am a member of a grant team that follows through and ensures that their funds are well spent.
So when I am out and about and people ask what I do for a living, I tell them that I am professional fundraiser who specializes in grant development. But recently when I shared this with a group of colleagues at a professional development event, I was shocked by the look of horror that crept across their faces. I later learned that many of my colleagues apparently consider grantsmanship to be separate field, one independent of fund development.
Huh? I don’t understand. Isn’t “grant writing” an activity whose sole purpose is to “develop funds”?
I struggle to understand their position. Fund development is the act of matching the right program opportunity with the right funder at the right time. Then, grant writing is fund development because it is one of the many vehicles employed by fundraisers of all kinds to acquire donor dollars for their causes. Looking at any successful fund development program, you will see multiple tasks being used in partnership with one another to raise money. These include major gift and annual giving campaigns, special events, bequests — and yes, even grants.
Grant development is a multi-faceted job — one that requires specific skills. The grant writing component requires attention to detail, a talent for persuasive storytelling, and the ability to follow directions. But my job also requires me to identify appropriate funding opportunities at the most opportune of times, and it requires me to make compelling case statements for support. I must be able to synthesize how our organizational mission, programming, and goals strategically align with specific funder interests.
On a typical work day, I spend a very small part of my time writing. My job also involves a fair amount of networking with others in the community — connecting me with my peers. From them, I learn what others are doing. I use facts and figures to tell a story. This requires that I keep abreast of the latest research and trends among the populations and communities my agency serves.
Regular meetings with program staff help my colleagues and me:
- To better understand the needs and issues being faced by the clients my agency serves;
- To review and verify that program goals and outcomes are being addressed in a timely manner as they relate to the stated goals and objectives of each funder’s grant contract;
- To review the use of our monetary resources;
- To identify potential problems and opportunities for collaboration with others;
- To maintain strong communication with members of the organizational enhancement team (which includes fund development and PR/communications staff members);
- To make certain that our agency’s overall message to the public is consistent;
- To guarantee that we are using our resources wisely; and
- To ensure that our fundraising efforts are clear, coordinated, and adequate to meet our goals.
I’m confident that you will agree with me when I say that all of these responsibilities are ones that I share with other fundraisers in general. We all walk the same tightrope as we balance our all of our job responsibilities.
And yes, I have many friends and colleagues who are strictly grant writers. Their professional contribution to the fund development process should not be marginalized and that is not the intent of my words. But for fund development and human resource professionals to label everyone who writes grant proposals as a “grant writer” is disingenuous. It fails to paint a complete picture of their job responsibilities. In truth, most grant professionals do more than just “write grants.” And that is good because writing alone won’t win awards. It is only through the comprehensive development of grant proposals that contracts are won.
Simply put, I don’t like referring to myself as a grant writer. The phrase doesn’t accurately describe the work I do, my area of expertise, nor the potential impact of my efforts upon my organization or the community-at-large. Being able to write grants is a skill. But being able to develop grants (from beginning to end) includes far more than just sitting at a desk and writing.
So why would I want to sell myself short? Why would any fundraiser?
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