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self taught grant writers?

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
are there any mamas out there that can help me get started or recommend an online class/websites/books? (I have already reserved 6 books from the library and poring over various sites) But would love to know how did you learn to write grants? Or is it something that you need definite training doing? I am kind of falling into this, but am a definite newbie! Though I am quite excited at the prospect. Thanks for any info.!!!
post #2 of 22
I am a grantwriter, and actually IMO its less about writing skills granted being a good writer helps and more about understanding how funders think and the non-profit environment in general. Which at the moment is pretty rough, thanks in part to the economy, more organizations in need at a time when funders are scaling back.

I worked in non-profits for years before I became a grantwriter so I had a pretty good understanding of what was fundable and what wasn't. IMO I would look for a non-profit that needs help with grantwriting and offer my services for free as a way to get experience. The thing is if your goal is to become a freelance grantwriter, potential clients are going to want to know how successful your past efforts have been so its not something I would delve into without getting my feet wet first.

As far as how I learned, one I was working at an agency that added grantwriting to my duties but I also went to grad school and my focus was non-profit administration so I actually had classes in grad school that focused on grantwriting.

Good luck!

Shay
post #3 of 22
We evaluate grant programs and have done some grant writing as well. I've never had any kind of training or read any books at all, but in the beginning I typically worked with administrators who knew they would be competitive. I knew how to help them develop a program that could be evaluated and would develop a good design for them. On many occasions I ended up writing the whole grant to help build the business. The key is always to write exactly what they are asking for. If 2 points gets awarded for item Q and 2 points for Z, address each and be explicit about it. The most successful writers I know pay most attention to these issues, but the very best can also fold all of it into a good overall conceptual design. You can be very successful with just the details since that's how most grants are scored, but you'll always do even better if you can write an overall story.

Budgets always take about 17 times longer to develop than they should. They cause gray hair.

I agree with Shay on everything as well, particularly the idea of perhaps volunteering to get the experience going. It's always good to be able to say "I've secured 10M in grants." Of course later when you're at 100M, you'll scoff at your former self. I have added it up in a long time and never wrote a lot, but surely I'm over 20M or 30M with about a 90% success rate.

Amanda
post #4 of 22
Thread Starter 
I am sort of being recruited by a non profit but have no real experience, though i could definitely find help and guidance. I have no idea where to begin though?eek! Maybe it will be a bad idea? My main goal is trying to understand what the non profit is trying to achieve at this point as I am a bit fuzzy currently..anyway just something I may be getting into..I really hope it will work out!
post #5 of 22
Rainbow,
I am in your exact position except that I have actually been hired as the on-staff grantwriter. I have never written a grant but I am a writer and have worked in non-profits for many years. My boss is willing to train me. I am very excited by the prospect of getting my first propoal out there. I have been reading up on the dos and don'ts. Thankfully, I won't be responsible for the budget portion of any of them.

I should be putting together my first mini proposal in the next week or so. I'll let you know how it goes.
post #6 of 22
It's great freelance work should you end up going that direction and it's a really great skill to have. I think "jump in" is the best bet and focus on nailing the details in the request for proposals. The nonprofit bosses should have a decent idea of what is fundable and you'll pick it up along the way. That's not to say a "how to" book wouldn't help, but I expect a good part of it is just experience.
post #7 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by rainbowmoon View Post
I am sort of being recruited by a non profit but have no real experience, though i could definitely find help and guidance. I have no idea where to begin though?eek! Maybe it will be a bad idea? My main goal is trying to understand what the non profit is trying to achieve at this point as I am a bit fuzzy currently..anyway just something I may be getting into..I really hope it will work out!
Well do they have specific grants in mind already? If so that will simplify things since then you would have some guidelines put forth by the grantmaker. On the other hand if they are telling you we want some grants written and to find us something its going to be a fair amount of work. Since you will need to gain access to databases that you generally pay for to access updated guidelines. Example, I have a subscription with the Foundation Center as well as a regional grantmaker coalition. Plus I have a subscription to the Chronicle of Philanthropy and a few other trade publications.

Honestly I would be weary if they know you have no experience, when I meet with clients initially I discuss what their goals are and whether or not they are feasible. For example any agency that is seeking general operating support should know that is some of the hardest money to come by because funders like to fund specific programs. Also as a grant-writer especially a freelancer you often are put in a position of having to flesh out their programmatic needs to align with what funders want to fund. Again is their idea really feasible and that is something you learn the longer you are doing this work.

