Anytime I lead a grant writing workshop, I always ask the attendees to share their grant experience – whether they’ve been a grant professional for years and are looking for a refresher or if they’ve been voluntold that grants are now under their preview. Many workshop attendees admit that two days ago their boss told them to start looking for and writing grants because they needed money for their organization.
Typically, the individuals writing and managing grants for your organization are not people with titles like grant administrator, grant manager, or director of grants. They are firefighters, teachers, administrative assistants, program directors, accountants, and even elected officials and board members. And while having an official grant writer on staff is not a prerequisite to receiving grant funds, it is difficult to juggle the rules and regulations, deadlines, and application requirements on top of your typical workday duties when you are fighting fires, shaping young minds, running programs, balancing the budget, or leading your community.
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, more than 1.5 million nonprofits are registered in the United States. There are 38,779 general purpose governments (cities, counties, towns, etc.) and 51,296 special districts (school districts, water authorities, park districts, and other public entities), according to the United States Census Bureau. That doesn’t even count the many colleges and universities, hospitals, Tribal Authorities, state government agencies, and other organizations eligible for grant funding. In my perfect dream world, each of these agencies would have at least one person with “grant” in their title. Someone who could dedicate their time to prospect research, coordinating efforts with coworkers on the grant application, and working with the finance department to make sure grant management is taking place.
But that dream world of mine does not exist. As of 2022, the Grant Professionals Association has a little over 3,000 members and there are around 400 individuals with the Grant Professional Certified (GPC) credential. While joining a membership organization or earning your GPC is not a requirement of the job, those numbers tell me that very few organizations have a grant professional on staff or hire a grant consultant. So if you are one of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who was suddenly told by your boss that you need to start writing grants, know you are not alone.
After you get over the initial shock, here are a few recommendations I have for easing into the profession with the highest likelihood of success.
- Find professional development opportunities for you to learn about the grant profession and best practices. Might I suggest the Grant Professionals Association Annual Conference (or any of their many training opportunities), DH Leonard Consulting’s Grant Writing Trainings, MyFedTrainer’s many offerings, and the Fundraising HayDay Podcast. And if your boss gives you pushback on spending money on training, point out that doing grants right from the get-go will save you so much more money in the long run.
- Connect with other grant professionals in your community. If you do not know where to start, check out this online list of state nonprofit agencies: State by State Nonprofit Agencies and Associations | Charity Compliance Solutions.
- Take the time ensure your organization is grant ready. Before you waste time going after grants that require documents and certain specifications, make sure your organization has what is needed. Unsure if you’re grant ready? Check out this Grant Readiness Assessment Tool.
- Have a realistic discussion with your boss about grant expectations. If you’re expected to do your current job duties and bring in millions of dollars a year, you are going to fail. Before that happens, talk about what is doable. I suggest you start small when it comes to fundraising goals.
- Be prepared to fail. No one, and I mean no one, writes grants to multiple funders for a variety of projects and wins 100% of their grant awards. Even those of us who have been in the game for two decades get the occasional rejection letter – it is a competitive field. Learn from those denials and move on to the next application.
Before you tell yourself this is impossible, check out the latest Fundraising HayDay Podcast episode: Other Duties as Assigned: Writing Grants When It’s Not in Your Title (podbean.com). We’re talking to Mayor Joy Day, a small-town mayor who figured out how to win grants because she had a dream for a new and improved city. She’ll be the first to tell you that if she can do it, you shouldn’t be afraid to try.
DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 5 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 – 4 and stay up to date on the new season here.
Don’t let grants stress you out, check out the helpful grant writing services our team has to offer here.