Proposal Writing Skills: Transferable?

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Let’s say you’re an experienced development staffer, or a consultant, and you’ve been submitting grant proposals to support the organization’s mission—call it child care, or mental health counseling, or any other program focus. Let’s also say you’ve gotten good at it and have helped your organization win funding. But you’ve lately gotten very interested in a different field (arts, environment, housing, e.g.)  and you think maybe you can take your skills to a nonprofit in that new field that will be glad to have you.


Can you? Will they? There are some who might argue sure, the skills are easily transferable, go ahead and make the switch from what you’ve been working on to a different discipline. Before you make that leap, here are some things to consider.


How far afield is the new field? If you’ve been working on early childhood education, and you want to move into some K-12 programming and proposal writing, it’s probably a relatively easy shift. If, on the other hand, you’ve been writing proposals for arts organizations and you want to start working in ocean ecosystem research, that might be a bridge too far.


Unless, of course, your “hidden hobby” has always been ocean ecology and you’ve been combing tide pools since you were a kid and you read Callum Roberts and Greta Thunberg for recreation. Maybe one way to move into a new sphere of proposal writing is to think about what it is ‘outside’ your work life. Chances are, there are hundreds of nonprofits working on the things you never thought of as work.


Another possible speed bump in making such a move is your ability to listen a lot before you say very much. There will be a bunch of new ideas, perspectives, assumptions and a brand-new language you’ll need to master. And you’ll be developing proposals for a new roster of funders with their own terminology and requirements.


Proposal writers (hopefully) don’t work in isolation so there are the usual considerations when you think about a shift—the culture of the workplace, who will be your new co-workers, what’s the volume or work and the set of expectations, etc. These are things you think about any time you change jobs.


Before you strap on a laptop and announce “have skills, will travel,” give some thought to what draws you to the new work and what you’ll need to know before you make the move.


Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center
and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.


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