How to “Get Lucky” as a Grantwriter, Part 2

Are some grantwriters “lucky”?  Can other grantwriters do anything about their luck or lack of it?

In part 1, I argued that luck can be altered by choosing tasks you’re good at and like, while trying to outsource other elements of the process.  In this posting, I discuss how being prepared is an essential aspect of “getting lucky”.

Be Prepared.

Two quotes to support the connection between luck and preparation:

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca

“Luck is not chance-

It’s Toil-

Fortune’s expensive smile

Is earned-”

– Emily Dickinson

It’s not just Boy Scouts who need to be prepared.  Grantwriters need to prepare as well.

What are the things that grantwriters do to prepare themselves? (Note:  this list can’t be exhaustive, but it’s a start—feel free to add to it).

Vigorously Train

Training for grantwriters encompasses all the elements of the job.

The most important element is being able to write well.  Skilled writing is the ability to put thoughts together, one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one section, at a time, and to have them relate to one another in a logical, understandable, and compelling way.

Training includes understanding the vocabulary of grants.  Grants are technical documents with their own lingo that only partially overlaps with daily vernacular English.  You can’t just “wing it” without spending time learning what the terms mean.

Beyond knowing vocabulary, each term usually has an associated skill or task to accomplish.  Grantwriters must train how to do these competently, at the least.

Knowing what a “logic model” is, for example, is just about learning vocabulary.  Being able to create one is a skill or task that is the application of additional knowledge and preparation.

Being adequately trained also includes adequately knowing subject area content for the grant proposal.  This can be a challenge, of course, particularly if you are a free-lance writer.  Truthfully, however, this is easier than it may seem.  There are plenty of content area experts to pick up the knowledge from.  Many grantwriters try to specialize in one area so this becomes less of a concern over time.

Habitually Keep Up

Once training takes place (as through a course at a college, or attendance at a face-to-face event, or learning through online or other study at home sorts of approaches), the temptation is to say “I’ve arrived!  Now I’m a grantwriter!”

In reality, though, this just means you’ve reached the starting line.

Everything changes and this is also true in the world of grants.  From what things are called (Request for Proposals? Notice of Funding Availability? Request for Applications?) to new approaches to describing what your program will accomplish (are they goals? Objectives? Outputs? Outcomes?) things change.

Agency and foundation priorities change—grantwriters have to keep up!

People in positions of authority change—grantwriters have to learn about the new hires at foundations and government offices and develop positive relationships with them.

Mindfully Practice

The difference between training and practicing is subtle.  I see them as different points on a continuum where training is gaining competency and mindful practicing is honing basic levels of achievement to emerge at a higher level.

If you don’t practice mindfully you just do the same things, make the same mistakes, and end up with the same results.

Mindful practice includes trying to do better at what you do now at a basic level and to learn to excel at what you already do well.

Mindful practice means you accept feedback and then acknowledge where your areas of weakness are so you can choose to focus there until improvements are achieved.


What other ways do you prepare yourself to “get lucky” as a grantwriter?

Add a comment below and send the link to your colleagues and friends in the nonprofit grantwriting world.

To get regular updates on grantwriting and other issues of nonprofit life, subscribe to the Excellence for Nonprofits email list by going to  and entering your email address.  This will give you FREE access to the report “Get Money for your Nonprofit:  10 Million-Dollar Lessons from Master Grantwriters”.  If just one of these ideas helps you get your next grant, why wouldn’t you sign up?

While you’re there, be sure to leave a comment about how YOU prepare and increase your “luck”.  And get ready to see Part 3 of this “getting lucky as a grantwriter” series.


How to “Get Lucky” as a Grantwriter

Most grantwriters understand that their profession doesn’t involve a lot of luck.  Now and then, however, others outside the trade think that having a successful proposal is a matter of luck, of being in the right place at the right time, or of knowing the right person at a foundation.

There is a saying that, if you have to choose between being “good” and being “lucky”, choose “lucky” every time.  So while you may feel irritated at those who accuse you of “just being lucky” think it over.  Maybe there’s something to it.

Instead of wanting to dispel the myth of the “lucky grantwriter” it may be useful to play up your luck and how it helps you get your proposals funded.  Explain to your boss or potential client that your luck comes from things you do, not from the rabbit’s foot in your drawer, the four-leaf shamrock on your bulletin board or that particular pair of socks you wear while you submit the proposal.

Here’s the first item in my 6-item list of what helps me “get lucky”—maybe these help you be lucky, too.

Do what you do well, and

outsource as much of the rest as you can.

There are things each of us do that we are good at and things we like to do.  Sometimes these are the same things!

