When It’s Not Just About the Money: Reasons Behind Grant Writing

Last week, I was asked the question, “If you aren’t competitive, then why are you a grant writer?” Reason after reason flooded my mind. In fact, so many surfaced that I could barely articulate them in the conversation. And, as I talked, I could tell that my excitement level, volume, and pitch range grew and grew. Sometimes our passions are just plain obvious.

In Dave Letterman style, here’s why I am a grant writer:

10. To feed my “academic” side.
Grant writing forces me to carve out time in the hustle-bustle of my day…to work on something intensely intellectual. I find “flow” when I’m revising and editing grant proposal drafts (for a brief overview of flow, see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology) . I do a lot of “all nighters” to get drafts ready for submission, and a few of my library school graduate students have joined me in the “all night” fun from time-to-time as they work on their own proposals.

9. To dream.
Grant writing gives me an opportunity to think and design curriculum based on one basic question… “What if money was not a hindrance in the educational experiences you want to provide for others?” I work for an organization that already encourages faculty to dream in this way, but historically grant writing offered me an escape in those eras when I worked for administrators intently focused on reality instead of what could be.

8. To show that a librarian is an “investment” and not an “expenditure.”
Let’s face it. School libraries are often the most expensive classroom with the most expensive teacher. When finances were tight in one district I was working in, my goal was to earn my salary in grants every year. I wanted to send a clear message: a librarian is an investment, not an expenditure.

7. To learn a new language.
Most of the time, I write grants for cutting edge products, services, or programs, so I have to learn the language that surrounds the innovation. For example, years ago I decided to write a downloadable mp3 book grant before I had ever even downloaded a book on a device. Grant writing, for me, becomes a “full emersion” learning opportunity. Language and all!

6. To stay current on trends.
Librarians have to stay “current” if they want to keep their jobs. And it’s challenging to be a thought leader in collection development (the old and the new resources), information literacy, technology, curriculum, pedagogy, inquiry, information systems, coding, digital citizenship, makerspaces, (legal) hacking, disciplinary knowledge, and the list goes on. To be awarded a grant in a competitive environment, I’ve got to have an innovative idea. Grant writing keeps me focused on acquiring a working knowledge of things new to me and my community.

5. To establish community partnerships.
I am introvert. But in grant writing, I am forced to get out of my comfort zone and “cold call” academic experts, local community helpers, or local agencies. Sometimes my cold calls lead to swapping ideas over hot tea or walking around a campus. I get an opportunity to see the start of an idea from a completely different disciplinary or community lens. Not only does this strengthen the grant proposal, it also enhances my ability to serve different constituents. Partnerships help me grow; partners almost always teach me something new or push me to try a new approach. And if the grant project meets a hiccup, partners provide perspective and help brainstorm solutions. Some partnerships last for the term of the grant, other relationships that began as grant partnerships I now consider friendships.

4. To put in practice what I teach my students to do.
As librarians, we co-engage in research activities with our students on a daily basis. But things feel much differently when I’m the author and not the librarian-guide. As a grant writer, I can empathize with students’ information overload during a literature review, or writer’s block in getting started, or the tedium of citing sources that honor all aspects of APA style. Since I’ve been a grant writer, I’m much more flexible with student deadlines because I know what it feels like to want (and need!) one extra day in sprucing up a final product. As a grant writer, I teach (and respond to) students in more compassionate ways, because I not only “hear” their pain, I “feel” it, too.

3. To engage in community service.
Once my community recognizes me as a grant writer, people share with me their own ideas of innovation that they hope to fund. Often times, they ask me to help them with their own funding process. I enjoy teaching other people how to write grants and how to find the “right match” in funding sources. I’ve taught writing courses for universities, senior adult communities, and at local coffee shops.

2. To be a good steward of the money and the ideas.
I find it almost a sacred commitment to receive public funds for a product, service, or project. When I submit a proposal, it is a commitment that I will do what I’ve “dreamed” of doing to the best of my ability. I must spend the money wisely. At the end of the project, I have to honestly disclose to the funding agency whether the product, service, or project “worked” as I originally theorized. Whether it did or didn’t, I still have to share the project with others at local and international conferences. My lessons learned from a particular grant project are my contributions to the body of knowledge related to librarianship (or technology, literacy, engagement, information literacy skills, inquiry, etc). This is my way to help our profession continue moving forward in knowledge and understanding, even when things don’t turn out like I originally theorized.

1. I love to spend money on outstanding students and/or important agendas.
While I have been blessed to work with healthy budgets almost my entire professional career, the joy of spending money on students never gets old. Grant writing gives me an opportunity to spend (unexpectedly more!) funds on important users. As I’ve matured in my grant writing and understanding about essential duties of librarians, I have woven in important agendas to my proposals as well (i.e. global understanding, international mindedness, social justice, etc.).

One more thing: I believe in teacher action research.
Some public schools hire teacher-robots to teach scripted curriculum, and then they penalize their teachers when the standardized test doesn’t show student growth. Teacher action research is a different mindset. Instead, it empowers teacher-intellectuals and requires that they approach their work as a craft and a science. Writing grants gives me an opportunity to engage in the craft and science of teaching, and reminds me that I don’t have to wait on a standardized to test to know if my students were passionately engaged, learned something important, and could successfully apply it in the future. As a grant writer and teacher action researcher, teachers/librarians hold the power, not the standardized test.

And what about you? Why are you a grant writer? If you’ve avoided grant writing, why? How can AASL better support you in our community of learners?

Very truly yours,


Author: Julie Marie Frye

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Professional Development

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