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Grant Writing Is Professional Development: Developing Your Purpose

Tuesday, July 21, 2020   (6 Comments)
Posted by: Terry Vaughan III, PhD
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Beyond trying to make ideas become a reality, grant writing is a tremendous professional development experience. The experience allows us to cultivate one of the most valuable characteristics within any field – a sense of purpose. By purpose, I am referring to the alignment between the ideas behind our projects (e.g., moral and political), the methods we use to complete projects, and the ways we measure and reflect on the impact of our projects. The power of purpose is that it allows us to maintain motivation and clarity through good times and bad. Without purpose, work can become dull or misguided. With purpose, we move with more intention, and great things can happen. With this mindset, we must see that through the process of writing grants, we are also working on ourselves by improving our sense of purpose.

At face value, the end goal of grant writing can seem obvious – put together a winning application. But we should not overlook an even bigger benefit that keeps on giving whether our applications are “successful” or “unsuccessful” – greater alignment between our ideas, methods, and modes of evaluation/reflection. The work of defining a topic, scope, actions, and deliverables within a project, in a manner that speaks to local, national, or international calls, helps us to shape our professional compass theoretically and practically. And seeing this growth is often easier when our applications are accepted with the addition of recognition and funding.

However, if our applications are “unsuccessful,” we need to be careful not to frame this rejection as a missed opportunity. The process of writing grants, from collecting and reviewing documents and meeting with stakeholders to sitting in our home or office writing paragraph after paragraph, brings greater clarity to the work we do for the causes we care about. Yes, rejection hurts, especially if the rejection includes comments from reviewers highlighting weaknesses within our applications. But once the emotions subside, do not lose sight of the bigger picture that, in one way or another, you have opened space to better articulate the alignment between your ideas, methods, and modes of reflection within your field(s).

As someone who writes grants within higher education, I often remind myself to mind my purpose, whether I am planning to write or in the process of writing grants. With each application I put together, whether by myself or with colleagues, I see myself improving some aspect of my purpose. For example, some grants I work on help me dive deeper into the educational theories I am using to justify the projects I am hoping to establish. Other grants force me to think deeply about how to evaluate and measure the impact of such educational projects if implemented. In both instances, I have worked with and improved my purpose. In this same regard, whether your field is education, sports, or creative arts, appreciate grant writing as a professional development experience.

So, if you are in the midst of winning grant after grant or struggling with imposter syndrome after another “unsuccessful” application, know that you have taken a step toward better understanding the values and actions that define your work. Having this stronger sense of purpose allows us to put both good and bad moments in perspective, and with each application, we become stronger, particularly if we take the time to reflect on our work. Whether you are new to grant writing or in the thick of it, do not overlook how grant writing can help you develop this type of professional ownership. All the technical grant writing skills and knowledge you have are wonderful, but without purpose, they alone are not enough to sustain your desire to make the world a better place, one application at a time.


GPC Competency: 07. Knowledge of practices and services that raise the level of professionalism of grant Professionals


Terry Vaughan says...
Posted Thursday, July 30, 2020
Thank you all for the wonderful comments. I'm glad I could contribute!
Jennifer Mangieri says...
Posted Thursday, July 23, 2020
Thank you so much for this article. It's so helpful to think of our work this way and reflect on the perspective you shared, especially now with so many discouraging things going on in the world. I really appreciate you writing this and sharing it at this time. I needed this!
Mary Hubl GPC says...
Posted Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Great perspective! As a consultant, I have the opportunity to learn about and embrace a wide variety of purposes. Each grant is an opportunity to learn more, dive deeper, and write more persuasively and passionately to help my clients make the world a better place. Thanks for the inspiring post!
Alyssa Loeffler GPC says...
Posted Tuesday, July 21, 2020
What a great tribute to grant writers and all grant professionals. Sometimes we get caught up in all the requirements of the NOFO and forget the big picture. Thank you for the reflection of our purpose. Even when the grant is not successful, I am able to use the valuable research and data toward other projects. I love the research aspect and working with stakeholders to develop a program. What a gift it is to see the program grow from an idea to full implementation! Thank you for your encouraging and inspiring words.
Robert R. Hull says...
Posted Tuesday, July 21, 2020
In my grantwriting courses at Wichita State University I always include a module on "Grantwriters as American Superheroes." I try to evoke in the students a sense of pride and of purpose as key contributors to the nonprofit economy that does so much good and meets so many otherwise unmet needs in our capitalist society. Count me among those inspired by your reflections!
Lisa Vihos says...
Posted Tuesday, July 21, 2020
This is very inspiring and rings so true for the work I do as grants manager at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, WI. With every grant I write--especially the ones that get rejected--I feel like I learn something new. I love the idea of focusing on and honing "purpose." That is truly the bottom line. I am going to remember this and make "purpose" my guidepost in all my work. Thank you, Terry Vaughn!