I recently had dinner with two grants professionals in Florida. One of them was quite upset, because someone she knew had remarked that the role of a grant writer was simply to “collate paper and submit an application.” If only it were that easy!
The conversation brought to light the common misconceptions that exist about just what grant writers do, and I’m going to try to clear up these misconceptions. Before I begin, I should state that not all grant professionals have the same responsibilities, and these depend largely on the organization they work for. That said, here are the key skills I think an effective grants professional must have, in no particular order:
1. Research skills. These involve two types of research: Looking for available funders, and being able to identify pertinent research to support a needs statement in a proposal. Grant writers need to be able to search the internet and find web sites that provide current information about grant opportunities. In many cases, this will include the web sites of both public and private funders. Grant writers also need to be able to locate research studies that support the existence of a need or a problem, and the possible solutions to solving this problem. Today, grant writers also need to be able to identify “best practices” in the education field in order to support why a specific solution is going to be effective in meeting a need or solving a problem.
2. Writing skills. This seems pretty obvious; however, I think it’s important to note that grant writers need to be able to write in a clear and concise manner. Individuals who tend to use a lot of words without a lot of substance probably won’t do well fitting within the required page limits for most proposals.
3. Coordination skills. Often there is more than one person who is working on a proposal. So, a grant writer needs to coordinate all of the people who are involved and manage which information each of them is asked to contribute in order to create a proposal narrative that flows logically. A grant writer also must be able to give people specific deadlines so they know when their required tasks need to be done, and he or she must ensure these deadlines are met.
4. Organizational skills. These go along with the coordination skills. Grant writers have to keep all of the information requested in a proposal organized so they can ensure all of the information is included. Grant writers are often juggling multiple proposal deadlines at any given time, so it’s important to be able to keep each grant application separate from the others. And, grant writers who function as grant managers have to be able to create a paperwork trail for every grant received in the event that a monitoring visit or an audit is scheduled.
5. Facilitation skills. These are especially needed when multiple partners are playing a role in a grant project. Grant writers often are called upon to facilitate meetings to make sure that all pertinent information is discussed and to lead discussions of issues related to budgets and project methodology. In some cases, grant writers must facilitate initial meetings to “flesh out” a project concept in more detail.
6. Mathematical skills. Proposals must include project budgets and budget narratives, and in some cases, the grant writer is responsible for collecting budget information from all applicable partners. I recommend that you get your finance department involved in the proposal process before you submit a proposal. Finance staff can check for accuracy of budget numbers and to make sure expenses are calculated properly. If salaries and benefits are involved in the budget for a grant proposal, your finance staff might have access to human-resources information you’re not privy to.
7. Reading comprehension skills. Let’s be honest: Some requests for proposals (RFPs) are extremely hard to understand. Grant writers have to be able to dissect an RFP, understand what information the funder is looking for in the proposal, and interpret the RFP for others who are involved in the proposal process and who don’t have expertise in putting proposals together.
8. Editing skills. Grant writers always should edit what they have written at least once before submitting a proposal. In addition, they should have at least one unrelated individual review the proposal for clarity. This person might catch any errors that the grant writer missed, and he or she might point out weak sentences and/or paragraphs that need to be revised.