Grow Professionally as a Grant Writer
Most people learn grant writing accidentally; their employer needs funding and there is no one else to tackle the grant applications. Very few, if any, went to school to become a grant writer. While learning by doing is an excellent way to become proficient at writing grants, you will need to engage in more formal professional development to become a leader in the field. The following three steps will help you along the path from “proficient” to “master” grant writer.
1. Serve as a Grant Reviewer
Federal agencies are continuously looking for qualified professionals to serve as peer reviewers. The qualifications differ slightly from agency to agency, but the main requirement is to have work experience or an educational background in the grant’s focus area. This is something you must prove by submitting an application and your resume.
In order to find opportunities to review federal grants, you can search the websites of each federal agency. For example, visit the Department of Education (www.ed.gov) or Center for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) and search for “Call for Peer Reviewers.” You will find information about how to submit your application. If the announcements are outdated, contact the person listed and ask to be added to their mailing list. This way, you will be among the first to know of any future opportunities.
Depending on the agency for which you review, the process will vary. You may travel to Washington, DC to review in person or you may asked to collaborate with other reviewers using email and the telephone. There is a training component that will walk you through the reviewing process and outline the selection criteria for the grant competition. The time commitment may be from a couple days to an entire week.
There are multiple benefits to serving as a peer reviewer. First of all, you may be compensated financially for your time. Secondly, reading and evaluating multiple grants will expose you to different writing styles and allow you to judge which one bext conveys a program’s competitiveness. Finally, by collaborating with a team of reviewers, you learn that the process is not entirely scientific, but subject to the opinions of individuals. You may gain insight in how to sway reviewers’ opinions positively toward your proposal.
There may be opportunities at state agencies to review grants as well. Again, the best way to learn about these opportunities is to look at the website of each agency and get in touch with the program officer of individual grant competitions. They will know if and when there is a need for peer reviewers.
Another option for reviewing grants is at local foundations that reserve a position on their grants committee for a community member. These opportunities are harder to come by, but asking around your professional network is a great way to start.
2. Join a Professional Organization
Professional organizations play a vital part in the growth of you and your field. They offer regular professional development, networking and a community of people to offer collaboration and support.. Most professional organizations are national associations with local chapters. The national association offers benefits such as pertinent publications, a resource-rich website, national conferences, and a code of ethics that guides the profession. However, you will find the most value in the local chapters. Their education opportunities, networking, and support will be more accessible to you and more relevant to your work within the community.
As with any venture, the more you put in, the more you get out. With this in mind, you may want to consider volunteering for a committee or leadership role with in the organization. Here are three professional organizations that could benefit your grant writing career.
American Association of Grant Professionals (AAGP)
AAGP is the national professional organization representing the needs and concerns of grant professionals. Members include people who work in education, government, the nonprofit sector or private enterprises. Their mission is to “build and support an international community of grant professionals committed to serving the greater public good by practicing the highest ethical and professional standards.” A membership in their organization offers you a subscription to AAGP’s electronic newsletter, the AAGP Journal, participation in the membership forum, and reduced conference fees and other benefits.
Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP)
AFP represents nearly 28,000 members in more than 190 chapters throughout the world, working to advance philanthropy through advocacy, research, education and certification programs. Their mission is to “enable(e) people and organizations to practice ethical and effective fundraising. The core activities through which AFP fulfills this mission include education, training, mentoring, research, credentialing and advocacy. The association fosters development and growth of fundraising professionals and promotes high ethical standards in the fundraising profession.”
While their focus is not exclusively on grant writing, this organization will help you round out your skills in fundraising, making you a more competitive candidate for advancement in the development profession. If your professional goals include growing beyond grant writing into a Development Director, for example, this is a great way to learn what skills you will need to do so.
National Grants Management Association (NGMA)
NGMA focuses on building the skills necessary to effectively implement grant programs after they have been funded. They help members understand issues ranging from the Federal regulatory environment to grant budgeting and financial management, to cash management, to intellectual property, to ethics and conflict s of interest. Their mission is to “connect professionals in the grants field to improve and unify the grants delivery process by bringing together the professionals involved in this process so that they may learn from each other.”
Understanding what it takes to effectively manage a grant program will help you to write proposals with realistic and effective action plans, timelines, objectives, and evaluation methods.
3. Obtain Your Grants Professional Certification
The Grant Professionals Certification Institute, an independent organization affiliated with the American Association of Grant Professions, administered the first professional credentialing exam in November 2007. This is the first opportunity for grant professionals to be recognized for their experience and mastery of the competencies required for the grants profession.
Simply to qualify for the exam, you must already be an experienced professional. You must have a minimum of three years grant-related experience and a minimum of five successfully funded grants. In addition, you must show proficiency in four professional categories: education, experience, professional development, and community involvement.
The Grant Professional Certification is the only one of its kind in the grant profession. While there are numerous “grant certificates” offered by for-profit training institutes, thse are often just a ploy to lure grant professionals into taking a particular course (making a profit for the business who offers it).
While the credentialing process is relatively new, it has already shown concrete benefits for some of the candidates. “One candidate got a raise and another was promised a bonus upon passing the exam,” says Marcia Ford, President of Grant Professionals Certification Institute. “Several test takers are prepared to go back and negotiate higher compensation.” As the number of certified professional grows, “the benefits will start speaking for themselves,” said Ford. “Certified professionals will become the ambassadors of the credentialing.”
It is a great time to consider getting your certification and become a trailblazer in the position. Imagine how much more competitive you will be in job interviews if you can say that you are one of only 100 certified professionals in the world.
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