August 25, 2011

Red-Letter Day: It’s Official! July 14

I have been struggling for a couple weeks now about what to write for a TGP newsletter article. Given the ups and downs of the grant writing world (it’s enough to give a gal whiplash, I swear), I had two polar opposites in mind for potential topics:

  • Topic 1: Red-Letter Day at TGP! (Red-Letter Day officially declared to be July 14, 2011, by TGP team)
  • Topic 2: Throw in the Towel!

In the heat of a federal grant application (and despite my own calming influence in “The Federal Grant Application Process: Not Such a Nail-Biter After All”), I first chose Topic 2, and wrote a scathing article about the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the ACF Grant Reviewers panel (a third-party group, Lux Consulting), and the cumbersome process in general.[1] But, despite that gloomy start, I realized that: (1) I shouldn’t conduct therapy in such a public setting; so (2) I should focus on the positive. And there is a lot to be positive about at TGP.

For starters, I get to work with the smartest bunch of people I know, and I learn something new everyday. Let me tell you a bit about our team, and you will see why I am so thrilled to be a part of this group:

  • Tara Gohr, President/CEO: Tara is the visionary and the engine behind TGP. If it wasn’t for Tara, honestly, I think TGP would have ground to a halt several years ago, as the going got tough. Tara is the embodiment of the “tough get going.” She proudly introduces TGP as her “third child,” and it really is true. I think TGP gets at least that much love and attention from Tara. She first acted on the idea that nonprofit executives and administrators needed assistance seeking and writing grants, and she still moves forward today with the best interest of nonprofits in mind. She takes grant notices so personally that one of our clients, when he tells her of an award prefaces it with, “It’s nothing to cry about, but…” (She cries both tears of joy and sorrow!)
  • Aly Sanchez, Director of Projects: Aly is probably the best conceptual thinker I have met, if not of our era! She takes something that is half-baked, and brings it to a point that not only makes sense, but also is graphically beautiful. She also makes us question ourselves, in ways we wouldn’t have done – or thought of! – without her. She constantly surprises us with her knowledge about a variety of topics, whether it’s beekeeping, architecture, organic gardening, obscure board games, environmental conservation, politics, cooking, healthcare…the list goes on. Tara and I count ourselves unbelievably lucky that Aly took a chance on TGP a few years ago. Someone really ought to elect her to office (“Vote for Aly for Any Office!” Whatever it is, she will improve it!).
  • Suzanne Dillon, Senior Resource Development Officer: Suzanne is the absolute best person I know at being funny in a professional way. Think about those two words (funny and professional) and how often they go together – not often, and she is a master at it!  Suzanne is very passionate about our clients’ causes, and is able to think analytically at both a conceptual and detail level at the same time – another very rare combination. Another thing I love about Suzanne is that she, in many ways, taught herself the grant writing profession, which is testament to her perseverance, intelligence, and energy. Completely unrelated to grant writing but still a very attractive quality, Suzanne has an enviable shoe collection. You cannot help but tell her that her shoes are wonderful upon meeting her.
  • Wendy McCoy, Resource Development Officer: Wendy is the best researcher. Often, in situations when the rest of us would get frustrated, Wendy is the one who sticks out the Google search until she finds that golden nugget of information that has eluded the rest of us. One of the best descriptors I have for her is determined (both in research and in grant writing). She is also eternally positive – it takes a lot to ruffle her. Her laugh is infectious. She has been with us as long as Aly has, and there was something about Wendy that drew Tara and me to her. It could have been that laugh; it could have been the fact she was glowingly pregnant (really, we were also both very-new moms at the time); it could have been her go-getter attitude. But whatever it was, we are so glad we found her! We miss her presence in New Mexico (Wendy now works remotely from Virginia) and we loved the fact that she came all the way back for the TGP holiday party in December last year.
  • Marya Roddis, Resource Development Officer: Marya came to us with the statement that she had heard such good things about TGP, and with her stellar record of grant seeking, we were thrilled to welcome her! Marya adds a grounding presence to TGP. She reminds us to breathe, which is a surprisingly fabulous thing to do, especially when those deadlines are looming. She balances the ever-constant presence of work and deadlines with the sense of the natural beauty of Chama, where she lives and writes from. With this inspired setting, Marya brings to life many of our clients’ programs, and describes them in a detail that makes you wonder how she has not yet had the opportunity to see them in action.
  • Holly Smith, Resource Development Officer: Holly is the newest addition to TGP, and her enthusiasm not only for grant writing, but the prospects inherent in the business itself is contagious! Her thirst for knowledge and excellence was reminiscent of hiring Suzanne, and working with her brings back a new excitement to TGP.
  • Paula Azua, Business Manager: Without Paula’s dedication to ensuring the business aspect of TGP is in order, we would all be lost. Paula recently earned the coveted Linus the Leprechaun, who is TGP’s internal good luck charm and traveling mascot for a job-well-done. While Linus is awarded at will by the previous recipient, Paula’s commitment to excellence in billing and records-keeping made her the natural recipient most recently. Plus, she is a lot of fun at happy hour, and that is a major bonus for any bookkeeper!

Along with working with these wonderful and super-smart people, TGP had Red-Letter Day on July 14, 2011! And how can that go un-announced? While we are always excited about any grant announcement that comes in, Red-Letter Day was especially exceptional. First, one of our clients got the news of a large federal grant award. Following on the heels of that was a slew of award notifications to another client, all on the same day, and finally, a third client was given an award that represented the entire funding amount distributed by a foundation because the proposal was so compelling (obviously the proposal was based on a stellar program!). Frankly, I’m sure that all proposals that were submitted by TGP during the week of July 14 also had a certain magic touch to them. If the string of award notices wasn’t enough, Tara’s son, age 9, shared this the morning before we got all these notices: He said he had a “funny dream about The Grant Plant. We were at the bank [Tara’s kids often join in the family business] and the ‘money machine’ wouldn’t stop spitting money out!” — a funny dream…or eerily on target?

So…maybe this newsletter is therapy too, like my original. But it is better therapy. It is positive, and I leave the article with a renewed love for TGP and our mission. Helping nonprofits obtain the funding they need for their missions truly is WHY we do what we do every day (and lots of evenings, and some weekends…!). Thank you for the opportunity.

Contact: Erin Hielkema, Vice President,

[1] As I mentioned in that article, which will not be published in order to protect the public from its vitriol, a 40-page submission required including a complete audit—the audit was part of the 40 pages!! I am still not over that, and I can feel my annoyance seeping through my writing two weeks later. (Do they want to know about the project they are potentially funding, or don’t they??) You’ll see that the annoyance level remains high enough that these agencies are still mentioned by name. In the words of the Dixie Chicks, “I’m not ready to make nice, I’m not ready to back down. I’m still mad as hell, and I don’t have time to go round and round and round…” If you watch the video, subtract the straitjacket scene from my frustration (it wasn’t THAT bad!), and help me remember that time heals everything.

This post was filed under: