VCSC sponsors grant writing workshops for students

Maija Anstine

The Volunteer and Community Service Center held two grant writing workshops in the Warch Campus Center on Feb. 15 and 22 to help students learn more about how to write successful grant proposals.

Director of Corporate, Foundation and Sponsored Research Support Jenna Stone ’00 and Service-Learning Coordinator Chuck Demler ’11 were instrumental in orchestrating the workshops.

Thirty students attended the first workshop, and Stone commented, “It was wonderful to see a standing-room-only crowd of students interested in strengthening their ability to facilitate positive change.”

Nine of these students, Demler noted, “were so motivated that they wrote mock proposals that were read by grant reviewers at three local foundations.” Those proposals received feedback at the second session from Mary Harp-Jirschele of the J. J. Keller Foundation, Jenni Eickelberg of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Todd Sutton of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

“Receiving this feedback from foundation grant reviewers is invaluable experience that professionals in the area will envy,” Demler said.

Noted Harp-Jirschele, “Grant-writing is a science — or maybe it’s more psychology— either way, it’s heartening to see students take it very seriously.”

Students at the workshop worked on proposals for a variety of grants, and Demler noted that grants are valuable for areas like public policy, education, non-profits and private sector contracting. The workshops also made an effort to steer grant writers toward helping local non-profit organizations, like Community Outreach Temporary Services, Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities, Sexual Assault Crisis Center, St. Elizabeth Hospital and Harbor House.

“I cannot imagine a practice that literally gives an author’s writing so much power and meaning,” said SACC staff member Emily Bowles.

She continued, “For me, grant writing serves as a perfect vehicle for merging a love of writing with passion for an organization’s mission: What one writes literally helps an agency the grant writer believes in achieve its goals. For me, that means a two-page proposal — or a 30-page proposal — will help provide crisis care to a victim of sexual assault, prevention education programming for children or support groups for at-risk girls, to name just a few of our services.”

But Demler noted challenges inherent in finding sources of grant money to begin with.

“The best way is to get experience by working with people in the grant writing field that can share their knowledge,” he said. “Professionals at nonprofits already know where to find grants and where to point people to find more. By partnering with local nonprofits, students can gain valuable experience and knowledge about grant sources and writing.”

The workshops sought to equip students with the initial skills to begin paths as grant writers.

Stone explained, “There are two deceptively simple keys to good grant writing: follow the instructions exactly and write for the reviewer rather than for yourself. These are simple ideas, but it turns out to be surprisingly hard to do them consistently and well.”

Once students attain these skills, though, she noted, “they can make a tremendous difference in a nonprofit’s capacity to do good in the world.”