What I Wish I Knew Before I Paid for a Grant Writing Course
By the time I graduated college, I'd had my fill of education. Maybe it was the extra years tacked on because of changing my major. Maybe my finals-fried brain couldn't handle another semester. Maybe it was because my instructors' suggestions for postgraduate career paths were really attempts to live vicariously through their students. ("Don't let that 'publish or die' talk scare you. You'd love teaching at an ivy league school!")
If I was ever going to get more education, it was going to be pertinent to something I wanted.
Over a decade and one tiring retail career later, I wanted to get into grant writing.
But I needed to get an education. Again.
How I would go about getting that education was a learning experience in itself. In the wild west of the internet, anyone can set up shop, boast credentials, and scare up testimonials from satisfied customers (complete with multiple punctuations and emojis for that extra "authenticity").
I came to the end of my exhausting search when I found a rookie-centric online grant writing course. It included a members-only discussion area, coaching video sessions, and feedback on any document related to our application process. If I needed help from the group, I would get it. This was the hand-holding I wanted early in my career before I ventured into the field on my own.
There were two downsides: the length and the price. The course was a year-long commitment. It would be enough time to learn the basics, land a client, complete at least one application, and build up a thriving network. The price was enough to make my bank account cry, but a chunk of that went towards site upkeep and the software that powered the members-only area. That felt justified to me.
But still, a year?
My caution was becoming a delaying tactic. If I hemmed and hawed any longer, I'd never get started. So I signed up and paid up.
The course's central premise was building a grant writing business, notably as a freelancer/consultant, although anyone building a portfolio or already working for a nonprofit could also benefit. All the material was divided to address different phases of a grant writing career, from conducting informational interviews to subcontracting assignments.
Knowing how long it takes to build a career–and doubting that I even wanted to start an LLC–I knew that some of this information wouldn't apply to me for the next few years. I felt as though I'd bought a 300+ channel satellite package but only watched three channels.
During an online search for nonprofits to interview, I came across NonprofitReady. The name alone was enough to draw me in. Right away, I liked what I saw: a library of professional learning specifically for nonprofits that cost nothing to access.
At that wallet-friendly price, what did I have to lose?
Nothing, but plenty to gain! There was a host of short courses packed with crucial information that could be completed in a couple of days–or hours if I felt like doing a marathon. I started with Grant Seeking Essentials and ended the course with a certificate and the feeling that I was on a better track to becoming a full-fledged grant writer.
In the Grant Writing Essentials course, the process of seeking grants was broken down into plain steps. I appreciated the tips for ensuring fit and alignment, the necessity of regular budget reports, and forming relationships with grantors. My paid course did touch upon these, but not in so much detail. In defense of my paid course, however, I did learn how to use specialized grants databases, the existence of donor-advised funds, and strategies for invite-only grants. With NonprofitReady's additional information on smaller sources such as rotary clubs and local United Way chapters, I was creating a comprehensive checklist of funding sources.
I wanted to take another course. I could hone in on project management or helping nonprofits become grant ready. I could even learn how to start a nonprofit. Or, more accurately, I'd learn how somebody else would start a nonprofit. I have no ambitious projects of that magnitude, but as a grant writer, I may be called upon to help someone fund their own.
Clearly the courses were made for people specializing in the nonprofit sector, but it was still precious information. The better I understood how nonprofits operated, the better I could help them.
I felt that I was getting the best education possible for a new grant writer. I also can't overlook the personal benefits. The longer course was giving me the rigorous training and mentality shift I needed for the long run. NonprofitReady's shorter courses and exams were like achievement badges that boosted my morale and encouraged me to keep going in my overall education.
But if I'm honest, had I known about the NonprofitReady courses before my paid one, I would have likely taken those first. Short, free courses to be my springboard, then longer, paid courses to level up.
With so many things to learn and different ways to use this knowledge, I don't think I'll ever get my fill of an education in grant writing.
Ellie Dorsey is a bookworm using her love of research to create time-saving funding strategies for time-strapped organizations. A generalist for now, she aims to become the librarian's hero by finding creative ways to fund their projects.