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Diane H. Leonard, GPC

About Diane

Professional Development for Grant Professionals: Formal Learning Versus Hands-on Experience

Let’s consider two quotes:

All I have learned, I have learned from books.
Abraham Lincoln

The only source of knowledge is experience.
—Albert Einstein


Who is correct? The great American president or the great American theoretical physicist? And how does your personal approach to career development as a grant professional relate to those two famous quotes?

Perhaps the answer is both. There are numerous opportunities for career development as a grant professional throughout the year and one’s career in the field. They each offer their own pros and cons including budget and time-related factors. Even the most common career development opportunities offer different learning strategies. It is important that you select the ones that best suit your needs.


These may include the Grant Professionals Association’s National Conference or local conferences such as the Mid-Atlantic Grants Conference. Whichever you attend, conferences offer you the ability to select your own curriculum from the sessions offered. Continuing the dialogue after a session with a valued colleague over coffee or lunch breaks allows you to have richer discussions and to gain greater understanding of the topics. Additionally, these informal chats will help you build a strong network of colleagues to turn to when you have a question or need help with a grant challenge.


Your choice of webinars may include those offered by the Grant Professionals Association, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, or one of many for-profit entities such as Charity How To, The Grantsmanship Center, CD Publications, or Thompson Publications. Participating in webinars (either as a benefit of your membership in a professional association or as a stand-alone organization) provides you with access to short, career development opportunities from the comfort and convenience of your own office. This saves you travel expenses and also reduces the total time you need to commit away from your desk and grant deadlines.

Published Papers and Journals

Expanding your understanding of your job may be accomplished by reading a new Grant Professionals Association Strategy Paper , the latest issue of the Grant Professionals Association Journal , or a new book from CharityChannel Press such as Strategic Grantsmanship: It’s Time to Raise Your Game, by Michael Wells. These peer-reviewed and edited pieces provide semiformal and well-cited research that shares information about best practices and trends that will help you learn and better understand your role as a grant professional.

Informal Articles and Blogs

In addition to reading CharityChannel’s blogs, you can learn a lot by reading other grant professional’s blogs including my Grant Writer’s Blog, Heather Stombaugh’s Just a Thought blog, or the many pieces shared on LinkedIn in grant specific groups or those posted by your colleagues. These less formal publications provide you with short perspectives on new best practices, check lists for long standing best practices, and summaries of new resources or approaches to consider in your work.

Social Media

You may even choose to participate in a Twitter chat such as #grantchat or #fundchat. One of my favorites is #grantchat , a weekly Twitter chat that talks exclusively about grant-related issues every Tuesday at 12pm EST. Another one is #fundchat, a semi-weekly Twitter chat that talks about all things fundraising (including grants) on Wednesdays at 12 p.m. EST.

Hands-on Experience

Then on the other hand, you always have the professional development and learning that is happening right on your job. Whether an employee or a consultant, the reality is that your day to day work on deadlines, reports, research, and grant maker relationships is providing you with new insight and ideas about how to be stronger grant professionals.

As grant professionals we are constantly learning by doing. Each new form or requirement that a grant maker requires of your organization is a chance for new learning opportunities as you consider how to tell our organization’s story using the new form or guidelines. Each site visit or returned application with feedback provides you an opportunity to pause and reflect on what pieces of the application or process could have been modified and made even more competitive.

So how does a grant professional successfully select from the wide variety of career development opportunities each year? The most important thing to consider when making your selections is your own personal learning style. By focusing on how you learn best, you will be able to make wiser choices. You might even vary how you choose to learn from year to year. Perhaps one year, you could elect to participate in a national conference and read journals and blog articles to meet your professional development goals. The following year, your professional development goals may be met by hands on experience working with a fellow grant professional in a new collaborative writing situation in addition to participating in training webinars from the comfort of your office. Whichever choices you make, be certain that they support your goal to continually learn and grow in your career as a grant professional.

In closing, I want to share that I think that it was actually Ralph Waldo Emerson who had the best perspective on education:

The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained and he only holds the key to his own secret. —Ralph Waldo Emerson


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