Some might argue that getting certified as a grant writer (GPC) or fundraising professional (CFRE) makes a person or its company more marketable or credible, but professional certifications are often a privilege and not accessible by all. Why does having a GPC (Grant Professional Certification) or CFRE (Certified Fundraising Executive) matter? Since Arula specializes in grant writing, this blog will focus mostly on the GPC.
Grant Professional Certification (GPC)
Per the Grant Professionals Certification Institute, “the GPC certification is based on rigorous standards and ongoing research to meet real-world demands of grant professionals.” This certification is administered by the Grant Professionals Certification Institute [under the Grant Professionals Association (GPA)] and is for professionals who specialize in grant development. A professional can be a member of the GPA without being certified.
Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE)
The CFRE “signifies a confident, ethical fundraising professional.” This certification is administered by CFRE International and serves professionals concerned with the general field of fundraising and all areas of fund development. The Association of Fundraising Professions (AFP) used to manage the CFRE, but now provides professional development and continuing education opportunities. AFP does offer the Advanced Certified Fund Raising Executive or (ACFRE).
Masters in Nonprofit Management (MNM)
This advanced degree is offered by many accomplished higher-education institutions. Courses might be offered in the following subjects: fundraising, governance, community relations, nonprofit law, organizational leadership, etc.
Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP)
Administered through the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, this certificate provides education and preparation to ensure that nonprofit organizations have the talented workforce needed to fulfill their missions.
Are you gathering that there are a ton of acronyms that might mean something different (or nothing!) to others?
DISCLAIMER: I believe that achieving such professional certifications is an outstanding career milestone, but I want to provide a different perspective that isn’t widely discussed.
While obtaining a certification as a grant writer can certainly enhance your skills and marketability in many cases, there are also reasons why someone might choose not to pursue certification. Here are some considerations and possible barriers:
- Experience vs. Certification: Some individuals may argue that practical experience and a strong track record of successful grant writing may be more valuable than a certification. If you already have a portfolio of successful grants, potential clients or employers may prioritize your real-world achievements over a certification. Performance on the job is proof of mastery.
- Cost and Time Commitment: Obtaining a certification and/or degree can involve significant costs, including registration fees (e.g., GPC exam = $875, CFRE exam =$875), study materials, and potentially lost income during the time spent in school or preparing for the certification exam. If these costs are a significant barrier, individuals might opt for alternative ways to build their skills. Additionally, some of the requirements to simply apply are exclusionary or inaccessible.
- Varied Recognition: Not all certifications are universally recognized or respected within the grant writing field and the greater nonprofit sector. Some employers or clients may prioritize specific certifications or prefer a candidate with a strong academic background or relevant experience.
- Changing Standards: Grant writing standards and best practices can change over time. Some argue that a certification might not always reflect the latest trends or methodologies in the field. Staying informed through continuous learning and staying up-to-date with industry changes can be equally important. For example, one must renew GPC certification every three years, but the grant world changes much more often than that and there is no requirement of retesting.
- Portfolio and Networking: Building a strong portfolio of past successful grant applications and cultivating a network within the nonprofit or funding community can sometimes be more impactful than a certification. Real-world connections and tangible results may speak louder than a certification on paper.
- Specialization: Certifications often cover a broad range of topics related to grant writing. If you have a specific niche or specialization within grant writing, you may find that targeted training or self-study in that area is more beneficial than a general certification.
- Self-Taught Expertise: Some successful grant writers have honed their skills through self-directed learning, mentorship, and hands-on experience. If you are a self-starter who can demonstrate expertise without formal certification, it may be a valid alternative. On the other hand, there are many “certified” professionals that completed the bare minimum for extra letters behind their name. The paper does not necessarily make the professional and there are other qualities to consider.
- Other Educational Endeavors: In some ways, getting a professional certification ignored other educational milestones. Who’s to say a GPC or CFRE is “better” than an MBA or MNM? Should an advanced degree, including Ph.D., be ignored when it comes to the validity of grant writers? We should appreciate all avenues of education and experience.
To take Arula as an example, none of us have a GPC but if one of our staff members did, do you believe we would be more qualified to write grants? Hint: if you Google “GPC,” there is no mention of grants or grant writing on page one. For context: in just a few years of operation, Arula has written and secured grants with a cumulative value exceeding $6 million.
Arula team members collectively have decades of grant writing experience in a wide variety of nonprofits. We come educated with an English degree, a Ph.D., an MBA, and a current MBA candidate. As a team, we have experts in grant writing, capital campaigns, budgeting, program design and management, marketing, data and analytics, nonprofit leadership, board management, and general fund development, among others. Each nonprofit we serve is incredibly different in the way they are managed, their approach to a need, and the people they serve. Our model allows us to access all of these specialties and educational backgrounds to provide the absolute best product to our clients.
To quote GPCI,
“Good grant professionals work between grant seeker and funder, using their skills to ensure a match between the seeker’s capacity and the funder’s mission. Good grant professionals conduct research and needs assessments, engage in strategic planning, fiscal planning, technical writing and evaluation, all within an ethical framework.”
Arula provides an entire team of good grant professionals all under one roof because of our practical experience, not because of a certificate.
Ultimately, the decision to pursue a certification in grant writing depends on individual goals, circumstances, and preferences. It’s essential to weigh the potential benefits against the associated costs and consider alternative paths to professional development within the field. Similarly, the decision to hire a grant writer depending on their certification or educational background is an organization’s prerogative.
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