Grant me some solitude
March 27, 2012 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Grant writing: is this a good career for an introvert?

I've done informational interviews with two professionals in the nonprofit grant-writing field, and my SO writes grants for his nonprofit. Maybe it's just the people I've talked to and the stuff I've seen my partner do, but it seems like people who write grants for a living are frequently expected to be "out there," directing the programs they get funded, building interest in the community, etc. There also seems to be a very high quotient of meetings, as well as a need to build personal relationships with grantors.

Coming from ten-plus years in a field that has had me "out there" in the community, I'm looking for a new career that allows me to fly more under the radar and work behind the scenes. I'd really like to spend the vast majority of my time working alone on stuff. Are there grant-writers out there whose working lives are actually like this? Or is it really a field where the ability to build interpersonal relationships counts more than sheer writing ability? (I recognize that most fields require interpersonal skills, of which I have a few, but man I'm sick of basing my livelihood on that.)

posted by indognito to Work & Money (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a grant writer for a mid-sized human service nonprofit. Before this, I wrote grants for several arts and cultural organizations. Been grant writing now for about 7 years.

It really depends on the culture of the organization, the hierarchy, and the division of labor. There are organizations where the grant writers are just that. They are expected to sit behind a desk, write a grant proposal, and submit it. Their superiors then do the legwork involved in getting that proposal funding - the relationship-building that you'd prefer not to do, such as meetings, phone calls, etc.

In other organizations (particularly smaller ones), the grant writer is expected to not only write the proposal, but do the relationship-building as well. While grant writing is a specialized skill, I've noticed that more and more agencies now are getting away from hiring people who prefer or who only have the skills to write the proposal. They get more bang from their buck with someone who can write and has the ability to steward donors. I've also noticed that straight grant writer positions are fewer and farther between nowadays. For example, my position is Manager of Foundation & Government Grants, which leaves me a lot of wiggle room for non-grant writing duties.

One other note: grant writing is not as solitary an activity as people think. The best grant proposals are written with the input of many, particularly program staff who are working day in and day out on the programs and activities that you are trying to get funded. So even if you are not expected to work with donors, you will be communicating with internal stakeholders like staff, board members, and clients.

Any other questions, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by anotheraccount at 9:08 AM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've written plenty of grants and applications for program funding, and continue to do so on the side. One of the challenges of the non-profit sector is that there isn't a lot of money, and what money there is will be "leveraged" as much as possible. The end result, in my experience, is that there isn't a whole lot of money left over for the grant writers.

What this means is that grant writers have to do other things to earn a living. In my case, I worked extensively with a non-profit to find funding for non-core projects they would like to carry out, but were not mission-critical. I would write the grant, and then I would carry out the project, which would mean getting out in the community to conduct surveys or whatever, and publish reports for both public and private consumption. But the end result was that I was not able to support myself, at least in this town, on grant writing.

I've also sat on the board of a few smaller non-profits, and, during my time in government, I worked with a whole variety of these organizations. Generally the executive director would prepare grant proposals, or perhaps, if there is the budget for it, a dedicated resource such as a communications manager. Obviously, once again, in both cases, they had to perform significant outward-facing roles.

So, in summary, at least in my experience, unless we're talking about setting up multi-million dollar programs, there is just not the overhead in the non-profit world to support a full-time grant writer. One thing you could do is contract for a variety of different organizations.

Please note that I have worked mostly in the realm of government grants and government programs, where professional networks change and are most important for uncovering information about changing funding priorities
posted by KokuRyu at 9:10 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my very large not-for-profit organization we have a whole fund development department with several specialists, including a grant-writer, within the dept. The thing is, even in big and departmentalized organizations, everyone wears many hats. So the grant-writer is expected to do other fund development activities: meetings, relationship building, shmoozing, fundraiser events, donor stewardship... all the things that a strong introvert would find agonizing. I ended up finding a middle ground by taking a program staff position outside of the fund development department, but assisting with grant-writing whenever I can. If you are skilled at writing grants, it's likely that wherever in the organization you work, your bosses will find a way to use your skills. I wouldn't count on actual solo writing being a major component of the work though.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:38 AM on March 27, 2012

Just wanted to second anotheraccount.

