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Qualities of a Great Grant Writer

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

When I started Sharpshooter nearly a decade ago, I never thought that I would end up here: developing a new software for grant writers, consistently gaining new clients, taking on multiple, new and HUGE projects, teaching classes on grant writing and nonprofit management, and finding myself hiring more grant writers - all at the same time. I anticipated that Sharpshooter would grow steadily, but it seems as though the past few months we have grown exponentially - which is amazing! Our goal is to support nonprofits change the world, and everyday I feel as though we are growing closing to that vision.

During this phase of growth, I have been asked by potential new clients, participators in classes, workshops and seminars I've led recently and even myself: "What are the qualities of a great grant writer?"

Much like grant-seeking, hiring anyone - especially a grant writer - is both an art and a science.

There is a solid checklist you can create. Here are a few

  • Are they detail oriented?

  • Are they highly organized?

  • Do they have great time management skills?

  • Are they cool under pressure?

  • Do they communicate effectively?

  • Are they tech savvy?

  • Have they written grants before? If so, what is their success quotient?

  • Is their writing clear, focused and reflective of the organization(s) voice(s)?

  • Can they take constructive criticism?

I would categorize this list as the "science" part of determining if someone would be a great grant writer. You can gather this information from their resume, references and from their work samples.

But there are vital characteristics that you're not going to find listed on a resume or a LinkedIn page. Those are qualities like being personable and having a personality that meshes well with your organization and your clients. However, there is one quality that I want to talk to you all about.

Can they tell a story?

Often I hear people complain about grant writing as being dull and uninteresting. I personally love writing grants and find the entire process interesting, but larger than that, funders come across thousands of proposals. When something is not only well written with a beginning, middle and end but appeals to a person's emotions, funders are more likely to fund your organization. All of my clients have amazing stories of the work their organizations do and the impact they have in their communities. When I hear the stories from their clients, I tear up because I'm so moved (and I'm not the only one). It makes a world of difference when the grants someone writes have the storytelling power to bring the reader to tears.

That level of storytelling power in grant writing is an art form.

Now the question remains, how do you know if someone has that ability? It's hard to tell, because the proof will be in the quality of work that they generate - which you won't know until they're hired. During the interview process, there are some questions that you can ask that may give you an idea. Do they creatively write as a hobby or side job? Are they interested in theatre, opera, ballet, comics, museums and/or concerts? Would they consider themselves to be a creative person?

These questions are not the end all be all. The best grant writer I ever met could move people to tears in every single grant she wrote. She was also an older woman who didn't participate in, what we would consider to be, relevant creative activities. It can be difficult to tell. I usually employ a probationary period with everyone that I hire, so I can really get to know their style, work ethic and storytelling abilities.

Like all art forms, you can't judge from face value - but if you find one of those people who are amazing story tellers and possess all of the detail oriented and organized qualities a successful grant writer needs, keep them on your team.



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