Whenever possible, I try not to do things I’m not good at and don’t like to do.  Dealing with the nitty-gritty of collating a proposal and turning it into a pdf is something I don’t like doing and really have trouble with.  I try to hire someone else with more skill and greater proclivity for those tasks.

Sometimes I have to do things I like to do but aren’t good at.  Developing graphics for proposals is something in this category for me.  By doing them, however, I do get better at them and perhaps I will, in time, move my skill to a higher level.

More often I have to do things I’m good at but don’t like. One example is making phone calls instead of meeting in person.  It can be easier to get the information I need so I do them and it is not really a big deal. For this type of task, I basically just have to get over myself and change my attitude.

I find my luck increases when I’m able to do the things I’m both good at and like to do.  For some reason, my luck is better when I get to do my own research into the problem the proposal will address.

For some reason, my luck is better when I find an evidence-based program to address the problem and help clients.

For some reason, my luck is better when I can talk with program staff about what is a feasible implementation plan, rather than making it up on my own.

Your luck may improve if you create a two-by-two table, with “Good At” along the top and “Like to Do” on the side. Divide each into two categories “High” and “Low” and fill it in with the grantwriting tasks that fit into each box.  I call this the Grantwriting Tasks Distribution Grid.


Grantwriting Tasks Distribution Grid

Tasks You Are Good At



Tasks You Like to Do


Do these as much as possible.

Improve at these until they move to the “high-high” box.


Change your attitude until these tasks fit into the “high-high” box or outsource doing them.

Avoid these tasks by outsourcing to someone who has them in their “high-high” box/


Going clockwise, starting at the upper left, here is the bottom line for each cell in the Grantwriting Tasks Distribution Grid

  • Do the things you are good at and like as much as possible.
  • Get better at the tasks that you aren’t good but at like, so they move to the high “good at” and high “like” box.
  • Avoid the things (as much as you can) that you aren’t good at and don’t like to do.  Outsource these to people who like to do them and are good at them.
  • Change your attitude about the tasks you are good at but don’t like.  This will move them to the high “good at” and high “like” box. Alternatively, bite the bullet and outsource them.

Just having this grid helps you get clarity on what you do and may help you change the way you approach your grantwriting.  Either way, I bet it helps you get to be “more lucky”.

What helps YOU “get lucky”?  Add a comment below and send the link to your colleagues and friends in the nonprofit world.

To get regular updates on grantwriting and other issues of nonprofit life, subscribe to the Excellence for Nonprofits email list by going to  and entering your email address.  This will give you FREE access to the report “Get Money for your Nonprofit:  10 Million-Dollar Lessons from Master Grantwriters”.  If just one of these ideas helps you get your next grant, why wouldn’t you sign up?

How Grantwriting is Like Baking Bread

I like, no, love, fresh, home-baked from scratch bread.  In a pinch bread-machine-baked bread is good, but there’s nothing like the satisfaction of starting with good flour, active yeast, fresh water, a  pinch of salt and a little sugar and investing the time to create a wonderful loaf from my own oven.

Pair warm bread with premium butter and the rest of the meal is almost irrelevant.

King Cake loaf

Today I remembered a lesson about baking bread that has a clear relevance to writing grants.

When you write a grant, you start with some ingredients–a problem that needs fixing, an evidence-based solution, an innovative angle, a new population, capable staff and a potential funder.

You also take a lot of time to put the ideas together, draft the proposal, talk with others, re-draft the proposal, and finally come up with the final version.

So here’s what happened with my bread today.

I sifted together the dry ingredients, I added liquid and kneaded until dough was just the right stiffness.

I warmed the oven (barely) and put the dough in my big metal rising bowl.  After some time, it had doubled.  I took it out and punched it down.  I shaped it and put it back in the oven to rise a second time.

After all this time, I could smell the yeast’s aroma.  I could imagine the tasty reward of the bread in my mouth.

The loaf doubled in size and was ready for the baking.

The oven was the correct temperature and in went the raw dough.  I carefully set the timer.  Who wants to waste all that time and effort by not being careful at the end of the process?

After some amount of time, I came back to the kitchen to check how long the baking had left to go.  Imagine my dismay to see the time already off–with no clear way of knowing how long ago the ding had donged.

I threw open the oven door to see an “overly dark” loaf.

This was one loaf that wasn’t going to be eaten.  For one reason:  I didn’t pay attention at the end.

Grants are like this too.  You can do everything right all the way up to the last second, but if you mess up the electronic submission–it doesn’t matter.  There are a lot of ways to mangle the page order, leave some material out, or just not press the “submit” button.

And all your work is wasted.

Moral of the story:  If you don’t finish the details all the way to the end, it isn’t going to be a successful process.

Excellence for nonprofits means excellence in all the parts and all the steps.