Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Should We Expect Our Grant Writers to be Certified?

A friend of mine recently called, all excited. She had just received national certification as a professional grant writer (GPC). While she has been doing grant writing full-time for years, she wanted to make this investment in her career. She said the process challenged her and taught her a lot. She compared it to going back for another master’s degree.

Coincidently, I had just gotten a question on choosing grant writers for a Q & A column I write on issues of importance to the nonprofit sector. It made me consider whether certification should be a criterion for selection. I happened to ran across an article by Vanessa O’Neal, entitled “The Truth about Grant Writing Certification,” that argues against it. Among other things, she concludes that the only valid test is whether someone’s proposals get funded. She suggests most grant writers feel the same, stating that 93% of grant writers she polled a few years back were not in favor of certification.

I agree with O’Neal that consistently getting grants funded is ultimately more important – at least to a client – than being able to claim a number of qualifications that include a passing grade on a test. And, I have NO doubt that 93% of grant writers do not want to have to go through a certification process. It’s expensive, time-consuming, takes one away from paid work and could show that the emperor has no clothes. Besides, for those who have been doing the work successfully for years and have a sufficient number of loyal clients, going through the certification process appears unnecessary.

Still, I do think it’s about time that such a program is available and that more people are encouraged to pursue certification. Anyone can hang out a shingle. There should be some way of assuring clients that their grant writers can demonstrate a given level of expertise. This is especially true today, when money is tight and the needs so great. Organizations should feel comfortable that they are investing in a known quantity.

For years, those in the nonprofit sector have complained that they are not valued by the general society to the same degree as those working in the for-profit sector. One example of this that is frequently cited is that they are not paid on an equivalent basis. Well, maybe part of the reason is that there are few educational requirements for working in the nonprofit sector and even fewer requirements for demonstrating competence, let alone excellence. The GPC program – like its older sibling the CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive) – stands up to this reality, raising the professional level of the field and making the pursuit of this certification one way that people can set themselves apart, demonstrate broad-based knowledge and justify remuneration at a higher level.

The certification program, offered through the Grant Professionals Certification Institute, requires a combination of post secondary education, grants training, several years experience in the grants field, the ability to show a record of success in obtaining grants, community service and successful completion of a two-part written examination that includes a four-hour multiple choice section and a 90 minute writing portion. For more information, go to http://grantcredential.org.


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  2. I’m going to disagree with you here Terri. I’ve looked extensively at the CFRE and several grant certification programs that have come and gone over the years. Would my obtaining such certifications help my clients? Lets look first at the CFRE. While I endorse membership in AFP and adopting its code of ethics because that improves the field AND that does help my clients, the CFRE process from my research seems to be about learning how to take their test. I’ve never seen proof that shows that CFRE’s raise more money than people with similar backgrounds, without a CFRE. Val Lay, from AFP recently met with our AFP chapter and said that people with the CFRE’s make about $7,000 more than those without a CFRE… so the CFRE is a good career move, but does working with people wih a CRRE provide a matching or greater benefit to nonprofits that hire them?

    Would grant certification provide value to my clients? Since time limits are real, are my clients better off if I invest effort in certification or other education opportunities? For the last 15 years, the answer consistently has been investment in other educational opportunities. When the CFRE, the GPC or other certifications prove that nonprofits are better off I’ll reconsider pursuing them.