Guide to Becoming a Grant Writer: Expert Advice From Seasoned Professionals

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September 28, 2021

Last Updated:

December 18, 2023

Are you interested in pursuing a rewarding career as a grant writer?

As more nonprofits strive to make a meaningful difference in the world, demand for skilled grant writers who play an important role in securing funding has risen in tandem.

This grant writing for beginners guide is your roadmap on how to become a grant writer, packed with information on:

  • Building your grant writer skill set
  • How to find grant writing jobs
  • Writing an effective grant proposal

With tips and direct advice from industry experts, this article demystifies the process and qualifications needed to become a successful grant writer.

Let’s dive in.

10 best lessons from grant writing experts

The Path to Becoming a Grant Writer

A career in grant writing isn't just about getting a job; it's about making a real difference.

By becoming a grant writer, you contribute to meaningful projects that make a positive impact on society. You can find purpose and satisfaction in your work beyond just a paycheck.

But that doesn’t mean a career in grant writing can’t be lucrative: In 2023, the average grant writing salary stood at $73,772, varying between $66,238 and $82,981, as reported by Salary.com.

Grant writing also opens doors to diverse sectors, allowing you to explore areas aligned with your passions.

How to Become a Grant Writer—Steps at a Glimpse


If you’re ready to start your journey toward becoming a grant writer, you’re in the right spot. Here’s a quick overview of the steps for how to become a grant writer that we will cover in this comprehensive guide:

  1. Understand the Grant Writing Profession
  2. Build Your Grant Writer Skill Set
  3. Gain Practical Experience
  4. Network and Seek Guidance
  5. Write Your First Grant Proposal

We’ve also collected highly valuable tips and advice from nearly a dozen grant-writing experts that we are excited to share with you. Their insights and best practices will give you an edge and a head start in your grant writing career.

Step 1: Understanding the Grant Writing Profession

The first step in becoming a grant writer involves gaining a deep understanding of the grant writing profession.

So what does a grant writer do?

In general, grant writers are responsible for crafting winning grant proposals for nonprofit organizations.

Every year, thousands of foundations, government agencies, and even corporations offer funding opportunities that nonprofits can apply for via grant proposals. The goal of these proposals—which are written by experienced grant writers—is to convince funders why their project or program deserves to be funded.


The Importance of Research


However, a grant writer’s job involves more than just writing; they have to be skilled researchers as well. Professional grant writers are often responsible for:

  • Researching and finding open grant opportunities
  • Identifying if a funder is a good fit
  • Researching a funder’s past giving history
  • Keeping track of funder-specific guidelines and requirements

Grants are extremely competitive, which is why grant writers have to be skilled researchers to determine whether a particular funding opportunity is worth pursuing—and if so, how to tailor their proposals to the specific funder.

As Matt Hugh, President and Founder of Nonprofit Courses, suggests, successful grant writers “look at everything from the funder's point of view.”

Ultimately, grant research requires understanding the needs of the nonprofit organization, aligning them with the goals of potential funders, and ensuring a perfect match.

Pro Tip: Grant writers can access comprehensive and detailed funder profiles in Instrumentl. Everything from past giving histories to funding preferences is available in one place.

Financials on funders in Instrumentl


The Importance of Genuine Passion


It’s also important for grant writers to have a sincere passion for the mission of the nonprofit they are writing for.

To add authenticity to their proposals, grant writers need to know more than just the different components of a grant proposal. They must have a deep understanding of the organization’s programming, goals, and vision for the future.

Grant writing expert and President of KM Clark Consulting Group, Kristina Clark puts it this way:

“Grant writing is one part process and one part expertise in the subject matter you are writing for.”


Think of grant writers as storytellers who translate complex ideas into compelling narratives that resonate with funders. Ultimately, passion fueled with expertise in the subject is a guaranteed recipe for grant writing success.

For more insights into the grant writing profession, check out this helpful grant writing basics guide—11 things you need to know.

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Step 2: Building Your Grant Writer Skill Set

One of the most important steps in your grant writer journey is building a grant writing skill set.

