If you have been a grant writer for any amount of time, then the prospect of joining a professional organization or maybe even pursuing professional credentials has probably crossed your mind. But like many, you may not know where to start, which organizations are worth checking out, and whether or not joining any of them is worth your time and effort, especially if you’re newer to the field.
There are a variety of viewpoints on this and you will have to evaluate what makes sense for you and your career. But with that in mind, here are some important things for you to consider:
Do you plan to stay in this field for a while?
If you aren’t sure you’re in love with grant writing or if you think you are probably going to use this position as a stepping stone to something else not related to nonprofit development, then joining may not be worth your time. However, if you are in it for the long (or medium) haul, then you should definitely look into it. It looks good on your resume and it will help you deepen your knowledge and skills.
I also want to include a special note here to those who are not grant writers. Many organizations don’t have a dedicated grant writer. Rather, many have a staff member whose primary role is something else, but they’ve also been asked to write grants. If this is you, then I encourage you to find and join a professional organization. It will help you get up to speed faster and vastly increase your chances of actually getting a grant than if you tried to learn it haphazardly in what little spare time you probably have.
Could you benefit from making more professional connections?
Networking is a primary benefit of joining any professional organization. Joining one geared towards grant writing or fundraising allows you to meet peers within your own field. This can be a great benefit when you want to bounce an idea or scenario off of someone who understands your job, get advice, or even when you’re ready to interview at a new organization and need some references or connections to help you land that new gig.
Do you have local chapters available for established organizations?
If you live near some major cities, then it’s probably safe to say that you have access to a local chapter of nearly any professional organization you could think of. But if you live in a more rural area of the country then you may want to think about how far you would need to drive to even come to a meeting.
If you join, can you commit to attending meetings at least somewhat regularly?
Speaking of coming to meetings, how often can you come? You don’t need to be there for every single meeting to get value from your membership, but if you’re going to sign up then you want to make sure that you can at least come to a good amount of them. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Will you pay for it or will your employer?
Professional memberships are not often cheap, so if you want to join then it’s worth bringing up to your employer. Will they support your regular attendance at meetings? Do they support professional development for their staff at all (hint: if they don’t, that’s a red flag for you as an employee). If the answer to those last 2 questions was “yes” then it’s worth it to ask them to pay for your membership. After all, they get the ultimate benefit of your expertise, connections, and skills.
How serious are you about being at the top of your game?
This is probably the biggest consideration. Although not all organizations offer the same value, any of the great ones will offer you ways to strengthen your skills, your knowledge, and your your expertise. This is the real reason to attend. Meetings typically consist of presentations on topics that affect you and your daily work, you can get tools that make your work more effective or efficient, and you can receive professional credentials through these organizations. Professionals who take advantage of this often outperform their non-member peers.
I can’t tell you whether or not to join, but I can tell you that I’m a fan of joining professional organizations when they are high-quality. Disclaimer: I am not without bias on this topic. I am a member of my local chapter of the Grant Professionals Association and serve in a leadership position with them, as well.
If you do decide to join, your next step is to find the right organization. There are many out there, but when it comes to figuring out what’s worthwhile, it’s my humble opinion that there are only 2 in the fundraising realm: the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).
GPA is geared specifically to grant writers while AFP is more general and includes all types of nonprofit development professionals. GPA’s membership is typically a bit more affordable than AFP’s and both have tons of chapters scattered across the country. Both also have annual conferences you can attend which are worth your time.
If you have trouble choosing between them, my advice would be to look at both organization’s benefits of membership, pricing, chapter locations, and then attend some meetings before joining to get a feel for the chapter and its particular value to you.
You can check them both out here:
And of course, if you’re new to grant writing (or even mid-career), I have to give a somewhat shameless plug for my new book, Get the Grant: Your No B.S. Introduction to Foundation Grants. Hey, I wouldn’t have written the darn thing if I didn't think it would be a great resource.
If you haven’t gotten a copy yet, go do it (it’s not expensive), and then join a professional group for grant writers or fundraisers, if you’re so inclined.