Feeling trapped in my job
April 28, 2017 7:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm a grant writer/grant manager. What else am I qualified to do?

I've worked in development/grant management for about six years, ever since I graduated college. I've gotten good at it - I like the internal information-gathering, including making sure that people know exactly what info they need to get to me, and following up to ensure that I have all the info I need; for reports I like ensuring we're hitting our project targets and contract requirements and reporting deadlines, and for proposals I like ensuring that we're meeting every single proposal requirement; I like the writing itself; and I like formatting and editing. I like turning out a finished report or proposal that's well-written, persuasive, free of errors, and well-organized and nice to look at. And I like feeling good about what my org is doing (though if I'm being honest, that's not my highest priority when job searching).

What I really, really don't like is the potential career path (pretty much, keep doing the same thing, manage a group of people doing the same thing, development director); the fact that many nonprofits try to get grant managers to handle communications and/or individual giving as well; the frequently awful hours and meh pay; and the general lack of emphasis on good management practices which is rampant in nonprofits.

When I've tried to search for information on transitioning out of grant writing, I have found nothing but thousands of pages about how to transition INTO grant writing.

I'm not sure what I should even be looking at. I've been considering project management and technical writing, but those both seem like they'd involve extensive retraining - all of the jobs I can find in those fields want several years of experience, and many of them also want you to have prior experience in the tech world. I'm not necessarily opposed to retraining, but if I can avoid it, I'd like to.

So... what should I try?

I'm in NYC if it matters. (I'm also not really interested in communications or marketing, which seems to be where a lot of the writing jobs are these days.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A similar question posted previously.
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:35 AM on April 28, 2017

Commercial proposal work (writer, proposal manager, manager - all more lucrative than grant work)
Pick up a few PMP courses and become a project manager
Business development/sales
posted by mochapickle at 7:42 AM on April 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you enjoy grant writing, why not just try to find an organization that pays better?

Depending on the sector, technical writing doesn't necessarily require retraining. And, depending on the sector, technical writing is often considered an entry-level job.

I've found in my own strange career a lot of the time is "fake it 'til you make it." I've gone from being a teacher to doing government communications to IT technical writing to grant writing for non-profits to government manager (moonlighting as a tv script rewriter) to SEO hand to freelance marketing copywriter.

At the moment the gig economy is where it's at. What you can do is test different kinds of jobs by doing a side-hustle. Learn the basic "culture" of that sector/vertical and then mimic the culture to get the job you want. That's what I do. I support a family on one income (in a lower-cost city than NYC, but I have clients in NYC).

Other ideas for you with your skill-set are product marketing, and even product management (a highly fascinating job, but you need to be a lion tamer).

You won't be able to make the leap immediately. But if you do a side-hustle you might be able to get the experience and knowledge necessary to make a switch.
posted by My Dad at 7:46 AM on April 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

As an interim step, you might do this work for a mega nonprofit. They're unlikely to mix grants with donors, will likely pay better, and sometimes have more emphasis on good management.
posted by salvia at 7:50 AM on April 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was a major gifts manager before I transited to grants and can relate to the feeling of "Is this all there is?" which seems to be the reason why there is such a love/hate cloud over the work. I moved into business development for a private company and do PQQs and tenders. You could get a fairly good salary and progression by being able to locate and complete your own leads.
If you want to transit out, you have to be willing to explain just how effective your writing is through a number, your win/loss/renewal rate for bids and quotes.
Walking into an office that is cut throat and sales-heavy but where absolutely no one can understand a PQQ or pricing exercise can mean very fast progression if you can similarly deliver on their pile of lost opportunities.
posted by parmanparman at 7:50 AM on April 28, 2017

How do you feel about academia? You might be able to transition sideways over into something like research compliance work or sponsored programs office work at a university. Having a solid knowledge of how a grant is put together, how to work to a deadline, good communication skills, and how to extract information from a variety of people and organize it properly is a strong asset.

Your pay's still going to be meh, but the benefits will probably be good and the work-life balance tends to fall on the pretty good side. (With some exceptions - if you're the person who has to hit the button on grants submissions, then your work hours are going to be less flexible, so you would want to make sure you know that going in and are compensated accordingly.) You're probably not going to get sucked into communications/giving, other than potentially doing a couple of presentations a year to faculty and staff, depending on your specific role. You may, depending on your personal leanings, be able to find value and meaning in supporting science and education.

Down side, of course, is that everyone in research academia is deeply panicked right now about whether a year from now we're going to still HAVE any of the federal agencies that fund so much of our work. So finding a place that also does decently at bringing in private research money might be worth low-key having on your radar, if you want to take a look that way.

Feel free to hit me up by MeMail if you want to talk about what A Day In Your Life might look like if you went that route, or whatever.
posted by Stacey at 8:01 AM on April 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Content marketing, content strategy, copywriting, copyediting.

You could transition into marketing or program management for a nonprofit. Take one of those "/" positions and use the time to build up your chops in the non-development area. Get into database management, if that interests you; the tech skills could be useful elsewhere. Look at foundation jobs. Maybe you'd like reviewing proposals.

Transferable skills probably include writing, persuasive communication attention to detail, organization, delegation. Each grant is a little project you manage, so add project management there.

Consider searching for or posting this question to the Nonprofit Happy Hour FB group.
posted by ramenopres at 8:29 AM on April 28, 2017

I would second Stacey—working in grants and contracts at a university will require many of the same skills, and in many of those positions there will be a better career path and a lower chance of being pushed towards communication or handling donor gifts. Management style is a mixed bag—but at some places it will be better.

Working for the sponsors instead of the grantees is another opportunity if you can find one of those jobs.
posted by grouse at 10:40 AM on April 28, 2017

I like the internal information-gathering, including making sure that people know exactly what info they need to get to me, and following up to ensure that I have all the info I need;

This sounds like program management to me.
posted by batter_my_heart at 7:34 AM on April 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I went from being a grant writer/fundraiser to strategic partnerships manager to department director. I was fortunate to be in a position where I could make the strategic c partnerships manager job up (wrote the job description and everything) which really helped. Memail or email me if you want to talk.
posted by fieldtrip at 10:27 PM on April 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

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