If you’ve worked as a grant writer for any length of time, you have already figured out the central role that fundraising plays in so many organizations. No startup or nonprofit can do the good work it does without financial support. Even volunteer-run organizations have funding needs at some point.
This process started for me as a child. I wanted to do something to help improve the world around me. I saw a lot of needs going unmet. What could I do? You guessed it: I ended up Trick-or-Treating for UNICEF and then selling lollipops to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. That is, fundraising.
But that story is not limited to youngsters. Adults also must focus on fundraising skills. While fundraising does take many different forms, a large number of nonprofit workers find that even if their job titles do not include the words “grant” or “fundraising,” they are expected to be involved in some grant writing. The same can be said for founders and early employees at startups when it comes to raising equity or participating in sales.
And, of course, some of us eventually focus primarily (or entirely) on the grant side of things. If this sounds familiar, or if you aspire to become a grant writer, ask yourself if you have what it takes to shine in the grant writing world:
1. Strong writing and storytelling skills
If you have a knack for crafting messages to engage readers, or you know how to tell a good story, you’re already on your way (even if you were not an English major).
2. Content knowledge as a specialist or generalist in your field
You don’t have to be an expert on all of the details; that’s what your colleagues are for. But you need to be constantly adding to your understanding, and be willing to learn quickly.
3. Passion for the organization’s work
Of course, you can only spread enthusiasm for supporting an organization if you have that passion yourself. As you learn more about your organization’s mission and why it’s important, you will probably become even more of a fan.
4. Training and on-the-job experience
Courses and books can help you get started. But you also need to get some hands-on, real-life experience. Coaching and mentoring during that process can elevate you to a new level of understanding and skill.
5. Resourcefulness as a self-motivated, tenacious researcher
You’ll need to research appropriate funders, as well as specific pieces of information about your organization or its issues of concern. You just need the right tools and contacts to follow the right leads.
6. People skills
You have to be good at building and maintaining relationships by listening and working with a team on each grant proposal. Grant writing is not just about hiding behind a computer screen!
6. Strategizing skills
Your colleagues will often look to you to help them strategize which grants to pursue and how. You are the knowledgeable guide who can lead them to design work that is attractive to grantmakers.
8. Multitasking and prioritizing skills
With so many deadlines and projects to manage, you need to know how to handle it all with graceful and flexible planning. You might have heard the quote from Douglas Adams: “I love deadlines. I especially love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by!” Wouldn’t it be great to be able to do that? Instead, grant writers go by the maxim: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”
9. Ethics and integrity
Funders and your organization will both need to be confident that they can trust you to do the right thing and do it consistently. You need to be clear on the ethical obligations involved with professionally soliciting and managing funds.
10. Administrative skills, both big picture and nitty-gritty details
This includes the ability to follow both a funder’s guidelines to a “T,” and any internal requirements at your organization. You also need to be able to organize and track your work, as well as handle the myriad of pesky document processing issues that pop up (e.g. word count, layout, etc.).
11. Ability to learn from rejection and persist
Even the best grant writers can’t win ‘em all. Learning from mistakes comes with the territory. Actually, I think rejection is UNDER-rated! When you are rejected repeatedly, it should be a red flag that means you’re doing something wrong. You will need to learn more, get better advice, do more research, and ask more questions.
12. Confidence based in knowledge and preparation
Bottom line: You need to feel confident that you have the background, support, and tools to get the job done well.
If you have most or all of these characteristics, you’re well-equipped to help your nonprofit attract and manage a nice portfolio of grants. If you have identified a few traits you want to cultivate further, consider ways to develop those skills. You and your organization or client will be glad you did!