My early days in the nonprofit development world consisted of tracking donations in Raisers Edge, writing thank you letters, drafting E-newsletters, answering phones, and supporting the department through various administrative tasks. Oh, and recruiting my hubby to lift heavy objects at special events while I pulled bid sheets, sold raffle tickets, and met donors. Quickly, I moved up the ranks, taking on new and exciting responsibilities such as volunteer coordinator, donations manager, Community Relations Coordinator/PR Coordinator, and finally special events manager. While I loved this time of growth and learning, I was excited when five years into my career I was presented with the opportunity to become the Director of Grants at my organization. My boss at the time knew my strengths well, and knew that I would succeed in this area. For most of my career prior to doing grants, I had truly enjoyed writing about nonprofit programs through newsletters and press releases.
At first, the world of grants was a mystery to me. Armed with a passion for writing about the mission of my organization and with the good fortune to be working with (my now current boss) Julie Assel, I dove right in. And what I found was eye opening! Three words... INFORMATION, INFORMATION, INFORMATION. During my first five years in development, the grants and development staff had kind of worked in silos. I had no idea such vast and detailed narrative, data, and program information was available! And just down the hall no less. As I became more confident in my role, I became acutely aware that grants and development staff, while oftentimes operating in very separate spaces, can and should communicate more. That is...If your organization is lucky enough to have BOTH a grant and development staff. J
I have now been writing grants for almost 7 years. Through my transition from development staff to grant writer, I’ve developed my top five "take-aways":
1) Share (and share alike). Program staff are busy, like really, really busy saving lives, giving hope, bettering the world...don't ask them twice for the same info. Development people have stories; ask for them. Grant people have numbers; ask for them. Development knows the core of the mission, the warm and fuzzy, and the marketing language. And they know the donors. Grants have in-depth information ranging from details about how a program works to assessments to nitty gritty details on things like how programs are sustained, how they are funded, and what evidenced based practices they use. Point is, if you aren't communicating, you could be overburdening program staff and missing out on some really good and already existing info!
2) Talk about your prospects. Make sure you aren't asking company X for $5,000 through their corporate foundation and someone else is asking them to sponsor your golf tournament. Take time to sit down and compare your prospect lists at the beginning of the year.
3) Budget together. If your development department has a goal to raise a certain amount of money this year, bring your two worlds together and devise a plan - including events, donations, and grants - that meets that goal. If your organization has a special project or capital campaign, how can individual donations and grants come together to meet the goal? Also, if you’re raising money for a specific campaign, be sure and work together to give a consistent message in both your marketing and grant language.
4) Collaborate. There is no reason you can't (given the right funder) ask for a grant that might include support for a program/project and a sponsorship for a special event. Or if you are working on something that isn't quite a grant, but asks for very detailed information such as an online profile, partner with your grant staff!
5) Know your strengths. Grant writing involves a lot of attention to detail, in-depth reading, clear and concise writing, and concentration throughout the process. I feel fortunate I went from development staff to a grant writer because I was able to learn about donor relations and the “art of the ask.” But I will admit, I became a grant writer because this wasn't my strongest or favorite skill. Identify which senior leaders and/or program staff should be involved in major grant asks and site visits. Everyone has their strengths. USE THEM! During these key asks or site visits with grantors, it's best to bring in someone with strong donor relations skills and someone (such as the grant writer) who knows the ins and outs of the actual request and grant requirements. Together, your interactions with funders will be a huge success!