Becoming a Grant Writer-Writing is the Easy Part!
Let’s face it. The writing part of “Becoming a Grant Writer” is probably the easiest part of the plan, right? Most of us entered into this field (or are getting ready to) because we either fancy ourselves as writers or someone else does. What many of us do not have in the beginning (at least in my experience and the experiences of those who have humbly admitted it to me) are the “how-to” skills of becoming a contract grant writer, an understanding of the genre and/or the grant writing process. Most of us were thrown into grant writing to fulfill an urgent funding need for an organization. In future posts, I will discuss the genre of grant writing and other process-related topics. Today, I want to share some of my (mis)steps along the way to becoming my own boss and a successful grant writer.
Step 1: Do Not Write a Grant…Yet. (Read: Do As I Say And Not As I Do)
Working as a contract grant writer is a different animal if you’re used to working for a company in an eight-to-five, Monday through Friday situation. In my previous career life, I was a legal assistant at a mid-size law firm and my employers dictated my duties. I performed research and worked on multiple projects, handling several cases at a time. When I left that career to attend graduate school, I was immersed in academic research and writing for a grade/deadline. My work and writing experiences served me well in both the legal field and academia. When I decided to become my own boss, however, I had to overcome a steep learning curve just to get started. For the first time, I had to navigate business decisions alone. I had to figure out the next right thing to do with really no one to point me in the right direction.
I used my work and education experience to my advantage. I reached out to other professionals who had information I needed, such as an attorney for filing LLC papers and drafting a service contract and a CPA for tax information. I sought out other entrepreneurs and friends who were in my shoes (or a similar pair) to see how they were managing their own start-up businesses. Much of this information can be found online. My one admonition for you is this: while filing LLC documents does not require a legal degree and obtaining an EIN tax number or other tax work may not be rocket science, it is worth your time and money to discuss legal and tax issues with the right people (read: lawyers and accountants). If you are like me though, you will find someone who will just tell you what to do and then do it yourself.
I imagine there was a time when entrepreneurs had to pay someone nearly every time they wanted a financial, professional or legal question answered. Luckily, I had the Internet. This link provides some helpful tips for navigating your way into a grant writing career – beginning with education and skill-building advice. Talk to other professionals. Attend a short seminar. If you have the funds, sign up for an online class. Many reputable institutions offer courses on how to get started. Ed2go.com provides online classes specific to becoming a grant writing consultant, grant writing basics (“A to Z”-type information), advanced proposal writing and much more. I have completed two classes and am nearly finished with a third. These classes become a constant resource as you continue to strengthen your grant writing skills. You may also want to research professional standards and best practices before you dive in. Grant Professionals Association and American Grant Writers Association, Inc. are two organizations (among others) that provide professional networking and resources to members as well as the general public. You may also want to inquire about local chapters within these organizations to do some local networking.
Finally, many writers will tell you that the best way to practice your writing skills is to read. Buy or borrow Grantwriting for Dummies by Beverly A. Browning. Seriously, Dr. Browning is an accomplished grant writer and she also happens to teach some of the online classes I mentioned earlier. If you’ve thrown yourself to the wolves and already completed your first grant application, the need for these resources increases as you grow and expand your grant writing expertise.
I graduated from my Masters program in 2013 and was writing grants literally two months later. Do I recommend it? No, not really. It was trial by fire and my personality is not made to handle it. Did I survive? Absolutely. I’ve won over $90,000 in grant awards for my clients in my first year. Nonprofit staff have their hands full just meeting the daily needs of their organizations. There are few careers more fulfilling than helping these organizations fund the projects that make a difference in our communities and in our lives. For this, I would take trial by fire any day of the week.
Best of luck on your grant writing journey.
 This is one of those “do as I say and not as I do” moments.