The written word has the power to change hearts and minds. It can even help fund nonprofit organizations that are working to improve communities and empower underserved, marginalized populations. If applying your skill with the written word to better your community is something that appeals to you, you might consider becoming a grant writer.
What is a grant writer and what does a grant writer do? Quite simply, a grant writer is a professional who works to secure funding for various programs and projects administered by nonprofit organizations. The work of these professionals is integral to the success of a nonprofit.
How To Become a Grant Writer
This line of work is highly meaningful and personally fulfilling because it enables writers to use their skills for a higher purpose. Grant writers may help fund nonprofits that work to house the homeless, feed the hungry, educate children, teach English to immigrants or help former inmates become productive members of society. Grant writers may also work for other types of organizations, such as those that administer arts programs or those that further music education.
As you can see, a grant writer has the opportunity to choose one or more causes that are particularly meaningful to them. Grant writers may work directly for their nonprofit or they may work as freelancers who develop grant proposals for a variety of organizations. Professional grant writers can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that they’ve helped to make the work of their nonprofit possible.
What Does a Grant Writer Do?
Now that you know the answer to the question, “What is a grant writer?” it’s time to consider another question: “What does a grant writer do?” You might assume that a typical day in the life of a grant writer is largely spent writing funding proposals. Developing grant proposals is indeed a significant part of a grant writer’s job, but it’s certainly not the whole story.
Rather, grant writers often serve as de facto project managers who oversee the entire lifecycle of a grant. At some organizations, a grant writer may also be charged with overseeing all of the nonprofit’s funding activities, such as written requests to previous donors to once again open up their wallets for the cause. Some grant writers may even put together sponsorship presentations and plan fundraising events.
The responsibilities of a grant writer can vary from one organization to the next. In general, however, these professionals may be responsible for any of the following:
- Develop a deep understanding of the nonprofit and its programs and activities, as well as the populations it serves and how the nonprofit benefits these populations
- Use various grant databases to research funding opportunities from public and private foundations, government agencies and corporations
- Identify the criteria required for any given grant proposal
- Coordinate with other professionals to compile all of the information necessary to develop grant proposals
- Write grant proposals, ensuring that each aligns with the specific requirements of the funding organization, as well as the nonprofit’s mission, voice and values
- Create and maintain a proposal and reporting calendar that tracks information regarding grant proposals and their status
- Write additional funding materials, such as donor communications and stakeholder reports
- Track the success of funded programs and activities, and prepare reports for the funding organizations
It may seem as though grant writers are solitary workers, yet they usually function as part of a development team. Grant writers must often work closely with other professionals to acquire the information needed for their proposals, such as financial figures and hard facts about how the nonprofit’s programs are benefiting the populations they serve. They may also need to field follow-up questions from funding organizations about a grant proposal and how the funds will be used.
Where Do Grant Writers Work?
Grant writers typically work for nonprofit organizations. These include social service nonprofits, animal welfare organizations and similar groups. Grant writers may also work for schools (including universities) and government agencies.
Many of these professionals are freelancers who handle grant proposals for a roster of nonprofit clients. Both freelancers and full-time employees may have the opportunity for remote work arrangements; these allow them to do their job from the comfort of a home office or the local coffee shop.
The job of a grant writer requires more than just writing skills. It also requires in-depth knowledge about the organization’s mission and cause. That’s why it’s not uncommon for grant writers to choose one or two main areas of focus for their career, such as writing grants for social service agencies who serve refugees or developing grant proposals for mental health programs.
What Are the Main Components of a Grant Proposal?
Every grant proposal is slightly different, and every funding organization has their own particular requirements. However, most grant proposals tend to follow a basic structure. A grant proposal will explain the purpose and activities of the nonprofit, discuss the need or issue that the nonprofit wishes to address and explain how funding will help the nonprofit address that need or issue.
The basic components of a typical grant proposal are as follows:
- Cover page
- Project summary (abstract)
- Table of contents
- Project objectives
- Discussion of the proposed project
- Methodology and plan of action (the specifics of the project to be funded)
- Project budget
How To Become a Grant Writer: An Overview
If the answer to the question, “What is a grant writer?” has made you excited to pursue this profession, you can get to work on your career path right away. If you’re still in high school, consider talking to your guidance counselor about your course schedule. Try to take as many writing-related courses as possible, such as creative writing and journalism.
You can also look for opportunities to practice your writing skills, such as joining the school newspaper team. If you already know that you would like to focus your career on one particular cause, look for additional courses that would complement your goals. For example, if you intend to put your skills to use supporting refugees, you might want to take classes in law or international relations, if they are available at your high school.
