Advancing Nonprofit Capacity

Improving Our Profession through Ethical Practice and Professional Development

In this our third Linky Party blog, we’ll discuss the eight competencies of the Grant Professionals Certification Institute (the elements upon which the exam for GPC certification are based). Click on the links in this blog for more great information from our esteemed colleagues Jana Jane Hexter, Diane Leonard, Jo Miller, and Mark Whitacre. You can also read our two previous Linky Party blogs for more information and additional links.

We Love You Funders…But We Need to Talk

Spring Renewal: Add Power and Precision to Your Proposals


The 8 Competencies of a Grant Professional

To earn my GPC (Grant Professional Certified), I had to show my competence in eight areas critical to any grant seeker’s success.

  1. Knowledge of how to craft, construct and submit an effective grant application
  2. Knowledge of strategies for effective programs and project design and development
  3. Knowledge of how to research, identify, and match funding resources to meet specific needs
  4. Knowledge of organizational development as it pertains to grant seeking
  5. Nationally recognized standards of ethical practice by grant professionals
  6. Knowledge of post-award grant management practices sufficient to inform effective grant design and development
  7. Knowledge of methods and strategies that cultivate and maintain relationships between fund-seeking and recipient organizations and funders
  8. Knowledge of practices and services that raise the level of professionalism of grant developers

Each of the links in the list above will take you to an article from one of my Linky Party colleagues, experts all in how you can build your core competencies in grant seeking. In this blog, I’ll cover competencies #5 & #8: Ethics and Professional Development.


Competency #5: Ethical Grant Writing

Today I’m at the fabulous GPA South Florida Chapter’s annual regional conference. Such energy! I’m impressed with both the turnout (approximately 100 professional grant writers) and that the attendees include folks for whom this is their first year in grant writing to professionals with more than 30 years of experience in the field. I am thankful to Alan Tiano and Lisa Chutjian for inviting me to present to such an engaged audience on the topic of Social Return on Investment (SROI), but I’m also thankful because it allowed me to add some data to the first part of my blog today: ethical grant writing.

So let’s start with what we know. The Grant Professional Certification Institute states that Competency #5 is “Knowledge of nationally recognized standards of ethical practice by grant developers.” Ethics are the “moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behaviors.” I imagine all of you know right from wrong, and you have your own moral code upon which you make decisions. Your morals/ethical framework may be based on the tenants of your faith or on the writings of a philosopher. Ultimately, ethical considerations come BEFORE the GPC or membership in the Grant Professionals Association or Association of Fundraising Professionals. Meaning: when you sign up for these membership orgs or sit for the exam, you say you’ll follow the Code of Ethics. If you already know your own ethical compass, complying with Competency #5 should be easy.

Ok, but so what? Just what is ethical grant writing practice?

I walked around the conference and confronted participants with a simple question: “When I say the words ‘ethical grant writing,’ what is the first thing that comes to mind?” The sample of participants I questioned provided some revealing answers with common themes.

  • Honesty (five responses)
  • No exaggeration (three responses)
  • “Are we doing what we said we would do?” (two responses)
  • Alignment—no chasing grants (two responses)
  • How we support nonprofit leaders to maintain ethical business practices as relates to grant seeking (ex. Financial management that follow GAAP, Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, even among the smallest nonprofits)
  • Appropriate use and management of private/public dollars
  • Compensation
  • Avoiding conflict of interest

They’re all right. Competency #5 states professional grant writers must be able to:

  1. Identify characteristics of business relationships that result in conflicts of interest or give the appearance of conflicts of interest.
  2. Identify circumstances that mislead stakeholders, have an appearance of impropriety, profit stakeholders other than the intended beneficiaries, and appear self-serving.
  3. Identify effects of choices that foster or suppress cultural diversity and pluralistic values.
  4. Distinguish between truthful and untruthful, and accurate and inaccurate representations in grant development, including research and writing.
  5. Identify issues, effects, and countermeasures pertinent to grant professionals’ individual heritages, backgrounds, knowledge and experiences as they may affect the grant development process.
  6. Identify funding sources that may present conflicts of interest for specific grant seekers and applicants.
  7. Identify issues and practices pertinent to communicating information that may be considered privileged, proprietary, and confidential.
  8. Identify unethical and illegal expenditures in a budget.

Bottom line: Know thyself. Think about your ethics before you decide to become a member or sit for your exam.


Competency #8: Professional Development

The final competency on the GPC list is that of professional development. It states, “Knowledge of practices and services that raise the level of professionalism of grant developers.” How do we do that?

If you have lots of experience in grant writing but don’t yet have your GPC, consider it. We writers with extensive experience MUST lead the next generation. It’s our duty to our profession and to the nonprofits we serve. By attaining your GPC, you show other writers, nonprofits, the business community, and the public that

  1. Grant writing is a credible profession, like being a lawyer, doctor, or a financial manager.
  1. We are each professionals, meaning we abide by certain standards of professional practice.
  1. We deserve the same amount of respect and credibility professionals derive from other certifications, like the CFRE among our counterparts in fundraising.

To raise our own level of professionalism, as individuals we MUST read, attend conferences, read, participate in webinars, read, and—perhaps most importantly—mentor the next generation of nonprofit professionals. It behooves us as a profession to make sure the strides the first generation of professional grant writers have gained for us are put to good use. We all drink from a well we did not dig. I am thankful to professionals like Beverly Browning, Linda Lysakowski, Bernard Turner, and many, many others who serve as examples of excellence in grant writing. We owe it to them and the people we serve to keep the pace going, to make sure we maintain professional standards, and to always strive for excellence. That’s what this competency business is all about: a devotion to lifelong learning that will push us as individuals and as a profession to the next level.

Want some fresh ideas on professional development? Check out our other blogs on the topic.

It’s Time to Dig In

Don’t Overlook Your Most Obvious Professional Development Opportunities

Professional Development on a Budget

Taking Time for Professional Development


How are you pushing our profession forward?


Heather Stombaugh, MBA, GPC

Principal Consultant

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1 Comment

  1. August 13, 2014    

    Great piece Heather! Competency #8 is one that I spend a lot of time thinking about these days due to co-moderating #grantchat. I would add #grantchat to the list of professional development opportunities that exist for grant professionals which you outlined. In particular for those of us that are in rural communities and/or don’t have GPA chapters nearby yet, it is a great way to dialogue with other colleagues. Looking forward to having these topics discussed in more detail on #grantchat in the upcoming weeks!

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  1. Grant Professional Certified - JM Grants | JM Grants on August 3, 2014 at 12:19 am
  2. Question Preview: Ethical Practices in Grant Development | #GrantChat on August 15, 2014 at 2:45 pm
  3. Professionalism for Grant Pros | #GrantChat on September 12, 2014 at 1:51 am

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