How can I get a job as a grant writer for a non-profit organization?
July 31, 2014 6:12 PM   Subscribe

I quit law school (a very prestigious, top five school) four years ago and have been working in education ever since (first as an aide for Autistic children, then as a substitute teacher for two years). In this time, my student loans have been accruing interest and keeping me up at night. I can qualify for loan forgiveness programs as long as I work for a non-profit or a school. Unfortunately, the work I was doing for the past four years did not count because I worked for private companies that contracted out to schools. For many reasons,(see below) I would now like to break into grant writing. I have written three successful grant proposals in my career (one for an educational outreach program in college, one for a Fulbright Grant, and one for an international NGO). I am currently strengthening my grant writing skills by taking webinars and utilizing other free online resources. How can I present myself as a viable candidate for these grant writing jobs? And how do I explain the many changes of direction on my resume and the long winding road I took to get here?

More about my situation: I am open to any type of job as long as it is for a non-profit or a school. The main thing is that I want to have a full time job as soon as possible so I can start paying down my loans. I initially thought I should become a teacher, but that path seems less appealing now since the market for teaching jobs does not look well, and I'd have to double down on more tuition and time to get a teaching credential.

I am confident in my general writing skills (we did a lot of technical and legal writing in law school, as well as the grant proposals I mentioned above) but will definitely use any suggestions on how to specifically beef up my grant writing skills.

Quitting law school was a very emotional experience for me, I burned out and started questioning all my life goals. I fell into depression and was only able to take part time work during the past four years. At my lowest, I felt l like I was only operating at about 50%, but I have been steadily gaining confidence in the past two years and now feel ready to go 100% once again.

Suggestions for any other types of jobs would also be appreciated. As long as it is 1) full time, 2) considered non-profit work, and 3) ideally able to start right away. Thanks for your help! I'm also happy to answer more questions about my experience or what I'm looking for.
posted by rockpanda to Work & Money (4 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you located? Nonprofits in DC may have hundreds of employees and a huge budget; in the hinterlands they tend to have 3 PT people and budgets to match.
posted by headnsouth at 6:39 PM on July 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've been a grant writer now for about 8 years, since i graduated from college, and most recently I've directed a grant office at a public university.

The good news is that becoming a grant writer is a very attainable thing for someone who is reasonably intelligent and a good writer. It's a great gig for someone who has the sort of qualities that might lead to a career in law. Lots of writing, logic, research, etc.

It's also an exploding field right now, with moderately steep competition. What's going to work against you the most is just your lack of actual grant experience. It's not hard to get the hang of grant writing if you're smart and a good writer, but it is kind of a specialized skill that is a thing all its own. It requires its own sort of vocabulary and writing skills and insider knowledge, and the only way to get acquainted with all that is by doing it.

Which is why my biggest suggestion for you is, in the immediate future, see if you can do some more volunteer grant writing. I know that doesn't solve your immediate financial situation, but the best way to move up in the grant world is to be able to show success with grant fundraising. Three grants is a good start, but - a Fulbright only sort of counts (no offense - it's a great accomplishment personally, but from an organizational standpoint its sort of a different thing), and getting grants in college is quite a bit different from doing grant fundraising for an organization.

Ultimately, grant writing is a fundraising gig, and organizations are interested in grant writers with proven track records of bringing in money. I get the Catch-22 here, which is why trying to get some more volunteer success while you're applying for jobs will help you tremendously.

Keep applying for grant writing jobs though - there are many these days - and emphasize your research and writing skills and your commitment to whatever the org's goals are. NPO's have a reputation for hiring people who fit in the culture as opposed to people who will really make the organization successful, but fundraising personnel can be the exception to this rule.

The other thing you can do is get with your local affiliate of the Grant Professionals Association. The GPA is filled with really great folks, and they will help you connect with organizations and other grant writers. They can also hook you up with professional development opportunities. Most webinars and such are not super worth it, in my opinion, unless they are counting toward credits for your GPC (grant professional certification), which you won't be eligible for until you've written quite a few more winning grants.

Whatever you do, never take those gigs advertised on like Craigslist for grant gigs where you get a percentage of the grant. It's unethical, against GPA guidelines, silly, and undervalues your contribution. You are paid to help bring in money, but your work should not be contingent on success (keep in mind even a good grantwriter gets about 10% of what they apply for).

Please feel free to MeMail me.
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:40 PM on July 31, 2014 [12 favorites]

I did it by getting a non-grant writing job in a development department, and then working my way into it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:13 PM on July 31, 2014

Best job advice I ever got was to build from what you know into what you want.

My experience in NGO world is that successful grants are built on solid technical foundation. With law background -however traumatic - you might also try organizations that work in areas like rule of law or human rights where that can be a valuable background. ook on sites like devex for international organizations.

Also a lot of the grants and proposal writers I know came into it like showbiz_liz through development and fundraising.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 6:42 AM on August 1, 2014

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