Fundraisers and grant writers are both responsible for bringing money into an organization, often a nonprofit. Their activities are also commonly known as “advancement” or “development.” As you might imagine, development officers are highly prized and those with successful records of meeting financial goals can be among the most well-paid in the organization.
What is the difference between fundraising and grant writing?
At some places, especially smaller organizations, a development professional’s responsibilities might include both fundraising and grant writing. While both fundraisers and grant writers are primarily (or solely) concerned with securing funding sources, their responsibilities differ, and in larger institutions, these responsibilities might not overlap by much. One difference between them is that fundraisers are usually working full time for an organization and thinking farther ahead in their capital goals. Fundraisers have a broader area of responsibilities, covered below. Grant writers may be more focused on shorter term projects; for this reason, grant writing is more easily outsourced to freelance writers.
What kind of background experience is required?
Although several academic programs in fundraising and philanthropy have been created in the last decade or two, it is not essential to have an academic background in the field. The majority of fundraisers learned from on-the-job training. If you are interested in furthering your education in this field, though, there are training and certificate programs offered by universities, continuing education programs, and professional associations. Also see below for a certificate program available at UT.
A grant writer writes grants, also known as "grant proposals." Grants are essentially requests for money to fund a specific program or project. You may have written these or collaborated writing them in your graduate career, but even if you have not, you can think of grant writing as constructing a researched argument, something academics do all the time. So, your research and writing skills will be your bread and butter as a grant writer. Organizational skills are also important because maintaining the organization’s database of funding sources and past grant proposals is a big part of the job.
To familiarize yourself with the genre and to see examples of grants that were successfully funded, ask someone you know who has had a grant funded to see their proposal, or visit the Regional Foundation Library. These libraries are located in cities across the country, and the one in Austin maintains an affiliation with UT.
The flip side of a grant writer is a foundation officer—someone working at a foundation who reads the grants and decides which ones should be funded from the foundation’s endowment. Paid positions are highly competitive, as they are relatively rare. The majority of foundations are small and run by volunteers. For more on what a foundation officer’s day looks like, search for “Foundation Officer” on Vault’s Career Insider website within BTT Gateway.
A fundraiser is responsible for raising money in any other way besides writing grants. These methods could include direct marketing, planning special events, researching prospective donors, soliciting major donors, planned giving campaigns, data management, and consulting. Of the skills desired by nonprofits for fundraisers, verbal fluency is at the top of the list. Also important are project management (including budgeting) and analytical skills.
- According to those in the nonprofit field, career changers can gain entry in the following ways:
- volunteering or interning
- making a case for yourself by emphasizing the applicable skills from your former field
- networking with people in nonprofits who do what you want to do. Locate the local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and attend their events. Many events, including roundtables, luncheons, and presentations, are open to non-members but for a higher fee.
- Check out the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Association of Fundraising Professionals for internships and paid positions.
- Search for “In-House Grant Writer” on Vault’s Career Insider within LACS's BTT Gateway