As I was reading through my old eMail messages recently, I found one from my eSchool News editor, Dennis Pierce. He suggested that because it’s been quite some time and there are many new readers, it might be time to go “back to the basics” about grants and proposal writing. Well, summer is here, life is more relaxed (except for us grant writers!), and it seems like a good time to review some of the basic tenets of grantsmanship.
1. We are an unregulated profession. There have been many times when I have been asked what kind of certification or licensing someone has to go through to be labeled a “grant writer.” The quick answer is that there are no certification programs or licensing procedures that govern grant writers on a national level. Some people have completed training programs for grant seeking or proposal writing, and some have their Certified Fund Raising Executive designation from the Association of Fund Raising Professionals. But most of us have become “grant writers” because we’ve written so many proposals for such a significant length of time and we have established a track record. We have no generally accepted principles or laws that govern all grant writers in the United States, although there are some practices that many of us consider unethical.
2. There’s no “perfect time” to jump into the grants arena. I am often asked if it’s “too late” to start looking for and applying for grants. My answer is an emphatic “no!” Grant competitions are held all the time, all year long. I’d challenge anyone to find a month of the year when there are no proposal deadlines whatsoever. Obviously, if you start the process in the latter end of the calendar year, you’ve missed most of that year’s deadlines. However, I’m a strong believer in planning ahead for grants, so this just means you can look ahead to the competition deadlines in the upcoming year. When you decide to pursue grant opportunities, jump in and get your feet wet without hesitation!
3. Writing proposals is not for the faint of heart. The downside of writing proposals includes spending countless hours researching, organizing, and writing a document that might or might not get funded. If it isn’t, you might receive reviewers’ comments that are super-critical, and in some cases, downright mean. So, you have to develop a pretty tough skin to be in the grants business. The upside is that when you get funded, it makes it all worthwhile!
4. Rejection happens to everybody. I have yet to meet a proposal writer who has done this for a few years and has a 100-percent success rate (if you’re reading this and you do have one, let us know how you do it!). At some point, everyone gets a rejection letter. However, it’s important to remember that it’s not personaland a rejection can lead to success. I just found out that a funder who did not fund one of my client’s proposals last year did fund the proposal this year. The best approach is to use the rejection as a learning experience and consider reapplying for the grant, using the comments and suggestions to strengthen subsequent proposals.
5. Collaboration is often the best route to take. Many people are opposed to collaborating with another school system, nonprofit organization, higher-education institution, or corporation for a variety of reasons: loss of power, loss of control, diminished funds received, and so on. In today’s grants world, however, the majority of funders believe that collaboration is a way to provide more services in a more cost-effective manner while cutting down on duplication. If your school or district doesn’t have a “collaboration” mentality, but you want to pursue grants, this might be the time to learn more about collaboration and how to do it successfully while meeting the needs of students and teachers. Changing a negative opinion to a positive one can be an important goal for today’s grant writer.
Deborah Ward, CFRE, is an independent grant writing consultant. She welcomes questions at (717) 295-9437 or Debor21727@aol.com.