10 tips for learning to write grants

How can someone learn to write grants quickly?

Grant writers get this question a lot. Deliberate practice is the most effective way to master this specialized set of skills.

Maybe not 10,000 hours, though in my experience, it really helps.

So, the short answer – they can’t.*

But that’s no fun, and not why you’re here!

10 affordable and practical training resources for aspiring grant writers

  1. Larger cities offer low-cost or free training workshops on a regular basis, which are taught by experienced grant writers and development consultants. Rural areas, too, just less frequently.
  2. Take periodic training courses, attend conferences and panel discussions on grants and topics in development. Associations of statewide nonprofits and regional development professionals’ groups offer them.
  3. Hire a development consultant to teach a small group the basics of good proposal writing and project development in a 2-3 hour workshop. Partner with another organization to share costs and expand impact.
  4. Foundation Center, Chronicle of Philanthropy, Grantstation and The Grantsmanship Center offer webinars. Most are reasonably priced ($49-149) and high quality. They also have free resources and tools.
  5. Find online tip sheets and FAQs related to grant writing (typically free).
  6. Many funders (including federal and state offices) publish FAQs for grants and educational materials with best practices. I’ve learned a lot from their sample budget narratives, work plans, and more. In Oregon, the Collins Foundation and Meyer Memorial Trust shine, as does the Oregon Community Foundation, MRG Foundation and Spirit Mountain Community Fund.
  7. There are a multitude of books available on the subject, if that’s your preferred learning style. The Only Grant Writing Book You’ll Ever Need by Ellen Karsh and Arlen Sue Fox is great.
  8. For quick and sometimes funny lessons – read blog posts and articles written by grant writers and trainers. Learning pro tips without the pain of associated lessons can save scores of hours. It also improves success rates and the experience of writing grants.
  9. Befriend a grant writer and offer to barter food, drink, services or goods in exchange for their knowledge. Many of us will agree to a couple of hours, because we learn from it, too.
  10. Volunteer with a local nonprofit. Ask to read a few of their winning – and losing – grant proposals. Offer to write a small grant for a program, to better understand the process of gathering and distilling information as a scribe. (Project management is an important skill.)

*It’s possible to learn quickly, through an immersive experience cranking out 1 or 2 applications a week for a single organization over a period of several months. This requires a dedicated focus to learning the craft, with the support of an experienced mentor. And caffeine. Lots of caffeine and chocolate.

Based on personal experience and stories from others, this can be an effective approach and helps you determine quickly if the work is a good fit, though it’s not highly recommended.  Think graduate school, boot camp, or similar life-changing experiences.

In Closing

Of course, there are also week-long workshops available to learn to write grants. I’ve heard a range of feedback from people who’ve attended, and they seem generally helpful. I think it’s a worthwhile option to consider for an organization with the resources (~$3,500) and time to send an employee through focused offsite training.  I look for multiple sources of information and the perspective of many teachers when learning a craft. Everyone is different.

It’s beneficial to develop a personalized curriculum & seek out a variety of learning styles that support your continuous growth.

Many people have left this work behind after negative experiences with grant projects, low success rates, burnout and/or the trauma of being in dysfunctional organizations with poor management, ineffective programs or disengaged staff and board members.

I was very nearly one of them. I’m glad I found ways to stay in this line of work, and share a few lessons.

Next week I’ll share 5 tips that are helpful for grant writers. For more guidance on writing quality grant proposals, see “Why is it so hard to win grants?” from last month.

Do you have grant writing resources or learning strategies to add? If so, please share in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!



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