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Grant Writing Credentials Redux

Two comments on Credentials for Grant Writers—If I Only Had A Brain caught my attention: one is an elegantly written response challenging some aspects of my argument and the other a screechy attack.

In the first response, Marcia Ford agrees with my statements about “bogus credentials,” but defends the credential offered by the American Association of Grant Professionals, the organization she represents. Her reply is not all that surprising, as Ms. Ford helped develop the credential and presumably supports a product she sells. Now, it may anger some to call her organization’s grant writing credential a “product,” but that’s what it is, and one that sells for $595—not a small amount for the average struggling would-be grant writer. Her primary organization has set up a nonprofit to develop and market the credential.

Many entities sell services and products to nonprofits and their personnel. These include unabashed businesses, such as Seliger + Associates or Office Depot, nonprofits like Ms. Ford’s Grant Professionals Certification Institute, and businesses that look like nonprofits, such as Charity Channel (Charity Channel is particularly interesting as they describe themselves as “a resource that connects nonprofit colleagues around the world” on their FAQ page, but don’t make it obvious that they are a for-profit business, veiling themselves behind a wall of altruistic statements).

So, are Ms. Ford’s comments accurate and is the product worth the price? I think not in both cases. She says that “writing is not all there is to grant development any more.” Grant writing has always included more than writing (e.g., imagination, being to work under pressure, etc.), but as Rabbi Hillel said when asked by a heathen to explain Jewish law, “What is hateful to thee, do not unto thy fellow man: this is the whole Law; the rest is mere commentary.” Grant writing is about writing and the rest is mere commentary, including Ms. Ford’s other eight “competencies.” If you can’t write well under pressure, who cares if you know all there is to know about “grant readiness,” whatever than is. I’m heartened to know that “major training companies” are “aligning their curriculums to cover these skills.” I assume she’s talking about The Grantsmanship Center, which is also a “nonprofit” business that exists to sell products to other nonprofits. If there are others, I would be interested to learn of them.

Ms. Ford is also proud that the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NOCA) will soon accredit their certification. According to her, they accredit certifications from “poison control to nurse practitioners.” It might be meaningful if they accredited journalists, novelists, or other writers, although it is interesting to think of grant writing in the context of poison control. But writing has nothing to do with vocational skills like nursing. In addition, the GPC exam was developed by an Institute at the University of South Florida, which certifies public teachers in the state. This might not be an optimal comparison, since competency tests for teachers are notoriously lax (Jake can attest to this, as he took the Washington test, which he says is slightly more complicated than holding up a mirror to check for breath). Just for fun, I went to the Florida Department of Education website to see how effective the certified teachers are doing in Florida and found that 34% of 12th graders achieve a score of 3 or higher (5-point scale) on the FCAT Reading Test, meaning that 2/3 of high school seniors have not learned to read adequately. Even more fun is that 69% of 3rd graders score 3 or higher on the test—apparently the longer a young person is subjected to certified teachers, the worse the outcome.

Now, I’m just having fun manipulating data, so don’t get too excited. I appreciate the work of public school teachers, sent all three of my kids to public schools and am myself a graduate of Cooper High School in Robbinsdale, MN (go Hawks!). But the tests necessary to become a teacher don’t seem to have much to do with teaching skill or establish anything more than a bare minimum of knowledge. Going back to Ms. Ford, she concludes by alluding to “industry-recognized standards,” without stating what industry and who is doing the recognizing, other than her own organization, which sells the certification, the contractor that developed the exam, and the accrediting agency, all of which are collecting fees and none of which is a disinterested party. But I would guess that she is a good grant writer because as her comment is a great example of specious writing, an essential competency for all grant writers.

The more grating comment comes from the self-proclaimed “Ethical Grantwriter,” who confuses training and testing. For example, she/he wants to know if I would hire an accountant who “wasn’t a CPA” or a lawyer who “didn’t pass the bar.” Probably not, but then again, the CPA exam and bar exam are well established credentials with decades of broad society recognition. I’ll check back in 50 years and, if Ms. Ford’s certification is still around, perhaps I’ll take the test. Also, our Ethical Grantwriter fails to point out that one cannot take the CPA or bar exams without first completing years of post-secondary education. Anybody with $595 can take Ms. Ford’s exam and perhaps pass, but I can’t just trot down to take the bar exam. Finally, the “academic study” of grant writing means taking college journalism and English classes, which is what I suggested. Perhaps, he does agree with me, but is just confused. I suggest she/he stop staring at RFPs and have a couple of cocktails.

So, keep those comments coming. One of the central reasons for starting Grant Writing Confidential was to encourage the exchange of ideas about grant writing and it seems we’re succeeding.