Up the Ladder: Career Advancement for Grant Professionals


As the yearly calendar starts anew, you may be busy renewing your gym membership, searching for that lost diet plan, or shopping for a new agenda to keep yourself organized. On a professional level, now is also a great time to pause and reflect on your career accomplishments and goals. Perhaps you are looking to expand your responsibilities or break into a leadership role, but how do you make that leap? How can you ensure that you are adequately prepared for that next big promotion?

The 70-20-10 Model

One attempt to answer these questions appeared in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “A Simple Way to Map Out Your Career Ambitions.” The article discusses the research-based 70-20-10 model, which suggests that 70% of professional growth stems from work experiences, while 20% is a result of personal interactions, and a mere 10% derives from formal education. So much for that graduate degree! All joking aside, I found the 70-20-10 model’s emphasis on on-the-job experiences to be surprising yet logical, and wondered how we could use it to create a framework for career growth aimed at grant professionals.

Let’s have a look at some ideas.

70% - Work Experiences

Determine Your Road to Success
The aforementioned article emphasizes the need to define where you are (i.e. a grantwriter who manages a small portfolio of grants) and where you are going (i.e. a development director in charge of managing a team for a $5 million capital campaign). From there, you can interview experts in your field to identify the types of experiences you need to grow your career. A great way to connect with experts in the field of grants is to join a professional association, such as the Grant Professionals Association, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, or the Philanthropy Career Network. Drawing on the knowledge of the professionals who you interview, you can create a “personal experience map” of the types of work-related experiences that will propel you towards your goals.

Expand Your Opportunities for On-The-Job Learning
Now that you have defined the types of know-how that you need to reach your goals, you can expand your opportunities for on-the-job learning experiences.

GrantStation’s PathFinder website is designed to help you develop your career path, as it contains quality resources on grant research, writing, and management as well as strategic planning. Let’s look at a few ideas for maximizing this resource.

Create a Customized Curriculum
The Find Your Path tool, which consists of a short questionnaire, provides a customized learning curriculum based on your role, level of experience, and the topics you are interested in learning more about. The results are then displayed with timely events (such as conferences and live webinars) appearing first, followed by quick study (i.e. articles), and then deep dive (i.e. books) resources. This makes it easy to plug upcoming learning experiences into your agenda or browse other resources of interest based on your available time.

Target Your Areas of Interest
Applying the 70-20-10 model, you could also use the Pathfinder’s keyword search to encounter resources specific to your personal experience map or your to-do list at work. For example, if you are preparing for a Giving Tuesday campaign you might specifically seek out resources related to that topic or related to online fundraising in general.

Hone Experiences Based on Your Learning Style
On the Pathfinder homepage, you can also browse the library of resources by category: Articles and Reports, Blogs, Books and Workbooks, Courses, Certificate and Degree Programs, Conferences, Live Webinars, Newsletters and Magazines, Recorded Webinars and Podcasts, Tools, and Workshops and Trainings.

If the sheer variety of choices makes your head spin, you can narrow these down by first determining how you learn best. The VARK questionnaire, a learning preference assessment tool, can help you decide if you are a Visual, Aural, Read/Write, or Kinesthetic learner. Based on your results, you can search out Pathfinder resources specific to your learning style. For example, I took the quiz and scored equally as an Aural (or auditory) and Read/Write learner. Thus, I would probably benefit most from resources such as podcasts, books, and articles. On the other hand, a visual learner may gain more from visually-oriented resources such as webinars, while a kinesthetic learner may prefer to use interactive online tools or move from booth to booth at a conference.

Get On-The-Job Experience Even Without a Job
If most professional development occurs at work, what can you do if you are between jobs, or would like to move beyond the opportunities offered by your current employer? If this is the case, you can explore new opportunities on the Grant Writer Team website. Grant professionals can offer their services through this site by bidding on available jobs, which focus on topics such as grant research, grant writing, program evaluation, crowdfunding, and more.

20% - Personal Interactions

Find a Mentor
If you work in the field of grants, chances are that you may be the only one in that role at your organization, or that you work as a consultant. If this is the case, your on-the-job learning may be a bit limited in the sense that you are not receiving feedback from others in your field.

The GPA Mentor Match Program, offered by the Grant Professionals Association, offers an opportunity for GPA members to be either a mentor or mentee, or both. Mentors and mentees usually meet once a month on the phone or in person. In order to qualify as a mentor, individuals must have three years of experience in the grant profession, either as an employee or a volunteer. Mentees can use the GrantZone to search for mentor profiles that match with their professional interests.

10% - Formal Education

Enroll in a Certificate or Degree Program
For those looking to formalize their learning, the Pathfinder website also provides a listing of certificate and degree programs of interest to those working in the world of grants as well as other nonprofit professionals.

If there is one takeaway from the 70-20-10 model, it’s the importance of maximizing on-the-job learning to advance professionally. To learn more on the topic of career development, check out Inside Philanthropy's series of articles called Your Philanthropy Career. Recent articles have included How to Advance Professionally and Ace the Interview for Your Next Fundraising Job. With the right combination of learning experiences and planning, by this time next year, you will have made considerable career strides.

Action steps you can take today
  • Watch the video on the PathFinder homepage to learn more about how to utilize this professional development resource.
  • Take the VARK questionnaire to determine your learning style and get the most out of PathFinder resources.
  • Click on the links above to join a professional association or enroll in the GPA Mentor Match program.
  • Subscribe to Inside Philanthropy for unlimited access to the Your Philanthropy Career articles and philanthropy-related news.