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Publications > Dateline Houston > April 2004 > Feature Article


Volume 43, Issue 7

April 2004

Grant Writing to Change the World

by Vanessa Adia, Student, University of Texas at Arlington

While toiling through college, I discovered that I had a knack for writing. As a freshman getting acclimated to the dedication required to do well in my collegiate studies, I was surprised to find out that I actually enjoyed the time and effort that I had to put into each term paper. I would spend hours to create the perfect opening line or that one metaphor that I could carry throughout the piece that would pull everything together. There was a certain satisfaction in finding just the right word or phrase to express my viewpoint and a feeling of accomplishment every time I wrote a concluding paragraph.

To pick up spending money in college, I did some copyediting and wrote for the school newspaper and magazine. It wasn't my idea really; a friend of mine was always an editor of some sort for the school paper and encouraged me to contribute after proofreading a couple of my essays. Writing for the paper and copyediting others' writing, gave me more confidence in my abilities and a sense of pride for every article that was published. In a closet somewhere, there are several yellowing newspapers and magazines that I kept because my name was on the byline (I doubt that the copies I sent to friends and family have met a better fate). As a student writer, I could write on whatever I found interesting. I wrote about music, love, social injustices, and social responsibility. Though I knew my words could reach many through such a medium, my life wasn't leading me to a career in journalism. I just didn't think that I could make a difference in the world as a writer.

Today I am working towards my master of science in social work. What I have learned from my classes and internships in social work agencies is that you can make a difference in this world as a writer. As soon as my supervisors at my internships discovered that I had some writing ability, they put me to work on tasks that everyone else avoided: newsletters, thank-you letters, policy review, and the much-dreaded grant writing. I don't want to imply that all social workers are untalented wordsmiths, but most do find direct practice with clients more compelling than the more indirect work that goes into raising money and establishing policy that will help clients. In fact, so few social workers are willing to do this work that agencies often contract out for grant writers.

As an intern, I have had the opportunity to work on several grant proposals during every stage of the process. Through this experience, I have discovered that in order to write good grant proposals, there are three main requirements that the author must meet:

    • First, you must be able to conduct thorough research. Requests for proposals and proposal guidelines are often very specific and restricting about the type of information a funder wants from an agency. A grant writer should read all of a given agency's policy manuals, history, yearly reports, and program descriptions to unearth all of the data the funder requests.
    • Second, you have to translate all of this data into an easy-to-read, brief, and compelling narrative that will convince the funder to throw piles of money at the agency you are writing for.
    • Third, and most important, you have to believe in what you are writing for. If you are hired to write grant proposals for an agency that seeks to save the endangered horned toad and you mow them over every Sunday in your backyard, the proposal that you write won't speak with authority. If you are passionate about the cause you are writing for, that ardor will find a voice in your words and make a typically boring manuscript sing.

All social service agencies—nonprofit and for profit—are seeking more funding to make up for state and federal budget cuts, and that means that they need experienced writers to develop grant proposals. With over 1,450 nonprofit agencies in the Houston area, there are many opportunities for any writer with a desire to give back to his or her community. In the end, grant writing offers more than just an outlet for creative writing and a paycheck; it presents the opportunity to help save the whales, the children, and your inner idealist.


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