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.

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