Even for the most talented writer or the most knowledgeable subject matter expert, grant writing is never something that just comes “naturally.” Whether you’ve already written a couple of grants, are getting ready to begin, or have simply read a few grant proposals, you’ll quickly see that grant writing is significantly different from any other type of writing.
Grant writing uses very specific terminology, relies heavily on formalized structure, and has an often-onerous obligation to address with absolute precision specific qualifications, conditions and prerequisites set by the granting entity. And it goes without saying that grant writing can be a stressful experience, given its important role in securing resources and building capacity for your organization.
Because grant writing does play such a central and vital role, and because organizations that rely on grants often have very limited staff resources, staff members who have limited or no experience writing grants often are called to fill that duty. Grant writing, however, isn’t something one can just “pick up” in a few hours and then be sufficiently fluent to write an award-winning document. A better and proven solution lies in mentoring.
For the novice grant writer, a mentor provides more than just a wealth of experience and wisdom – and a source of confidence when undertaking a new and challenging task. Mentors provide real-time feedback and insight, and the best mentoring relationships aren’t composed of guru and pupil. Instead, they’re characterized by a mutually beneficial exchange: the mentee benefits from the experience and practiced skill of the mentor, and the mentor benefits from keeping on top of his or her professional discipline and through gaining fresh insights from the person they’re mentoring.
Here are four steps to finding – and working successfully with – a grant writing mentor.
- Get your feet wet. Before you approach a mentor, learn as much as you can about the basics of grant writing. Some good resources include the Grant Training Center’s advice for new grant writers, and both GuideStar and the S. Department of Education have “grant writing 101” resources that are brief but thorough. You’ll also find many helpful resources on the Resource Associates website including free on-demand webinars on topics ranging from the basics of writing a budget to how to secure partnerships. Browsing professional interest groups on social networking sites such as LinkedIn will inevitably lead you to a wealth of resources as well.
- Take an inventory of your knowledge. Now that you’ve become acquainted with grant writing, take an inventory of your knowledge and your skill set and compare that to the knowledge and skills you need to write a winning grant proposal. By doing this, you will go to your potential mentor already knowledgeable of your strengths and the areas in need of improvement, making it easier for you and your mentor to focus quickly on the things you need learn or practice.
- Research and approach a mentor. Researching a mentor is easy, but approaching one can be intimidating. Don’t be intimated! Many, many people are passionate about mentoring and will be more than happy to help you. With a few searches, you can find professional societies such as the American Grant Writers Association and the Grant Professionals Association. And of course, LinkedIn provides an easy and quick way to find professionals of any discipline. Many users on LinkedIn are specifically interested in mentoring and say so on their profiles. Among its many offerings for grant writers, Resource Associates offers a powerful one-on-one mentoring service that connects new grant writers to experienced and skillful mentors.
- Cultivate and nourish the mentoring relationship. Remember that mentorship isn’t a one-way transaction. Again, it should not be a guru-pupil relationship whose purpose is to simply instill knowledge into a novice. It is a dynamic relationship, and you must also bring value to the mentor. While he or she is more seasoned than you, there’s no way one person can know everything. Share interesting articles and other information with your mentor. And of course, don’t hesitate to make sure that you’re getting what you need from your mentor. Harvard Business Review has a great article that discusses what separates a good mentor from a great one.
If you have questions about building your grant writing skills through mentoring, feel free to give us a call. The grant writing professionals at Resource Associates are always available to answer questions, and would be happy to chat the mentoring opportunities we offer.