Founder and CEO of Think and Ink Grant Consulting Shavonn Richardson explains that to be successful in grant writing, you need to ‘’be the master of your trade”.

So how can you do that? Let’s start by exploring some of the essential skills necessary for grant writing.

Essential Skills for Grant Writing

  • Effective Communication: Grant writers need to have good communication skills to be able to craft clear and persuasive narratives.
  • Attention to Detail: Grant writers must keep detailed track of funder requirements, proposal guidelines, submission deadlines, and more.
  • Research Acumen: As we explained earlier, grant writers need to be skilled researchers to identify funding opportunities and tailor their grant proposals accordingly.
  • Project Management: Grant writers should also be good at managing multiple grants at a time and understanding the ins and outs of the projects they are writing about.
  • Strategic Thinking: Grant writers need to be able to take complex ideas and craft them into compelling and persuasive narratives.

If you’re not an expert in some of these skills yet, no worries! There are tons of resources out there that are specifically designed with beginner grant writers in mind. Keep reading to explore a few of the top resources that can help you develop your grant writing skills.

Resources for Skill Development

  • Online Courses: Grant writing courses are a great way to learn about the fundamentals of grant writing while building your skill set at the same time! Check out this curated list of top grant writing courses to find the right one for you.
  • Workshops and Webinars: Grant writing workshops and webinars are perfect for beginner and seasoned grant writers alike! Attend free, on-line workshops for hands-on learning.
  • Podcasts: Have a busy schedule? Grant writing podcasts are a great way to learn from industry experts while on the go!
  • Books and Industry Publications: You can learn from the best (and at your own pace) by reading grant-writing books written by industry experts.
  • Other Grant Proposals: Looking over existing grant proposal examples and samples can show you what a winning proposal looks like.
  • Networking: As with any industry, connecting with experts in the field is a great way to grow in the profession and learn from their experience and insights.
  • Practice: Grant writing practice prompts and worksheets give you the opportunity to create sample proposals to help refine your skills.

With plenty of grant writing resources to choose from, you’re sure to find something that will help you develop your skills and become proficient in the field.

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Step 3: Gaining Practical Experience

Once you’ve established your grant writing skill set, the next step on your grant writer journey should be to gain practical experience.

While grant writing skills are vital, practical experience distinguishes an adept grant writer.

Here are some ideas for how you can gain grant writing experience:

  • Volunteer Opportunities: Consider offering your skills to nonprofits seeking grant writing assistance. Local community organizations often welcome volunteers.
  • Internships: Seek internships with nonprofit organizations, foundations, or even local government agencies. This could provide firsthand exposure to the grant writing process.
  • Freelance Work: Explore freelance opportunities to work on diverse projects. Websites like Upwork and Freelancer connect grant writers with organizations in need.

Gaining experience will likely help boost your resume, increase your earning potential, and strengthen your credibility in the field. Often, once you have that first big break, other doors will open—so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

As grant expert and Founder and Principal of Burrows Consulting LLC, Elizabeth Morgan Burrows, advises, “Just start! You know what to do!”

Step 4: Networking and Seeking Guidance

Not sure where to start? Keep reading for some tips on how you can start establishing connections.

Tips on Building a Professional Network


Join Online Communities:
Engage in grant writing forums and associations, such as:


We have some exciting news to share! Instrumentl is working on creating a special place on the web where you can connect with your peers, access exclusive content, ask questions, share what you know, and more. Secure your spot on the waitlist to enjoy exclusive early access privileges when the community officially launches.

Attend Conferences and Workshops: Connect with professionals in person and stay updated on industry trends by attending conferences and workshops—like Instrumentl’s live grant writing classes.

Seek Mentorship: Seek guidance from experienced grant writers through mentorship opportunities. Don’t be afraid to ask more seasoned grant writers for advice and insight.

