What Does It Mean to be a Grant Professional? Tracey Diefenbach, GPC

As we look ahead to International Grant Professionals Day, I cannot help but wonder – what does it really mean to be a grant professional?

When I was a kid, I used to go to the beauty parlor (am I dating myself yet?). The beautician (yep, I definitely just dated myself now) had a sign hanging by her chair that said something like – “I am a hairdresser, a therapist, a coach, a cheerleader, and a magician.”

Today, I wish I had this sign to hang in my office. As a grant professional, on any given day, I have conducted a therapy session with the development director who is in a sheer state of panic trying to juggle numerous grant deadlines; coached a CEO through what seemed like a never-ending conversation of should we apply or should we not; and magically transformed some bulleted notes into a program design. Whew…and that was all before noon!

Yes, a grant professional may encompass all of these roles, but to me, the meaning of this title falls into three key areas:

  1. Knowledge – As grant professionals, we have an extensive base of knowledge across key areas from proposal writing and project design to organizational development, post-award grant management, and relationship building. At one moment, we are translating the instructions of a federal request for proposals (which seems to be written in a foreign language), in the next minute, we’re digging through data and trying to figure out if table “B16010” on the census.gov website will bring us the information. And this is just a moment’s snapshot, my friends! Might I even add that we have to know a little bit about a whole lot of subjects – particularly, as a consultant for clients who provide a wide range of services.
  2. Quality – We are not just about churning out grant proposals – and don’t let me undermine the importance of the writing because it is hard work – but we are about QUALITY. We develop clear, concise, and well-constructed proposals, solid project designs, and robust logic models. We don’t just research funders; we find high-match funders strategically aligning the agency’s work with the funder’s mission, vision, and priorities. We work effectively across all different stakeholder groups, including staff, board members, community members, funders, and even the sweet lady at the post office who stops locking the door at 4:59 p.m. when we come running with a manila envelope (yep, still dating myself!).
  3. Professionalism – This is literally part of our position title. “Grant professional” means we uphold ethical principles and standards of accountability. Within each of these areas, we live up to this title, maintaining professionalism and weaving high standards through all of our work including writing, research, data collection, and relationships. We abide by organizational policies and procedures. We follow local, state, and federal government guidelines and regulations and have a general understanding of accepted accounting principles and practices. We communicate clearly, appropriately, and respectfully with stakeholders. And we sometimes have to make difficult decisions to ensure we are not compromising our standards and principles.

We wonder why we are tired?!? Yet, being a grant professional also means we continue to grow and develop the profession. I have personally sought development opportunities by joining the Grant Professionals Association (GPA), earning my Grant Professionals Certification through the Grant Professionals Certification Institute, becoming a GPA-approved trainer, and seeking trainings beyond the grants world. I have seen many of my colleagues, myself included, venture into other specialty areas – learning how to apply new knowledge and skills to grants. For me, this has included recently completing a Motivational Interviewing training and now, leading my own trainings to help other grant professionals use this practice to further advance the profession.

As we prepare to celebrate our day, I can’t help but wish I had that sign from that old beauty parlor where my grandma sat; so I could replace “hairdresser” with “grant professional,” and proudly display it in my office.

Competency #7: Knowledge of practices and services that raise the level of professionalism of grant developers.

Skill 7.1: Identify advantages of participating in continuing education and various grant review processes.

Skill 7.2: Identify advantages of participating in professional organizations that offer grant developers growth opportunities and advance the profession.

Skill 7.3: Identify strategies that grant developers use in building social capital to benefit their communities and society at large.