I raise funds for a living. When I was a junior member of staff at my current organisation, I was very much able to fly under the radar. Most of my communication with grantmakers and programme coordinators was done via email and tended not to be particularly important. My day to day job consisted of writing bids, thank you letters, reports and processing gifts. It was a dream job for an introvert.

Now that I am slightly more senior, I don't get the opportunity to work as much on my own. Although my main job is still writing bids to corporate bodies and charitable organisations, I also have to build personal relationships with grantmakers via phone, letter, email and face to face meetings (in fact one of my Key Performance Indicators relates to how much direct and meaningful contact I've made with current and potential supporters during a reporting period). I also have to do a lot of work with other internal colleagues to help deliver the programmes for which we seek internal funding. I also deliver stewardship events for our supporters from the ground up, something which requires lots of coordination across different departments, and a healthy dose of bossiness to make sure everything goes smoothly! As someone who is a natural wallflower, you can bet a lot of the aspects of my current role did not come easily to me when I started out; but I've adjusted, and rather enjoy it now.

Building relationships is absolutely key, I've found. You probably know this already, but I'll say it anyway: You could be an amazing writer, but you need to know what the grant-makers want in order to write a proposal that's going to press all the right buttons, and while a good deal of that information is easily found on websites etc, there is a lot that you absolutely can't know unless you have succeeded in building a strong personal relationship with them.

Having said all that, I think I still work on my own a fair bit more than the other people in our fundraising department. My job revolves around raising funds from corporates and charitable giving organisations, and my colleagues who work in individual giving and fundraising from high net worth individuals have a higher proportion of face to face meetings and going out into the community to do as part of their job. I do have weeks where I am left alone to do my thing.

Please feel free to MeMail me if you need anymore info.
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:39 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I help write grants for my nonprofit, and even if you work for an agency that doesn't expect the grant writer to do a lot of relationship-building with funding agencies and the like, you'll most likely still end up having to do a fair amount of talking to people. For example, my job (not just the grant-writing portion, but the rest of it) falls mostly under the administrative support side; I don't provide direct services. Therefore, when I'm working on a grant proposal, I end up having to do a lot of talking with the staff and managers involved in our direct support programs so I that I have a better idea of what they actually do. Depending on where you work, this isn't a bad thing; I'm probably more of an introvert than an extrovert, but I'm not actually shy, necessarily, and I get along well with my co-workers. If I didn't, working on grants would be a lot more miserable.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:40 AM on March 27, 2012

Pretty much everything anotheraccount said.

Most grant writing jobs have turned into Foundation/Corp Manager jobs, and you are a relationship builder as well as a writer. Like anotheraccount said, this gets sort of more true the smaller the org.

I work in higher ed, and we have other folks who do a lot of the stewardship stuff, so I basically just write. Once we get the award, individual departments and such manage it, though I still have to report out on it so I have to do some checking in and what not.

I do personally work alone a lot. It actually gets lonely and I wish I worked with people more. Then again, there are spurts, like when you're developing a new program or project that needs grant funding, where there can be lots of meetings and the like. Almost always with colleagues though. I don't spend a lot of time "out" in the pubic.

At my last job, for a cultural org, I wore a lot more hats - sat at booths for volunteer fairs, worked the front desk, even though I was technically the grant manager.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:43 AM on March 27, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone--this is extremely helpful information. In my informational interviews I haven't wanted to come right out and say that I'm somewhat people-averse, as that generally isn't a good thing in job hunting. Thank goodness for Metafilter.
posted by indognito at 1:59 PM on March 27, 2012

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