It can be decent paying work but honestly its hard, I have 2 clients that have no staff grantwriters so I handle all their needs and its time consuming and even though I set my prices competitively, I am now realizing its too little for what I do.

One of the first books I ever used was Grantwriting for Dummies, its a decent book to have on your shelf. http://www.npguides.org/ this is another decent site to check out. I will need to look through my shelf for other suggestions though Kim Klein is a grantwriter, do a google on her and she has done a book as well.

Shay
post #8 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by shayinme View Post
Well do they have specific grants in mind already? If so that will simplify things since then you would have some guidelines put forth by the grantmaker. On the other hand if they are telling you we want some grants written and to find us something its going to be a fair amount of work. Since you will need to gain access to databases that you generally pay for to access updated guidelines. Example, I have a subscription with the Foundation Center as well as a regional grantmaker coalition. Plus I have a subscription to the Chronicle of Philanthropy and a few other trade publications.

Honestly I would be weary if they know you have no experience, when I meet with clients initially I discuss what their goals are and whether or not they are feasible. For example any agency that is seeking general operating support should know that is some of the hardest money to come by because funders like to fund specific programs. Also as a grant-writer especially a freelancer you often are put in a position of having to flesh out their programmatic needs to align with what funders want to fund. Again is their idea really feasible and that is something you learn the longer you are doing this work.

It can be decent paying work but honestly its hard, I have 2 clients that have no staff grantwriters so I handle all their needs and its time consuming and even though I set my prices competitively, I am now realizing its too little for what I do.

One of the first books I ever used was Grantwriting for Dummies, its a decent book to have on your shelf. http://www.npguides.org/ this is another decent site to check out. I will need to look through my shelf for other suggestions though Kim Klein is a grantwriter, do a google on her and she has done a book as well.

Shay
I am not really sure as of yet. The man I am living with is the president of the board of the non profit..he just asked if I was interested. I think they need grants but don't have a grant writer. I am interested in expanding my resume and finding a different direction with my writing (environmental writing being the top of the list but the grant writing sounds cool too) They are actually trying to create a land trust to buy the property we are living at now and a bunch of other things/programs/etc..I am not at all clear though as of yet..he doesn't have any real experience that I know of writing grants..someone else (or rather many others he knows) likely do though! These are all very good points to ponder! Thanks so much for the tips!

ps) the non profit is www.universityofthewild.org
post #9 of 22
If you do go forward, I would suggest talking to the Executive Director if they have one or whoever is in charge of daily operations. Its not uncommmon for board folks to not be as knowledgable but the ED should be able to tell you exactly what they are looking for as far as programming and should also be able to give you some guidance as far as where to look for sources. The thing is IMO if you have to research possible sources of possible funding before you even get to the point of writing anything, you could spend a ton of hours so it would be important to know that upfront. I have one client that I spent 2 months doing research for before I ever wrote a grant for them.

Are you in New England? If so I can PM you some info that could be of assistance. I am in Maine and went to grad school in NH so I have a pretty good idea of New England resources. One of my professors in grad school has done a lot of work with land trusts and helping them secure funding so I might be able to look through my old files and get some info to you as well.

Shay
post #10 of 22
ITA with Shay. I had not considered that you might not know the substantive side well. It also does sound like they don't have a lot of experience with grants. Getting money for land is going to be difficult. It's all going to be private foundations I would assume. I have next to no experience with private foundation grants.

Are you freelancing for them or an employee?
post #11 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gale Force View Post
Getting money for land is going to be difficult. It's all going to be private foundations I would assume. I have next to no experience with private foundation grants.
: I deal with mainly private foundations for my clients and money is getting really tight and the next year or so is going to be hard to get funding for new projects. Many but not all foundations are reducing their giving this upcoming year, I was on the phone this past week with 2 different program officers at 2 different foundations and they were saying they are at the point they weren't even accepting inquiries or full proposals because they are swamped with requests.

I have done federal and private foundations and both are hard work, the thing with private foundations is you can put in a ton of work and the organization gets funded but its for less then you requested. :

Also if the organization in question does not have a lot of experience getting grants, you need to make sure that what they want to do is realistic. Many newer organizations think that grants are free money that's easy to get and nothing can be further from the truth.

I enjoy the freedom that my work brings but its also coupled with consulting as well and its hard work. When I am actively writing a grant, I become a really nasty person, its not fun at all even when you know the work. Especially with budget issues like Gale Force brought up, too many times I have to review the figures and make sure they make sense since many times what a client gives me makes no sense to an outsider so as a outsider I have to identify that.

