Whether you’re a newbie to grant writing or you’re a veteran in the nonprofit grant writing arena, no one should ever really be done improving and learning. After all, it’s a journey, right?
Although I think I’m a pretty solid writer and I have a great track record behind me, I’m always looking for new perspectives, new tools, and new resources to help me do my job even better. Hopefully I’ll continue to learn throughout my entire career.
But part of what I try to do is to pass on the things I’ve already learned to other grant writers – especially those who are newer to the profession. That’s why I think it’s really important to not just talk about the obvious stuff like grammar, proofreading, and how to read a 990. You also need to talk about the much less obvious stuff that can help you really hone your grant writing chops.
That’s what this blog post is about: my top tips for improving your grant writing skills:
Tip #1: READ
The best way to be a great writer is to be an avid reader. Read everything you can get your hands on. Whether it’s a fiction novel, a memoir, an article, or a grant proposal you’re reviewing for a colleague, it’s all valuable. Reading a wide variety of materials from other great authors is the fast track to showing you how to improve your own writing. Specifically, take notice of how different pieces are written. Are they conversational? Are they academic? How well do they explain things? Do they take a lot of words to do it or are they able to explain concepts and situations vividly with a few well-chosen words and phrases? Exactly how did the writer grab your attention and hold it (or fail to do so)? You’re reading my blog right now, so you’ve already taken a great step in the right direction. Taking a mindful approach to everything you read or review is a great way to sharpen your skillset.
Tip #2: Invest in yourself
There are tons and tons of great professional development resources out there for nonprofit pros. If you are a grant writer, hopefully you’re already taking advantage of some of them. Regardless, there are some great resources that are specific to grant writing which are helpful and then there are also a whole slew of outside-the-box resources that can help you improve your writing that are not specific to grants work. Here are some of my favorites:
Grant Professionals Association (GPA) – Members get free access to webinars on every grants topic under the sun. You also get discounts on conferences and outside learning opportunities. I’ve rarely been disappointed by any of the professional development opportunities I’ve taken advantage of from GPA.
Maryn Boess’ Grants MagicU – Maryn is a leader in the grants training space and has her own website where she offers targeted trainings and tools.
D.H Leonard – D.H. Leonard, led by grant master Diane Leonard, is a giant in the world of grants consulting. And of course, they offer tons of trainings, too (some free, some paid, all worthwhile). They also offer trainings on how to apply agile concepts and the SCRUM framework to grants, which is new for this type of work and really exciting!
The Copy Cure – The Copy Cure is a course on writing engaging copy from Marie Forleo (of BSchool fame). It has nothing at all to do with grant writing but you will come out of it a better, more compelling writer.
Sarah Zerkel – Sarah specializes in “conversion copy”. If you’ve never heard that term before, it’s mostly used in the marketing world to describe copy (aka writing) that is used to “sell” someone on your service or product and convert them to making a purchase. However, the line between writing for marketing and writing for grants is razor thin (in fact I have a blog post coming up on this topic soon). Grant copy should sell your reader on what you want to do without sounding salesy. And Sarah’s a master at that. She has several one-on-one options and training options to help you get started. Or just read her blog, take notes, and start thinking about how you can translate her concepts to the world of grants.
Tip #3: Get thyself a mentor
Mentors make a world of difference. When you go it alone, it’s much like taking back roads in an unfamiliar town when you have no access to GPS devices (bummer). In that situation, you’ll be prone to taking the wrong road, not getting to your destination on time, or even hitting a monster pothole that pops your tire and keeps you from getting where you’re going entirely. On the other hand, having a mentor is like having a grants GPS right on your dashboard. A good mentor can give you solid advice, help you avoid those potholes (because “locals” know where they are), be an experienced set of eyes for reviewing what you write, and occasionally give you inside details on grant opportunities and even funders. Mentors are worth their weight in gold. You can find one by simply asking colleagues in the grant writing space who have more experience than you or you can find them through formal mentoring programs like those offered through many chapters of GPA.