Connect with Funders: Building relationships with funders can increase your chances of grant success and can open doors to new funding opportunities. Consider inviting funders to your organization’s events so they can see the impact of your mission firsthand. Check out our webinar with Scot Scala, GPC, M.Ed., and GPA Approved Trainer, for more strategies for building relationships with funders.

Step 5: Writing Your First Grant Proposal

Writing your first grant proposal can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be!

We are going to break down the process of writing a compelling grant proposal and seeking feedback from funders.

Basic Components of a Grant Proposal


As a quick reminder, a grant proposal is a structured document used to request financial support from a funder. While every grant proposal will look different, there are some standard elements you’ll find that almost every funder requests:

  • Executive Summary: An executive summary is a brief overview of your entire proposal. It should be short and aimed at captivating the reader's interest.
  • Organization Overview: Grant funders may not be familiar with your organization, so you typically want to include an organization overview in your proposal that includes your mission, brief organizational history, and context for the project you’re proposing.
  • Statement of Need: Every grant proposal will have a needs statement, or an explanation of why funding is necessary/ what need will be met with it. It’s important to clearly articulate the problem your project aims to address, creating a compelling case for intervention. Most statement of needs include relevant research and data to back up their claims.
  • Goals and Objectives: The best grant proposals have clear goals and objectives outlined. This shows funders you have thought strategically about what sort of outcomes you are hoping to achieve. Dr. Bev Browning, author of Grant Writing for Dummies, suggests using SMART goals to strengthen grant proposals and make them more compelling to funders.
  • Proposal Narrative: The proposal narrative is the bulk of your grant proposal. It’s where you outline your proposed project or program in detail and explain the methods and strategies you'll employ to execute it effectively. The proposal narrative is your opportunity to convince the funders why your organization deserves funding and how their support would make an impact in your community.
  • Grant Budget: Funders also require detailed budgets that outline how the grant will be spent. This ensures transparency and clarity in how you plan to allocate the funding to achieve your project’s goals. In his workshop, "Behind the Grantmaker’s Curtain: What Funders Want", grant expert Matt Hugg advises using thoughtful budget narratives, realistic figures, and adhering closely to funder guidelines.
  • Evaluation Section: Many proposals also include evaluation plans where you get the opportunity to explain how you'll track and measure the success of your project. You should be able to clearly articulate what specific metrics you will use for your evaluation.
  • Other Funding Sources and Sustainability Plan: Grantmakers often prefer to fund projects that will continue even after the grant runs out. You can demonstrate a strategic approach in your proposal by mentioning additional funding sources and outlining sustainability plans.

Grant Proposal Best Practices


Beyond the basic elements, there are some best practices you can implement to make your grant proposal really stand out. Let’s explore a few:

  • Understand the Funder’s Priorities: We’ve mentioned this once but it’s worth repeating. Grantmakers have their own missions and funding priorities. The most successful grant proposals align and resonate with a funder’s philanthropic goals.

    Jacob B. Chase, CEO of Chase Consulting Solutions, emphasizes how important it is to research potential funders as it will help you better understand what they are looking for in a proposal:
“Investigate the funder's previous grantees, values, and mission statement. Understand their objectives, target audience, and the types of projects they typically support. This information will help you align your proposal with their goals. Be sure to customize your proposal to address the specific values highlighted by the funder.”
  • Focus on Clarity: One of the best ways to write a compelling grant proposal is to shorten your writing style. It’s important to remember that funders aren’t as familiar with your nonprofit as you are. They also usually aren’t interested in reading long-winded and overly detailed explanations.

    Founder and CEO of Thread Strategies, Loree Lipstein emphasizes this:
“Length matters, and short and snappy is more effective than long and thorough. There is a human on the other end of your grant application, and you should be thinking about how humans take in information quickly and easily.” 
  • Seek Feedback: Seeking outside feedback is a great way to strengthen your grant proposal and check for any inconsistencies or errors. You can share your proposal with colleagues or fellow grant writers and ask for their input. Be open to their suggestions and revise your proposal as necessary.
  • Seek Funder Feedback: If your proposal is rejected, don’t forget that you can ask for funder feedback as well!

