Grantsmanship is about more than raising funds

I have heard many grant writers express frustration about their district’s or organization’s lack of knowledge about the grantsmanship process. These frustrations typically stem from working with people who don’t really understand the purpose of grants and expect funders to reimburse their district for money they’ve already spent to start a project. Or, they don’t have a project in mind but would like to apply for a grant in spite of this, assuming they can fill in the "small details" of a project once they’ve received funding. Or, they don’t believe in partnering with others outside their district, because it will result in a lack of control over the project.

I believe an important role of any grant writer is to educate others in the organization about the grantsmanship process, what grants are really intended for, what funders are looking for, the proposal review process, what the current trends are, and how grants fit into an overall strategic funding plan. An article in the Grantsmanship Center’s July 8 newsletter might help you develop an internal educational program for your district.

The article, titled "What is grantsmanship?," discusses groundbreaking work by Norton Krivitz in the grants field more than 30 years ago. His publication, Program Planning and Proposal Writing, defined the principles of grantsmanship, which in 1972 was an emerging profession. Thankfully, grantsmanship is now a recognized profession and encompasses far more than just writing proposals and getting grants.

Krivitz believed that grantsmanship is "a philosophy, a code of ethics, and a set of skills applied simultaneously to bring about positive change." As most of us in the grants field should know, grants are not just about raising money–they are about effecting real change though the implementation of funded projects. But sometimes it can be hard for others outside the field to understand this concept.

I once worked with a district superintendent who would call me and demand that we find grants "because the school district next door keeps getting them, and my board can’t understand why we aren’t getting any." When I politely asked what types of projects the superintendent wanted to fund, he could not answer my question. I tried to explain to him that, without a project, there can be no proposal–and therefore no funding.

Krivitz suggested that we practice grantsmanship by observing the following tenets:

• We know that grants must respond to our mission.
• We know that grants are not the solution to every funding need.
• If there is no project, there is no proposal.
• We seek the opinions and ideas of others, because we know that we don’t know everything about project ideas.
• We practice proactive rather than reactive grant seeking.
• We build relationships with funders and do not view them as ATMs.
• We write proposals that contain true information and present ourselves factually rather than embellishing or fabricating.
• We know what we need to know in our field–current trends, new research related to our project ideas, and the needs of our constituents.
• We know how to write a proposal that makes the case for funding.

According to Krivitz, organizations that practice grantsmanship are not only more effective, but their proposals are more likely to get funded–and their programs are more likely to make a difference. This alone is reason enough to educate your staff about grantsmanship and practice it on a daily basis.

(If you’re looking for training in proposal writing, you might want to explore the Grantsmanship Center web site, Check the training schedule to see if there will be training in or near your community. You can also sponsor a training session in your own community.)