Become an Employee
At the opposite end of the affiliation continuum from working on your own
is one final stopping off point becoming an employee. This
is an alternative rarely considered by the individual grantseeker.
Yet it is a perfectly viable option. In certain specific instances,
it is really the only option, since some types of grants
are awarded solely to institutions, e.g., grants for building or
renovation, salaries, general operating expenses, or the purchase
of equipment. In these cases and others, the more informal sponsorship
arrangement simply is not enough to qualify the individual for funding.
If the potential funders you've identified make grants only to organizations,
or if the idea you have in mind is one for which only an institution
may apply for a grant, you may decide to join an institution.
Becoming an employee of a nonprofit organization
need not be as intimidating as it initially appears. On the one hand you do stand
to lose some degree of control over the direction of your ideas. On the other
hand, you stand to gain a great deal in terms of steady pay for a period of
time, medical insurance, pension plans, and other fringe benefits. The greatest
fringe benefit of all, of course, is access to all the resources at the
disposal of the institution, not the least of which is grant money.
When seeking out a potential institutional
employer, follow many of the same criteria that you used in seeking a sponsor.
The type of work environment you should look for is one that stimulates the
creative side of the worker and permits competent individuals to pursue their
own areas of inquiry, not just the work of teams. Talk to regular employees and
other individuals who are conducting grant projects under the auspices of this
organization. Ask about working conditions. How much of the day-to-day work
time is involved in attending meetings, conferences, administrative details,
and other forms of team interplay?
The ideal situation would be selecting an
organization that already has grant money and excellent ongoing relationships
with several funders and convincing that organization to hire you as a paid
employee to work on your idea. This is not as far beyond the realm of
possibility as you might think. Others have performed similar feats in the
What is more likely, however, is that you will
find some nonprofit agency active in your field of endeavor or in a related
field, that has not had outside funding before but whose leaders are anxious to
seek grants in your field of specialization. Various types of community
organizations and arts groups in particular fall under this category. New
groups starting up and those branching out might be particularly interested in
seeking funding. Occasionally, even larger organizations like libraries,
museums, hospitals, or educational or research institutions might agree to
become employers of those seeking grants.
Before you can get your own grant project off the ground, however,
as an employee you may have to spend some time working with the
leadership of the institution to identify funders, write proposals,
and build up an ongoing grants-seeking program. You become, in effect,
their temporary in-house grantsperson. The situation just described
is not an uncommon occurrence. Although you stand to lose some time
you would otherwise spend working on the development of your own
grant idea, the experience and contacts gained may prove invaluable
to you and your career.
Keep in mind that full-time employment need not be forever. Such
an affiliation need be no longer than your brief relationship with
a sponsor. The employer will probably want you to guarantee that
you will stay with the organization for the duration of your own
project or until funds run out. However, when your tenure is over,
you can go on to other projects. In the meantime, you can view the
work within the institution as a sort of "paid graduate school,"
where you learn new skills and prepare for work on your own while
collecting a salary to boot. If you decide to become an employee
of a nonprofit, an excellent resource is Richard Nelson Bolles'
What Color Is Your Parachute 2003: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters
and Career (Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 2002).