Grant Writing 101: How to Transfer Your Academic Degree into a Career

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If your undergraduate studies were in the arts, chances are good that you’ve written more than your fair share of papers. Though grant writing is often a dreaded task in the nonprofit world, my internship at the Ecologic Development Fund has shown me that it’s actually not that different from writing a research paper. 

If your undergraduate studies were in the arts, chances are good that you’ve written more than your fair share of papers. Though grant writing is often a dreaded task in the nonprofit world, my internship at the Ecologic Development Fund has shown me that it’s actually not that different from writing a research paper. Here’s how to apply your paper writing skills to a career in grant writing:

Become an expert
If you are working for one organization and writing multiple applications for the same projects, your grant applications will start to overlap thematically. You will begin to develop expertise in the area your nonprofit is working in just like you began to develop an expertise in your major. You’ll know the best sources (websites, previous proposals, etc) to inform your proposal. Similarly, when preparing a final project, major paper, or thesis, you likely discovered resources that would help you at multiple points during the process.

Define your purpose
One of the most important parts of a research paper is a strong thesis sentence. Entire high school classes are dedicated to identifying and writing them. Similarly, it’s important to establish a focus and a purpose for each grant proposal or letter of inquiry (letters written to receive an invitation to submit a proposal.

In his book Winning Foundation Grants, Martin Teitel instructs his readers to take a sticky note and write “my goal is to have a proposal invited.” This will keep you focused on the true objective of your letter of inquiry – to make it to that next step in the grant process, not to make a point about society or to show off your knowledge or talents.

Speak to your audience
A key skill you gain in college is the ability to speak the language of several different disciplines. Your English paper didn’t sound exactly the same as your Philosophy paper. Similarly, it’s important to speak directly to the needs and interests of the review committee of your grant proposal.

Provided that the application’s guidelines are clear, identifying what the potential funder is looking for can be relatively straightforward. For example, I recently wrote a grant application for a project that had several aims, including poverty alleviation and marine conservation. Since the foundation I applied to is explicitly focused on marine conservation, I focused the grant application to the marine conservation aspects of our program. When I did write about poverty alleviation, I stressed its connection to marine conservation.

Not only is grant writing not that different than writing a paper, it is also an extremely marketable skill. Since every nonprofit needs to secure funding, people who can bring in money are sought after. Therefore, gaining grant writing training and experience could improve your chances of working with organizations you’re passionate about.

Written By: Ryan Mitchell. Ryan is a guest blogger who graduated from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada, where he majored in Geography and minored in French. Since graduating, he has interned with various nonprofits, including the Ecologic Development Fund. He enjoys reading, biking, listening to music, and learning languages.


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