You Can Teach a “Seasoned” Grant Writer New Tricks by Maria Morton

I have worked in grants development for 26 years (boy, time flies when you are having fun!). Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend my very first Grant Professionals Association (GPA) annual conference. Many would ask, “Really, you are just now attending the GPA conference after so many years in this business?”

I am grateful to have joined the team at Assel Grant Services (AGS), where professional development and GPA involvement are high priorities. I started with AGS in late August, and one of my first assignments was to register for the GPA annual conference. There was no question about whether or not I would attend – it was a given that I would. And I am so glad I got this opportunity.

It turns out, as I learned from the conference, you CAN teach a “seasoned” grant writer new tricks – tricks that will not only improve their work, but will shift their thinking, make them a better grant writer, and because of some of the topics that were presented, will just make them a better person overall.

The conference was filled with great workshops. The Bridge the Gap: A Guide to working with Multiple Generations was one of the most important workshops I attended. In recent months, I have been feeling an urgency to face a hard reality: the older I get, the less in touch I am with the needs of all generations – especially those that come after me, such as the Millennials. These are the generations for whose needs most of our grants are now written, i.e., youth, young single parent families, those preparing for their career, etc. Did you know that for the first time in our history, we have five generations in our current workforce? If I am going to remain proficient in grants development, I need my finger on the pulse of the real world, on the needs of other generations. This workshop helped me to start that journey.

I learned that different generations think, learn, and communicate differently; the newer generations have moved from a mindset of individualism to an orientation toward collaboration – from “I” to “we”. The younger persons want their leaders to be inspiring and empowering rather than authoritative and commanding (as the older generations experienced and often preferred). And of course, technology is now a substantial part of every aspect of life for the younger generations. There have been major shifts in people’s perceptions, needs, and desires, depending on their generational status. Therefore, it is imperative I get to know the younger generations better, so I can better advocate for their needs as I raise money for their causes. Many funders are of a different generation as well. For example, some donors may be retirees, while leadership positions at federal and state agencies may be filled with younger adults in some instances. To be an excellent grant professional, it is important I have the skills to communicate effectively with funders at every age group.

Another important session I attended was Using Creative Writing Techniques to Spice Up Your Grant Narrative. Given that most of my experience has been in federal grants, I can do technical writing in my sleep. But if I were to ever write a story, it will be one that will put you to sleep. I learned from this workshop that funders want to emotionally engage with a cause, not just hear about it. We need to shift our mindset from just listing the facts in a proposal to writing it in such a way to elicit an emotional response. Funders want to understand our needs from their hearts, not just from their heads.

Here are some of my takeaways.

  • Creating “mood” with your writing will help the reader to remember the message because they feel it, not just think it.
  • Setting a specific “tone” will influence how the reader perceives the message and better respond to the specific call to action we are trying to elicit.
  • Intentionality with sentence structure will create a “rhythm” – a cadence that will make your writing more enjoyable to read.
  • Imagery” can use the five senses and create visually descriptive language, for showing versus telling.
  • Anecdotes” are important, in that they can frame the need from a shared human experience perspective, further pulling at the reader’s heartstrings and compelling them toward a commitment to a project.

From a more technical perspective, workshops such as How the Needs Section Sets the Stage for Your Application and The Little Things That Make a Big Difference were extremely helpful. They offered tools for more efficient project management (time is valuable in the grants world!). They provided sources of need data I never thought of using, or never even heard of. The biggest takeaway: the needs section MUST receive a perfect score. A reader’s perspective of the need section will impact how they review the remaining sections. The first impression of a proposal often made in the need section will influence how the reader believes in the integrity of the remaining proposal. Now I know to prioritize the need section like never before, and I have a better knowledge of how to do so.

I am looking forward to the 2022 GPA conference in Louisville! Based on what I experienced this year, I can only imagine how next year will impact my growth, professionally and personally. I am humbled by this experience which made me more pliable, more teachable, and more eager to learn new tricks!