    In her workshop, "Funder Feedback: Ask the Right Way – to Get the Right Results" Maryn Boess highlights the significance of framing questions with an open mindset. She advises asking constructive questions that are focused on improvement as it can increase the chances of meaningful feedback from funders.

FAQ on Becoming a Grant Writer

What Degree Do You Need to Become a Grant Writer?


Having a Bachelor’s Degree is often necessary to become a grant writer and degrees in English, Journalism, Marketing, Communications, Nonprofit Management, or Creative Writing—while not necessary—can give you a leg up. Check job sites like Indeed for more specific job insights.

What Skills and Qualifications Help You Become a Good Grant Writer?


General computer proficiency, adept research capabilities, strong writing skills, multitasking abilities, and effective data management are universally beneficial skills and qualifications for grant writing. While soft skills like being detail-oriented and good communication are crucial, familiarity with software like Microsoft Excel is also important.

What Are Good Grant Writing Classes or Resources to Check Out?


While entering grant writing with little to no experience is possible, completing courses and certifications can significantly advance your career. Grant writing trainings from the American Grant Writers’ Association, GrantsMagicU, and Instrumentl can be valuable resources. This guide can help you determine whether a grant writing certification is worth it for you.

What Professional Associations Are Valuable to Grant Writers?


While not mandatory, joining professional associations can enhance your training opportunities and facilitate networking opportunities with other grant writers. Esteemed organizations like the American Grant Writers Association and the Grant Professionals Association provide valuable resources and support and their memberships can aid in finding your first grant writing job and building experience.

How Do You Find Grant Writing Jobs?


Being a part of grant writing associations, attending relevant conferences, and searching for jobs on regular job sites like Indeed, Glassdoor, and others can help you find grant writing jobs.

While local or regional nonprofit membership groups might share job postings, volunteer work and building relationships can also lead to job opportunities. Checking the websites of organizations you are interested in working with and consulting local employment agencies are also effective methods.

Can Grant Writing Be a Side Hustle?


Freelance grant writing offers numerous opportunities, making it a viable side hustle. Platforms like Upwork regularly list freelance grant writing positions. Clarity about your availability from the start is crucial, especially if you intend for it to be an after-hours side hustle. While grant writing can be a great way to earn extra income, it requires a serious commitment, as nonprofits rely on grants to operate.

Are Freelance Grant Writers in Demand?


Yes, freelance grant writers are in demand. Many nonprofits can’t afford to have a full-time grant writer on their staff, so they will often outsource their grant writing projects to freelancers.

How Do You Break into Grant Writing?


You break into grant writing just as you do any industry—just by doing it! You can take the classes, seminars, and certifications, but at the end of the day, you simply need to start applying.

Volunteering for a nonprofit, leveraging personal networks, joining professional organizations, offering pro bono services, or applying directly for positions are various avenues to gain experience.

What Do Successful Grant Writers Tend to Do that Sets Them Apart?


Successful grant writers are talented storytellers, able to distill an organization’s mission, vision, values, and impact into compelling narratives. Knowledge in areas like budgeting and fundraising can enhance their value. The stronger an asset you can make yourself be to the nonprofit, the more you will stand out from others in the field.

Wrapping Up: Guide to Becoming a Grant Writer

Whether you're drawn to the meaningful career opportunity, the prospect of skill development, or the varied opportunities in different sectors, becoming a grant writer can be quite rewarding.

In this guide, we have walked you through how to become a grant writer that succeeds. Though it may seem difficult at first, the insights and tips shared by experts should help you become a skilled and efficient grant writer in no time.

Remember that successful grant writing is not just about obtaining a job; it's about translating an organization's mission into a compelling narrative. With the right skills, practical experience, and a robust network, you can pave the way for a fulfilling and impactful career in grant writing.


Instrumentl team

Instrumentl team

Instrumentl is the all-in-one grant management tool for nonprofits and consultants who want to find and win more grants without the stress of juggling grant work through disparate tools and sticky notes.

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