Grant Writing -- Is it a good career?
September 24, 2008 9:18 AM   Subscribe

Grant Writing -- Is it a good career? I would like to hear from anyone who has earned a living providing grant writing services. Is it hard to break into? Is there a steep learning curve? What do you like and dislike about the work?

I'm returning to the workforce and need to work at home. I'm exploring various career options. Several people have told me I might be good at grant writing. I was a project manager in corporate America for many years. I'm a good researcher, and have written many proposals.

There are many resources out there explaining how to write grants for your own organization. But I don't see much about grant writing as a career. Anyone know a good training course?
posted by valannc to Work & Money (6 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Have you written grant applications? That's the first step. I would say unless you can find one or three workshops in grant writing that involve real-world practicum activities that begin at RFP and end at acceptance or rejection, please DO NOT advertise yourself as a grant writer.

If you've done project management and have a good track record and references, I would certainly consider using that as a hook if you are looking for something to market to non-profits. Many organizations, especially in education and poverty programs, are often looking for professionals with project management experience. Look for a non-profit networking evening or social in your area ( might have a few) and go out!
posted by parmanparman at 9:40 AM on September 24, 2008

It's a decent career. I've written a lot of grant proposals. A couple of thoughts

- it's easier to work in-house than freelance, although obviously freelance is much more flexible. The skills are the same. I know a couple of grantwriters who essentially work from home while employed by one organization.
- take some workshops
- offer your services on a volunteer basis to get a few proposals under your belt
- developing a content area of expertise will both make you more marketable and make for easier work (it's helpful to have a grasp on all the relevant jargon and buzzwords for the particular area, whether it's education, health, arts, etc.)
- the resources on writing for an organization are equally useful for you. You need to develop your skills first, and then market them.

And my bonus advice on grantwriting, which I know I've dropped in several threads on here, so it might be worth searching old AskMes for other advice. To be a good grantwriter you need 2 things:

- to be a good writer, and able to tell a compelling story about the organization, the needs, and the program, while echoing the language (including jargon, alas) of the guidance or funding agency.

- to follow directions. If they ask the same question twice, answer it twice. Give them all of the information they ask for.

It was not a career that I wanted to have. I used my grantwriting skills to buy me the time to work on the stuff I like doing. Other people really enjoy it as a career. I sort of fell into it, rather than searching it out, which I think is true for a lot of grantwriters. The learning curve is more about learning the programmatic information and the content, so that you can write well about it, rather than the actual writing skills themselves.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:21 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

The nonprofit I work for has employed freelance grant writers and would do so again. The issue is that we would be looking for a freelancer with either specific experience with a given grantor (or at least grantors of a similar type) or with a proven track record of successful applications.

It's hard to break into from the perspective that nonprofits tend to be cheap and tend to "circle the wagons" when it comes to things like fundraising. You would really need a way in, like volunteer experience with a given organization, a good personal introduction or really good networking skills.

Once you're in, and you have a good track record, you should be in a lot of demand. Nonprofits heart grant money and they want to keep getting it every year possible.
posted by bcwinters at 10:25 AM on September 24, 2008

Volunteer where you want to work--every week.
posted by availablelight at 10:44 AM on September 24, 2008

This is actually tim_in_oz's wife posting. Hope I'm not breaking protocol.
Tim sent me this link because I work as an arts General Manager and a large part of my job is writing grants. Sometimes the grants are for three-year funding which, if unsuccessful, cannot be applied for until the three years are up - so aspects of the job are very high pressure.
I considered going freelance as a grant writer while on maternity leave (thank goodness I didn't- my baby doesn't even like me checking my email let alone writing a grant!)
Apart from time constraints, I decided not to offer my services as a freelance grant writer because of the dollar to time ratio. Writing a compelling application requires deeply understanding the applying project or organisation. Many not-for-profits will not have the in-depth project material at their fingertips for you to take home and research. You will have to extract the information about the project/org from people who sometimes haven't even completely fleshed out the idea themselves.
An ex colleague of mine works as an in-house grant writer for a large arts organisation. She tells me that three out of five applications she has had to design or complete the project design herself before writing the grant - and she's definately not getting paid enough to be a creative producer!
posted by tim_in_oz at 1:59 AM on September 25, 2008

Thank to all for your responses.

I volunteer regularly at two NPOs. One of them has a director who is really good at getting grants. I'm going to offer to assist him so I can learn.
posted by valannc at 8:40 AM on October 7, 2008

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