Sunday, August 17, 2008

There's No Standardized Path That Leads To Becoming A Grant Writer: Yet...There ARE Several Ways To Break Into The Grant Writing Field

Greetings! My name is Kirsten and I am writing my first guest post as Grant Writing Intern Extraordinaire for The Grant Plant. Grant writing as is often shrouded in mystery and is a best kept secret from the general public. Today I want to share my experience as an aspiring grant writer and some of the challenges that people like myself face in the pursuit of this excellent career.

Not long ago, I was researching the field of Grant Writing as a possible career path. I was surprised when, as a proficient Googler, I had difficulty locating the information I was looking for. There are many sites that offer good general information about how to become a grant writing consultant, but most articles were limited in depth and suspiciously similar in content. My question was simple: how do I become a grant writer? Perhaps this wasn't an actual job that real people do. Perhaps there are little Grant Fairy's working feverishly night and day churning out winning proposals somewhere in the North Pole. Adding to my frustration was that despite reading website after blog after article stating the high demand for this specialized skill, there seemed to be few openings and all of them that I located required extensive grant writing experience.

What I have learned is that there is no standardized path that leads to becoming a grant writer. One of the most profound challenges is that in many cases there are no entry level positions available. I sense this is because of the nature of the work. Grant writing can be costly for nonprofits and spending money that is scarce to begin with on someone without experience may be too risky. It felt very discouraging, this difficult reality where one must have experience get the position, but in order to get experience, you must have experience. Yeah. My head was spinning too. At this point some people might be thinking "Maybe I will just offer to write on commission and only get paid when the grant gets funded so that the nonprofit won't be risking anything." Get that thought out of your head because:

1.You are not a cheesy attorney on afternoon cable television offering to only get paid when you successfully win a lawsuit against Starbucks because your tall nonfat extra hot no foam latte was, in fact, too hot. You, my friend, are more professional than that.
2. You want to someday get a job as a grant writer. Isn't that what all of the research is about? No one wants to hire someone who has violated one of the most basic ethical standards of the industry.

So what are you going to do? How will you ever become a grant writer? Do not despair! I have good news! There are several ways to break into the grant writing field, but probably not in the way you are hoping for. This is because most common paths into grant writing involve either:

A.Working for free
B.Adding work to your already busy job

This isn't necessarily a negative thing if you are genuinely passionate about your goal. If you are at all uncertain about what you want to be when you grow up, however, the extra effort may send you running in another direction.

For those already working in a nonprofit, you have a wonderful opportunity to have a conversation with the people in your agency about grant writing possibilities. I have spoken with people who found that the development department or busy Executive Director was more than willing to hand over some grant writing tasks to employees in other areas of the nonprofit, but in most cases this meant (at least until proven skilled at grant writing) this work was on top of their regular job duties. This is a really great way to end up as a staff grant writer.

The next best way is to volunteer for a nonprofit that needs help. I would personally recommend volunteering for a nonprofit that is already doing grant writing and has someone to work with you because it can lead to frustration when neither you, or the agency has any idea what to do. I suppose it could be done, but it would be a time consuming process. www.idealist.org or www.volunteermatch.org are good places to find opportunities.The Americorp program is also a good option for college students. Similar to volunteering would be interning with a grant writer, what I am fortunate enough to be doing. Working one on one with a professional is amazing because I am actually doing the job hands on that I want do and getting the whole inside scoop. These opportunities are generally not posted, but are quite possible to make happen through networking. I also recommend checking out http://www.ed2go.com/cgi-bin/ed2go/newofferings.cgi?dept=GW for affordable online courses about grant writing that offer a great foundation for gaining specific skills.

Good luck and please leave comments with additional ways to get in on the ground floor as a grant writer.

2 comments:

Daryl Clark said...

Kirsten,

Your enthusiasm is fantastic and it should got others very excited about the field. As a sister organization of ed2go we thought you would want to be aware of our new and more comprehensive Grant Writing Certificate program at this URL: http://www.gatlineducation.com/grant_writing_training_course.html

This is an excellent program for anyone seeking online training and a certificate from the college of their choice.

CharityNetUSA.com said...

MAy I add another place to look for opportunities to volunteer your services?

www.helpnetusa.org