July 02, 2008
Getting Started With Grant Writing By Marjorie Asturias-Lochlaer | printable version
Grant writing can be a lucrative side business for freelancers seeking to supplement their income. (Note that "grant writing" is actually a misnomer, as grants are monies disbursed rather than a document to be written. However, for simplicity's sake I'll use the common term in this article.) Be forewarned, though: this isn't just a matter of slapping together a few words about how great a particular agency is. Today's donors are an especially savvy lot, with many demanding more measures of accountability than mere feel-good anecdotes.
Here are some tips on entering and achieving success in this field:
1. Approach agencies where you already volunteer your time or whose mission appeals to you. Ask the executive director if they have a need for a grant writer. Professional grant writers with lots of experience can charge significant fees, but as a newbie grant writer, you can set your fee scale to account for your relative inexperience as well as the nonprofit's budget. (Note: The practices of paying grant writers contingency fees or a percentage of the grant monies are considered unethical by most professional fundraising organizations.)
You'll probably encounter plenty of nonprofits who will tell you that they don't have the money to pay for a grant writer and would prefer the services of a volunteer. The majority of foundations, however, are unlikely to fund an agency that doesn't have enough operating funds to maintain itself.
2. Educate yourself on the basics of grant writing. The Grantsmanship Center offers one of the best grant writing courses in the country. At about $900 for the five-day class, education doesn't come cheap, but if you're serious about making money from grant writing, you can't do much better than this. Many local nonprofits and community colleges offer inexpensive workshops for novice grant writers.
3. Get to know your local Foundation Center. The latter, which has offices around the country as well as "cooperating collections" in public libraries, colleges and community organizations, is an invaluable repository of information about grantmakers (i.e., donors) and their funding requirements.
4. Get to know the agency for whom you'll be writing. Learn as much as you can about its mission, audience, funding sources, programming, volunteer workforce, and even its budget. Funders will want to know the people who'll be using their donations. Meet with the staff and find out about the specific program for which they're seeking funding.
5. Start writing! Bear in mind that a grant proposal is much like a sales letter. Persuade the donor that your program is worthy of funding. Don't just tell the donor that the agency has a good reputation. Provide hard statistics on the agency's effectiveness in achieving its mission. If the project for which you're seeking funding involves a new Spanish-language talk show at a community radio station, write down exactly what the programming hopes to achieve. For example, you can discuss the advantages of giving greater access to your Spanish-speaking audience to some of the community services available to them, such as low-cost medical care.
Include specific information on how the agency will measure the progress of the project. Mention that you'll partner with the local low-income clinic to find out how many more Spanish-speaking clients they reach as compared to how many they served before the show went on the air.
Avoid florid language. Grant writing is more akin to technical writing than feature writing. Use facts and statistics to prove your point. The key is to show potential funders that the project will be the best use of resources of both the donor and the agency.
Sound daunting? Don't worry. Grant writing is a skill just like anything else, and the more often you go through the process, the more comfortable you'll become and the faster you'll work. As you become more proficient in the craft, you'll be able to command higher fees and be more selective in the programs you want to support. Not only will you be adding to your own bottom line, you'll also be helping an organization you believe in fulfill its own worthy mission.
For education, training and networking opportunities in the grant writing field, check out the following professional organizations:
Marjorie Asturias-Lochlaer is a freelance writer, columnist and blogger currently based in Grand Junction, CO. She's written over a hundred articles, advertorials and columns for various national, regional, local, and online publications. You can usually find her on one of her two blogs: http://marjorieasturias.blogspot.com or http://myinnerfrenchgirl.blogspot.com, or on her Web site at http://www.marjorieasturias.com.