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The Story of a Baby Grant Writer

Baby Grant WriterI remember that chilly November day in 1994 when I went with my mom to the DMV to get my driver’s license. At the age of 16, I can remember how terrified I was that I wouldn’t pass the dreaded road test, especially the parallel parking bit. Thankfully, I passed the first time!

Like me, I’m sure you recall the steps you took to get your license. It went something like this: First, I took a driver’s education class. Second, I took a behind-the-wheel course, practiced driving with my parents and passed the written test to get my temps. And finally, the big day – the road test and a real driver’s license!

If you are wondering what on earth this has to do with grant writing, read on…

While there is not an equally defined path to become a grant writer, I have learned some helpful tips as I have stepped into the world of grant writing over the last year that I’d like to pass along. It seems there are many ways to learn this skill, but if you are considering going down this path, allow me to walk you through my steps as a baby grant writer.

My journey began unexpectedly. Just over a year ago, I partnered with Catherine (Draeger) Pederson with Loving Venti Consulting Practice as a consultant in communication facilitation and dispute resolution. After a few months of working together, Catherine asked me how I would feel about grant writing – a need that seemed to be popping up with many of the small-to-medium size nonprofits with whom she was working. She knew that I enjoyed writing and had some professional experience. She wondered if I might transfer some of those skills to meet this need. She assured me that she would mentor me along the way. I figured I had nothing to lose and a new skill to gain, so I said yes.

Here are the steps I took:

Step One: Take a grant writing class (Think of this as the driver’s education class)

Catherine knew of a grant writing class through the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee School of Continuing Education that she had heard was really helpful. Because I was starting from scratch, I thought it would be beneficial to take this 6 week, online class. This class contained SO much content! I was able to take notes at my own pace, but still, it was like drinking water from a fire hose! The professor assigned optional homework each week. People from all walks of life and from all parts of the world were taking this class at the same time for a host of different reasons. She encouraged us to download all the material, as well as the examples and resources, which I did, and they have proven valuable. I have referred back to these more than once.

Step Two: Find a mentor and practice (Think of this as behind-the-wheel and getting your temps)

In my case, I was lucky enough to have a built-in mentor in Catherine, who had done plenty of grant writing, as well as grant prospecting. She knew the in’s and out’s of the process from years of experience working in the nonprofit sector. She was eager to hear what I was learning and see how we could translate that into a format that worked for us as a team. We began to meet weekly. She had secured a contract in which I would be the grant writer and she would be my guide. It was perfect timing for me to test “behind the wheel” what I had only learned about in class. Catherine simplified the process by first bringing me specific kinds of grants to work on for specific projects and foundations. She did the prospecting and I focused on the writing. She read what I had written and made helpful suggestions. It was a confidence builder to have her double checking my work and offering ideas. Catherine did not overwhelm me with the details as I was just learning, but little by little, introduced a bit more complexity, as well as a software system called Grant Seeker Fluxx. This system helped us to create a more organized pathway to both prospect and track grants that we were writing or hoped to write in the future.

Step Three: Submit a well crafted grant proposal to a foundation (Think of this as the road test)

While this can seem daunting, if you have taken the class and found yourself a solid mentor, this part will excite you more than scare you. When it comes to submitting a grant, different foundations require different things. Make sure you follow all their instructions to a “T.” Taking the time to double and triple check your work is well worth it. Foundations want to feel very confident that if they partner with your organization, the grant will be well managed by a team of people who will attend to the details. A lot of time goes into reviewing grant applications, so make sure yours is complete, accurate and engaging!

Step Four: Expand your horizons (Think of this as taking a joy ride)

Once you have completed the first steps in this journey, it might be time to branch out and volunteer to write a grant for an organization you are passionate about. As a volunteer, the pressure is less and the freedom to learn how to prospect for new grants and take the process on from beginning to end is yours. You can explore new territory. As your confidence and ability grow, you can take on bigger projects and be able to charge accordingly.

Final thoughts:

This is the story of my journey. Your path into grant writing may be more organic. Perhaps you work for a nonprofit and have been tasked with writing grants. Perhaps you are starting your own organization and would like to write grants for your passion project. It could be that you are looking for a career change and think grant writing sounds like a good fit. Anyone who wants to become a better grant writer would benefit from taking a course like the one I took.

Grant writer networking groups also exist for grant writers to share ideas and their knowledge of new grants. This would be a good way to get your name out there as well.

Jamie Santana

Jamie Santana

Jamie is a mission-motivated, people-loving entrepreneur at heart. She graduated in 2004 with her Master's in Public Service and Dispute Resolution from Marquette University. She is deeply invested in the work of facilitating healthy communication, as well as building and maintaining strong relationships.
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