Several years ago I was hired as the grant writer for a mid-size health system. It was my first entirely grant-focused job and their first time bringing in a full-time writer. Their community health organization had previously worked with a consultant writer. But when I reviewed her work it was clear she had been selling skills she did not fully have. What she had produced showed she simply was not familiar with the range of skills needed to do good grant work.
I wondered why she had been hired. But as I began introducing myself around the health system, it was apparent there was little awareness of what grants are or what they can help accomplish. Clearly ground work needed to be laid, so I rolled up my sleeves to take on the task.
Although over the years I had prepared many grants applications, it soon became clear that I myself did not have a polished range of grant-related knowledge to lead this growth. However, after several months of trial-and-error exploration, a process began to take shape.
It was at that moment I began to understand exactly what makes a grant writer a full-fledged professional.
Taking this step may seem straightforward, but it in fact requires building a range of skills that are interactive and solitary, formal and informal, detailed and abstract, time-driven and meditative. It is more than “just” writing.
Following are recent reflections on what I’ve come to understand as key aspects of becoming a grant professional. Whether the context is working within an organization or running our own business, they are applicable.
Take the Lead—Cooperatively. Put together a good planning committee and think through the knowledge and personality of each member. One or more may want to be in charge, or underlying conflicts and politics may hinder the process. The group needs to understand and function within its leadership role, and focused leadership that builds a shared sense of significance will need to be provided. This combined expertise is essential to producing an excellent grant application—whether it is for a small local foundation or a large federal agency.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Not setting up a solid grant information exchange process has caused more than one last-minute dash to the mail box or email -- or worse, derailed the process long before the last minute. Early on, set a time-line and abide by it. Take accurate notes at each meeting and send them out quickly. Collect information “assignments” from committee members in a timely way and distribute first drafts with plenty of time for feedback. Listen carefully to input on the process, and make changes if needed. Hold an evaluation meeting after the application is submitted. These steps will not only help shape a successful process, they will provide knowledge and insight that will filter into the organization as a whole.
Constantly Learn. There is a growing body of information available on the grant world’s many and changing aspects. New publications, emails, workshops, classes, tweets, chat groups, and more bombard us daily. While these many learning resources can feel like a mad whirlwind, it’s important to choose achievable goals for keeping ourselves informed of new trends, best practices, and professional growth opportunities most suited to our own ongoing development.
Believe In Ourselves. Most of us have days when we wonder why the heck we’ve chosen this demanding field. Being a professional grant writer doesn’t mean we have unrestricted enthusiasm and drive. But it does require a conviction that we are knowledgeable, poised, good natured, focused, accurate, and flexible people in charge of what we do—while acknowledging that some days we need time to stop, take a breath, put the phone on hold, close the email, and hang a “gone fishin’” sign on the door. Believing in ourselves means taking good care of ourselves, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Become Grant Professional Certified. As more people learn what having “GPC” after our name means, increasingly it is recognized as an indicator of our ability to carry out all of the above—as well as being able to write a darn good paragraph! Those letters can be the cherry on top of a grant writer’s sundae; the morsel that people will scoop up first.
As our field grows, our understanding of its complexity and our ability to deliver it well in a variety of contexts is what truly makes us Grant Professionals. So, take a deep breath, take those steps, and welcome yourself into this intriguing new world.