ECYD Alum in Residence: Matt Leighty

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ECYD Alum in Residence with Matt Leighty

Did you miss the ECYD Alum in Residence talk with Matt Leighty? We have you covered!

On October 12th, undergraduate alum Matt Leighty came to talk to UVA students about his unique path to becoming a professional grant writer and an independent contractor in Richmond.

What is grant writing?

Grant writing involves completing the application for a financial or federal grant that is provided by a government federal agency, corporations, or other foundations. Leighty believes grants awarded by the federal state provide stability and regulation in the development sector. Grants offer great financial assistance, but can take 6 weeks to gather information, 6 weeks to write a grant report, which becomes an endless cycle of researching and writing.

How did Matt Leighty become involved in grant writing?

Before becoming an independent contractor in Richmond, Matt began writing materials as a lobbyist while doing his masters in Public policy at Pepperdine University. While completing his masters, he got involved writing federal grants when working on research projects with a professor. He conducted prison interviews with inmates in 7 states centering around probation and parole efforts. Leighty then worked in New York City with a team of 18 where he cold-wrote a grant to the Department of Justice. His boss offered insightful comments and suggestions to his grant applications which taught Leighty that grants are not supposed to be beautifully written, but instead should serve to meet the needs of the organization and follow the application checklist. Leighty suggests students interested in learning how to successfully and efficiently write grants to “find a mean mentor who will beef up your writing.”

After gaining experience in Federal Grant Administration, Leighty became a grant writer for Student Affairs at UCLA for 3 years. He moved to Long Beach with his family where he became unemployed. Leighty stated; “When in doubt, employ yourself,” which propelled him to go to LegalZoom where he started LLC. He cold-called non-profit organizations for 2 years offering his services as a grant writer which became a whole learning process for grant-writing and running his own business. After learning how to manage his own taxes and write-offs, Matt became an independent contractor in California and later moved to Richmond where Leighty & Associates LLC is located today.

What is your writing grant strategy?

Recycle grants as many times as possible to save time and efficiency while updating the applications each round. According to Leighty, “sometimes the story may be buried when it should be the headline”, so be willing to adjust the application and move things around. Leighty starts the applications with “Dear Mom” since the goal is to explain it so when his Mom reads it, she can understand it, along with all readers, at the end of the day. Leighty suggests going for volume, since he writes around 400-500 grants per year, in order to overcome rejection. For this field, it’s recommended to be familiar with sales, clients, strategy, grant writing and reporting, and payroll for employees.

What does this mean for me?

From lobbying on political campaigns, to interviewing inmates for research, to finding a career in grant-writing, there is no one particular path to helping people. After graduating from UVA with a degree in English and a Master’s in Public policy from Pepperdine University, Leighty was still wandering for his purpose and passion. Although Leighty got rejected 60-70% of the time for his grant applications, he persevered to continue his grant-writing profession. Leighty encourages students interested in grant-writing to start practicing by finding a non-profit organization, getting organized, setting a game plan, and writing a couple of grants.

The main takeaway?

“Get comfortable with rejection,” and get “geared towards professional success.”


Keep a lookout in your ECYD community emails for the next Alumni In Residence.