10 books every grant writer needs

Dr. Judy Riffle shares her top 10 must-know books for professional grant writers looking to hone their craft


I hesitate to limit a list of books to ten since I have such a long list of books I still want and need to read. However, here is my attempt at narrowing that list down to ten books that grant professionals should have on their bookshelf or in whatever form they prefer to read.

This list is compiled from both my all-time favorites and upon recommendations from other grant professionals. I hope you find it helpful and that it motivates you to pick up one of these books and continue a joyful journey of learning.

  1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

    “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” Find some motivational quotes from this book on Goodreads. This book will always be my favorite writing book. Stephen King’s wry humor combines with his wisdom and writing skills in an effortless manner. A book that can be read again and again. Mr. King, I strive to avoid adverbs as you advise, but sometimes, I need a good adverb.
  2. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

    This is a must grammar and language use reference book for writers. It resides on my bookshelf as far back as I can remember.
  3. Grant Writing Revealed: 25 Experts Share Their Art, Science, & Secrets by Jana Hexter

    Published in 2012, this book remains a grant writer’s handbook classic in my opinion. Jana interviewed 25 successful grant writers and shares 24 tips for developing competitive, successful proposals. A book I need to revisit soon.
  4. The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership by John Wooden and Steve Jamison

    There are plenty of leadership books, and this is one of my favorites. And yes, grant professionals need to be leaders in their field to help teams develop successful proposals. While I am not a huge sports fan, this book distills motivational insights from a coach who led teams of people to successful outcomes both on the basketball court and in life. As Coach Wooden said, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” and “Drink deeply from good books.”  
  5. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland

    The title says it all. This leadership method is widely used in successful technology companies along with other organizations, including a successful grant consultant team I work with currently. When I work with a team not using Scrum, I feel less efficient and more alone.
  6. The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit 

    This book is still on my to read list, and I have heard so many people recommend it. An autobiography and a treatise on storytelling and empathy.
  7. Unicorns Unite: How Nonprofits and Foundations Can Build Epic Partnerships by Jessamyn Shams-Lau, Jane Leu, and Vu Le

    Vu Le is one of my favorite nonprofit blog writers, and I still need to read this book about the importance of partnerships, equity, and justice.
  8. Nonprofit Bookkeeping & Accounting for Dummies by Sharon Farris

    An important reference book for nonprofits to understand financial terminology and to remember that budgets also tell the story in grant proposals.
  9. Perfect Phrases for Writing Grant Proposals by Beverly Browning

    Any book by Beverly Browning is worth reading since she is a rock star in the grant professional world. This book provides handy phrases to use, what supporting documents are needed, and other proposal tips.
  10. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler 

    So many people recommend this book for helping with those difficult conversations we all face.       
Photo/Marc Bashoor

April Dewey, a former kindergarten teacher, always told her students, “Reading and writing are best friends. The more you grow in one it will help you in the other.” So true! What books are you planning to read in the next year?

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