Don't mean to sound negative but I do think if it work you want to do its good to hear all sides. Most folks I know who do grant-writing solo pair it with other things, like I said I also consult, my specialty is board/staff development, strategic planning and working with start-up to young organizations. Another friend of mine deals with program planning... thing is if you are a freelancer versus a staff grantwriter (really different IMO) it helps a lot if you have another area of expertise. For starters it will keep you working continously plus when determing the feasibility of a project the extra areas help a lot.

Shay
post #12 of 22
Thread Starter 
I definitely would be freelancing if this moves forward. I was told for a percentage of the grant. Is that correct? How much does a freelancer usually charge in a situation like that? The situation IS that the non profit will hopefully buy more land for an eco village in 2 locations (including the one I live at that is hopefully being developed if the $ comes through). Thanks so much for the tips too Shay! I am in MA currently.
post #13 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by rainbowmoon View Post
I definitely would be freelancing if this moves forward. I was told for a percentage of the grant.
This is a big huge red flag for me. I would not work on this basis.
post #14 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by avengingophelia View Post
This is a big huge red flag for me. I would not work on this basis.
can you elaborate why it's a red flag? Or is it just not worth it? (I mean working on it until the grant comes through) I am also a little emotionally tied to what happens as I live here! Though I do not at all know specifics in any way shape or form. It was approached to me vaguely so far. I will find out more this week!
post #15 of 22
Well, it's a red flag for two reasons. First, I want to be paid for the work I do, regardless of whether or not it's funded. Maybe if it's not, they won't employ me again, but I put my time and expertise into their proposal whether it came through or not, and I deserve to be paid for that.

Secondly, the plan to pay a grant writer out of grant funds is flawed. Most grantors won't pay for that type of service, and if they don't have another way to pay their administrative staff, including a grant writer, they are likely not in a good position to be funded anyway.
post #16 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by shayinme View Post
When I am actively writing a grant, I become a really nasty person, its not fun at all even when you know the work.


So true. I may write two grants in the next 12 months to help bring in other work. That's enough for me because it is extremely demanding. The good side is that when you get quick, you can bust one out and take some time off.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rainbowmoon View Post
I definitely would be freelancing if this moves forward. I was told for a percentage of the grant. Is that correct? How much does a freelancer usually charge in a situation like that?
Now we're getting into the nitty-gritty. I assume this is a contingency arrangement where you would get something like 10% of the grant proceeds if the grant is funded. This is not allowed in the types of grants that I write, but it does happen. The problem is that you propose a certain budget and never actually include the 10% fee in the budget. When the ship comes in, a lot of organizations will pay the contingency writer out of the grant funds. Some organizations have a large enough general fund that they can pay from elsewhere, but these organizations do not typically hire on a contingency basis.

The first grant I wrote was a contingency arrangement of sorts -- I was to be hired as a consultant out of the grant funds. That's quite common as well and isn't really frowned upon (unless the grantee organization is required to have a public bidding process for contracts). I got lucky and got grants funded. But knowing what I know now and knowing you are going to seek private funding, makes me think you might want to dabble if it fits your schedule, but you probably need to make other provisions for income in the short term.

Amanda
post #17 of 22
Contingency fees probably range from something like 5-12% of the grant funds. Some contingency writers will cap the amount on larger grants (like 20K fee for a successful $2M grant).
post #18 of 22
Thread Starter 
Thanks mamas!

If I went with it though would it be on a contract since I'm freelancing? Would it be unheard of to bill for the research/writing hours if it falls through or does it just not work that way? Either way I won't work for free. They do have classes/workshops and things though so maybe it could be in trade or something..

This is definitely just something to add to my resume and
"try on for size" sort of thing. Not what I want to be doing long term, or at least I don't think so! I really am not sure!
post #19 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by avengingophelia View Post

Secondly, the plan to pay a grant writer out of grant funds is flawed. Most grantors won't pay for that type of service, and if they don't have another way to pay their administrative staff, including a grant writer, they are likely not in a good position to be funded anyway.
yeah I will definitely be asking about that! thanks!
post #20 of 22
One approach might be to charge a small fee to write with a bonus if it's funded.

I disagree a bit with avengingophelia's

"if they don't have another way to pay their administrative staff, including a grant writer, they are likely not in a good position to be funded anyway."

That's probably true much of the time, but these are crazy, lean times. My most fiscally secure of clients are stretched and would be tickled over a contingency relationship of some sort.

Amanda
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