The Truth About Grant Writing Certification


By Dr. Vanessa S. ONeal



Interest in grant writing certification is increasing and rightly so.  But there are problems with such certification. In order to understand the problem with the certifications, it is important to first understand professional terminology.


Profession: A vocation or occupation requiring advanced education and training and involving intellectual skills as medicine, law, theology, engineering,

         teaching, and so forth. 

Certified:  Vouched for; guaranteed; having or attested to by a certificate 

Certification:  A certified statement


Grant writing, although a very technical form of writing and an extremely important position within any non-profit, is NOT a profession; it is a position.  Most grant writers are not just grant writers.  They are board members, executive directors, fundraising specialists, and so forth. 


Grant writers are not hired on a degree status nor does the field require advanced training and, more times than not, the person assigned the task may not have been formally trained at all.  According to professional standards, a grant writer does not have to be professionally trained to occupy the position.


 Have you ever been asked by an employer, "Do you have a degree in grant writing?" No. I bet you have, however, had an employer ask if you have experience in grant writing or have you taken any classes.


Why then is there a lot of hype regarding grant writing certification?  The reason is that there are several For-Profit companies advertising workshops and seminars as "certification classes."  I have even sat in on a class where the instructor stated that the certification advertisement was just to get you in the class.  Companies offer workshops and seminars and then, after completion, they advise you that you are now allowed to place initials behind your name (examples:  CGD = Certified Grant Developer, CGWE = Certified Grant Writing Expert).


 The question then becomes, What does it all mean?  In a nutshell...NOTHING! 


There are certain criteria that have to be met when certifying someone in a profession.


1.  Education:  There must be a standard form of education to which everyone in that profession must adhere.  If you look at police officers, they must go through a basic law enforcement training academy and, regardless of the geographic location of the academy, the training must include the same standard components.  Of course each academy can add to the curriculum, but still the basics must be met.


Similarly, for grant writers a standard curriculum must be organized in each subject area that pertains to the field for training.  A re-certification plan must be completed for continuation of the certification.  Additional training must be offered and made available so that the certified professionals will have opportunities to keep their certification.


Not only does the curriculum have to be organized, a criterion for certification has to be discussed and adopted.  For instance, is certification given upon completion of a class and an exam or should it be based on a certain number of grants written and awarded? Better yet, how about combining both?


2.  Governance:  There must be a form of governance regarding the profession; an entity that decides what is acceptable.  There needs to be some way of knowing that all entities are certifying in the correct manner and that the basic standards are being met.  They would also handle violations.


3. Code of Ethics:  The ethics of a profession are universal.  All of the members of that particular profession adhere to the same Code of Ethics.


Normally, all of the aforementioned criteria are guided by Board of Professional standards in the field.  Because there is not a true governing entity for grant writers, independent non-profit organizations have taken on the task.  I applaud organizations such as the National Society of Grant Writing Professionals, The American Association of Grant Professionals, and others for trying to do something about uniting the field and making it a profession.

4. Registry Database:  Believe it or not, individuals that are certified in any profession must have a database.  There has to be a way for people to inquire, complain, comment, and so forth. What is the best way for you to find out whether or not the dentist you have been patronizing has an actual dental degree? Who do you call?  How do you find out if an attorney has been disbarred in their career?  Who do you call?  When you are truly certified, there will be a database.


These are the very basic components necessary to adopt true certification of a profession and remember that these standards must be universal.


Now ask yourself one question? Does your grant writing certification meet these basic standards?  I am inclined to believe that 99% of you said "NO!".


Here is the deal.  Most organizations that offer certification for grant writing are not certifying you.  They are certifying that you took a class on the topic of grant writing.  They are certifying that, for a period of time, you were formally instructed in an area of interest.


The credentialing sounds good, but does not amount to much.  There are no guarantees that the curriculum you are being taught is enough to make you a good writer of grants or make you successful at it. 

So, where do we go from here?  Understand that although the concept of certification is  good in theory, the true issue here is the training.  Grant writing is a very technical form of writing and it takes skill. An astonishing 85% of the grants submitted are not awarded and more than 35% of those because of the lack of form, information, budgeting errors, and so forth.


Most companies that offer grant writing classes will give the student a certificate of completion and that is good.  After polling 100 grant writers with the question, Do you feel that certification is necessary to be a grant writer,   93% responded, NO!

However, when following-up with the question of the importance of training, 86% of the participants stated that training is Extremely important, 9% stated that training is Very important, and just  5% stated that training is Not important 


It must be understood that training is more than necessary in the grant writing field and, although it is human nature to want to have something tangible to show that you have participated in some form of training, it is not necessary. The real tangible evidence of training will come in the form of a grant award.

Dr. Vanessa S. ONeal is Founder of the National Society of Grant Writing Professionals, Founder of Families4Life, and the author of Grant Me The Money: The Practical Guide To Successful Grant Writing Practice.