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Grant Writing: The Activist Power You Didn’t Know You Needed

You’re ready to start a movement — you’ve got the ideas, the information, and the people — but what about the funds? There are many ways to raise funds for social change, from online crowdfunding to good old-fashioned bake sales. But one strategy that is sometimes overlooked by new activists is grant writing.

If you’ve got big dreams and goals for change, grant writing is a practical skill that can help you achieve them. There’s more money available for social change than you might think!

Why Grant Writing?

Many nonprofits get funds for their programs and services from grants. Grants are sums of money awarded to individuals, groups, or organizations for a specific purpose. And unlike loans, grants do not have to be paid back.

Grants have been used to fund a variety of endeavors, including public art installations, community centers, education enrichment in schools, and medical research. In 2020, many nonprofits received grants to provide rent and utility assistance for those who lost their jobs due to COVID-19. But you do not have to be employed by a nonprofit to apply for grants. Grants can be awarded to local governments and communities for projects that improve residents’ quality of life. Individuals can also be awarded grants for research, writing, and artistic projects.

Agencies that provide grants include governments, universities, companies, and foundations. Some organizations and companies have money set aside for the sole purpose of grants or charitable donations. The world of grant writing can open your eyes to funding you never knew existed.

Grant Writing and Activism

In his book Grassroots Grants: An Activist’s Guide to Grantseeking, Andy Robinson states, “for many groups, writing a proposal is the closest thing to creating a community organizing plan.”

The process of building a grant proposal can (and should) be a collective, community-based effort. Before you start writing, you will need to do extensive research on the needs you are looking to address, which may involve surveying community members or others close to your cause. In many ways, the process of grant writing can help you better understand your community and the issues you are working to solve. It can also help you create a stronger, more detailed plan for the future of your organization or project.

Putting Grant Writing to Use

Grant writing is a highly applicable skill that is transferable to many types of work. Practicing grant writing can grant you experience in budgeting, project management, research, and storytelling.

Many nonprofit organizations will train existing members of their staff in grant writing, while others will hire writers on a contract basis or use volunteers. Government agencies and universities also hire employees with experience in grant writing for positions in resource management and economic development. Although specific grant writer positions do exist, grant writing is often one of many responsibilities in a larger role.

Even if you do not plan to work for a nonprofit or an organization, grant writing can be useful in your personal development. Planning a big research project for your graduate school thesis? Have an idea for the next big nonfiction book? Grant writing can assist you in finding resources for these goals and more.

Getting Started

If you decide to apply for a grant, use these questions to create an outline of your proposal:

  • What are my (or my organization’s) goals?
  • How can I quantify the desired results?
  • What resources do I need to achieve these goals?
  • How much funding do I need for these resources? (Be as specific as possible.)

After you’ve answered these questions, you can begin to research organizations and foundations that may be willing to grant you the funds you need. Many organizations have set grants they award every year, while others may be moved to create new grants for needs that align with their interests.

Just as grant-giving organizations will closely review the needs and plans of grant recipients, you must also take the time to examine the practices of these grant-giving organizations. What does the organization stand for? Who have they granted money to in the past? Will they be willing to support all your goals, or just some of them? What information do they expect to receive from you about how you intend to use their gift? These are all important questions to answer before you accept a grant.

Now go out there and get your grants!

Must-Read Grant Writing Books

Grassroots Grants: An Activist’s Guide to Grantseeking by Andy Robinson

Here’s a guide for grant writers with a grassroots or social activism focus. It includes examples of successful grant proposals that you can follow.

The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need by Ellen Karsh and Arlen Sue Fox

This book breaks down the grant writing process from start to finish.

101 Tips for Aspiring Grant Writers by Veronica Robbins

These are great tips for every type of grant (and grant writer) you can imagine.

Call To Action

  • Volunteer to write a grant for a local organization or nonprofit that you care about. You can find volunteer opportunities on Indeed and LinkedIn, or by contacting organizations directly.
  • Visit GrantWatch,, or Grant Gopher to explore grant possibilities.
  • Check out this list at GlobalGiving for COVID-19 related grants.

-Madeline Fink, Content Creator

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