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Why Surfers and Grant Writers are Alike

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The Secrets of Grant Writing, Part II

An effective grant writer has to be a good storyteller…and the compelling story is the organization’s vision and mission, the plan of action, the qualified personnel and the method to assess the effectiveness of the grant project.

What you want the potential funder to believe is that your story can help it achieve its grant making goals.  Even better, you want the funder to think they can’t afford not to fund your program.  Grant writing is selling, pure and simple.

An effective grant writer has to synthesize a lot of information, both written and spoken, in a relatively short time from a variety of sources.  The preponderance of information will come from a small planning group of key people in your client’s organization and facilitated by the grant writer.  This is the crucial part of building a grant proposal and requires strong leadership from the writer.

Good writing skills are a prerequisite; but the ability to glean information and cajole the planning group into constructing innovative strategies is the paramount skill of an effective grant writer.

I’ve done a significant amount of grant writing and management of grants in schools. I always encourage the administration to position grant development as an integral component of organizational planning.

When the pursuit of grant funding is consistent with organizational planning, it improves prospect research, signals a strong commitment of purpose to potential funders and ultimately improves the probability of securing funding.

…An effective grant writer must excel at doing these things for your organization.


We all know that good grant writers are fast learners. That’s because we have to synthesis a lot of information, both written and spoken, from a variety of sources, much of it coming at you in rapid fire bursts that sometimes lack adequate coherence. All this information marinates in our brains and eventually “pours” onto the paper as the compelling need, powerful goals, strong plan, etc.

But working in school districts requires other skills that have little to do with writing and are “embedded” in the education grant writing process.

Before you write one word of your grant proposal, Here’s what to do:

Make Friends with the Superintendent. You don’t have to meet for a drink, but you might want to buy her or him lunch out of the district. Your life will be easier, your grant proposal will be better and you’ll be more productive by gaining the superintendent’s trust. During the grant development process, clearly convey the activities that you and your planning group (usually chosen by the superintendent) want to implement with grant funds.  Do this well and you will avoid a common problem of a busy superintendent who doesn’t remember approving some of your activities. I have faced and fixed this problem with “kid gloves” diplomacy.

Make Friends with Principals. In most cases, principals won’t participate and will designate a representative, usually the assistant principal to work with you.  Make sure the principal concurs that proposed grant activities can be done.  When you summarize the activities in writing to the assistant principal after the planning phase (which you should do), then copy the principal – don’t assume the assistant principal will do it!

Make Friends with Teachers.  Inevitably, teachers are the main ingredients in education grants. Be sensitive to the already enormous burden of responsibility on the shoulders of teachers these days.  And emphasize that the mandatory evaluation of grants projects is distinct from their evaluations by supervisors.  This can be one of the biggest challenges you face.

Make Friends with the Union Representative. Make sure that all grant activities proposed are consistent with union policies and contracts.  The union can “take the air” out of your grant proposal.

Pave the Road to Smooth Grant Implementation.  As a consultant, you won’t be there when your successful grant is implemented. So when you are there, anticipate areas of concern and discuss them with the designated project director.  There are always unforeseen problems. The smoother the implementation, the greater the chance that you’ll work there again.

Don’t Take the Money and Run.  At a minimum, offer telephone support that pertains to the completed grant proposal.  A personal appearance or two are even better.  Think of this time investment as an investment in your future.

Be Persuasive: But Diplomacy Counts!  You walk a fine line when you pursue the “gaps” in education services that you know will increase the probability of funding.  Realize that a grant proposal is a clarion call to fix things – in a public document.  Superintendents are not always happy about this.

…. After you accomplish these 7 steps, you can start writing your grant proposal.


By trade, I’m a grant writer.  Most people think grant writers possess some magic formula, some esoteric ability to string together an alchemy of words that creates an “aha” experience in rich people who have money to give.  “Most people” are right…when rich people read my words, they immediately start writing checks.

I’ve traveled through a labyrinth of organizations that need money, which (to push the analogy further) fueled my travels. To be successful as a grant writer, you have to gain an intimate understanding of an organization and the people who run them.  If you’re an organizational psychologist, you’ll want to talk with me.

Leadership grabs a lot of headlines theses days. Grant writers need good leaders to be successful. In my travels, I’ve seen leadership and how it operates in charter schools, school districts, a university medical center, other universities, public television, job training programs, and even a nonprofit tap dancing company. I’ve worked with leaders who should never be leaders (the majority) and others (rare) who should be cloned to lead organizations.

For instance, I worked for a charter school in Jersey City that continues to adapt based on an open and honest system of communication that I’ve seen nowhere else; and I worked for a private girls catholic university in New Jersey that, while the faculty and others scream for change, the leadership is as frozen (in its thinking) as the nineteenth century statues that languish on its campus.

I was successful in one of the above organizations. Guess which one?

More secrets of grant writing to come; but not everyday…after all, grant writing doesn’t define me.

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