Beyond your high school classes, one of the most impactful steps you can take for your future career is to volunteer your time at a local nonprofit. Your guidance counselor can point you in the direction of local volunteer opportunities. It’s not uncommon for professional grant writers to begin their careers in some other capacity at a nonprofit before transitioning into grant writing.
Grant writers are generally expected to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. You’ll have some flexibility regarding the specific type of bachelor’s degree you can earn. After all, there is no universal degree requirement for grant writers. However, these professionals do tend to major in one of the following subjects:
- New media
- Professional writing
- Nonprofit management/administration
- Public relations
A professional writing degree can prove particularly useful for aspiring grant writers because this offers a versatile look at digital communications. If you major in new media, you can expect to develop well-rounded research, writing, public relations and overall communication skills.
After graduating with your bachelor’s degree, you may decide to earn a master’s degree or perhaps a graduate certificate that focuses on grant writing. However, these are generally not mandatory.
There are grant writing jobs that are open to applicants with little to no grant writing experience. However, if you’re having trouble breaking into this career field, you may find it useful to gain some general experience in another type of position at a nonprofit organization. This can pave the way toward transitioning to a grant writing role.
Another useful strategy is to volunteer your time. Apply to nonprofits that are looking for grant writers to volunteer their services. Once you gain some experience by writing pro bono funding proposals, it will be easier to land a paying job as a grant writer.
As you begin to acquire work experience in this field, it’s important to keep track of the funds you secure. Further along in your career path, you may be asked to demonstrate proof of securing substantial grants for nonprofits, including six-, seven- and even eight-figure grants. Documenting your early career successes will be helpful for advancing in your career later on.
Earning Your New Media Degree
If you decide that a new media degree is right for your career goals, you can expect to work through a well-rounded curriculum that focuses on digital media, rather than print media. New media includes a broad range of digital communications, including advertising, journalism, technical writing and grant writing.
The specific curriculum will vary from one school to the next. In general, though, you may study topics such as the following:
- The principles and best practices of grant writing, including a look at professional communication with funding sources, grant proposal development and grant research
- The fundamentals of professional writing, including writing in multiple contexts for various types of audiences
- The communication of scientific ideas, research and concepts to lay audiences
- Research ideas for breaking news stories and features
- Writing in a journalistic or AP style
- The application of critical thinking and writing skills in advertising and public relations contexts
Because it’s easier to break into the grant writing field when you have a little experience in the nonprofit sector, it’s strongly recommended that you explore volunteer opportunities during your time in college. Talk to the student services department on campus about local volunteer opportunities. Any type of volunteer experience can prove helpful, regardless of whether it specifically involves grant writing.
Do You Need a Graduate Degree To Become a Grant Writer?
A master’s degree isn’t usually a requirement for grant writers. You can begin looking for an entry-level job in the field with just a bachelor’s degree and some volunteer experience. As you progress in your career, you may decide to go back to school at some point to improve your qualifications.
A master’s degree that focuses specifically on grant writing or nonprofit administration can prove useful when applying to senior-level positions. However, you may find it just as helpful to instead pursue a graduate certificate in grant writing; this won’t require as much of an investment in terms of time or financial resources.
Essential Skills and Qualities of Effective Grant Writers
There are a number of skills and characteristics that are helpful for a career as a grant writer. Of course, writing skills are at the top of the list. Grant writers must be able to clearly and succinctly convey information to their audience in a way that persuades funding organizations to approve grant applications.
Research skills are also important, both for finding grant opportunities and for writing a grant proposal itself. An effective grant writer will use facts and figures to explain exactly how the funding will be used and how it will benefit a particular population. For example, a grant proposal seeking to fund a new-mother education program may use scientific research that shows how parenting education reduces rates of child neglect and improves long-term outcomes for children.
Other critical skills and characteristics for grant writers include:
- A meticulous nature, with strong attention to detail
- Analytical reasoning and critical thinking skills
- Organizational skills and out-of-the-box problem-solving abilities
- Interpersonal and communication skills
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Basic math skills
- Computer literacy
Is There a Demand for Grant Writers?
Organizations will always need qualified grant writers to help them obtain the necessary funds to administer their programs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the agency tasked with collecting and analyzing employment data in the United States. Although the BLS does not track data for grant writers in particular, it does track data for all types of writers and authors.1
You can combine your passion for the written word with purpose when you earn a new media degree at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing for New Media degree program imbues students with versatile writing and new media skills that effectively prepare them to pursue various communications careers, including grant writing. Graduates will emerge with in-depth knowledge of the lifecycle of a grant, communication with funding agencies and techniques for grant research.
Do you feel called to pursue a career as a professional grant writer? If so, click on the Request Info button at the top of your screen to explore your future at GCU.
1Retrieved from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Writers and Authors in February 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.