Amber Ewing didn’t begin her career as a grant writer, or even work in the nonprofit sector, until she stepped foot into Mississippi Food Network (MFN) a year and a half ago as its new grant writer. With a journalism and English background, writing has always been a passion of Ewing’s, but writing grant proposals involves a different set of skills.
- One has to have passion for the mission.
For Ewing, this is not a problem: “The Mississippi Food Network services 56 out of 82 counties in Mississippi. We have many programs, including an emergency food program, a child-feeding program, a supplemental food program that serves seniors, and a nutrition education program.
“Even before working here, I loved the mission of this organization.”
- There is a fine balance between presenting the facts of a situation and including an emotional aspect.
“Our service area has a 21.5 percent food insecurity rate. We want to share that information, but we also want to include an emotional appeal that pulls the reader in and makes them want to give us money,” Ewing explained.
- Grant management
“The post-award phase, when you receive the money, is incredibly important. You need to figure out beforehand how to administer the money and report best practices to the funder. Funders want to know that you’re acting as a good steward of their money and that you do what you say you will with it.”
While Ewing recognized the importance of all of these skills, she also knew that she wanted to learn more. The MFN already had a partnership with Tyson Foods, who awarded MFN with a capital grant to redo and refurbish their freezers and to change all of the light bulbs to LED bulbs in the facility.
“Those partnerships existed before I started working with MFN,” Ewing said.
“Then, we were also awarded another grant to partner with them for our mobile pantry, which serves one county in Mississippi with fresh produce, canned goods, boxes of pasta, and fresh protein. I wrote that proposal, and it’s been great to watch our partnership with Tyson Foods evolve through that program and others.”
When Tyson Foods sent an invitation to apply for a scholarship grant to attend a course with The Fund Raising School, Ewing saw the perfect opportunity to further enhance her proposal writing and management skills. With encouragement from her director, she applied for the scholarship, was one of 20 people accepted, and attended the course Proposal Writing and Grant Management in March.
“During the course, I learned to never take no for an answer. Introducing yourself to a foundation, even if they haven’t previously shown interest in your organization, never hurts,” Ewing said. “In addition, the importance of establishing and continuing relationships with potential funders was also emphasized on the first day.
“On the second day, we went over best practices for evaluations in addition to preparing proposals and managing and stewarding the project. I’ve taken courses on proposal writing and grant management before, but The Fund Raising School’s course is definitely the most comprehensive course I’ve had.”
In addition to learning new material in the course, Ewing enjoyed meeting other grant writers and development professionals.
“Hearing people bounce ideas off one another helped me gather ideas for my own process,” she said. “It was a very collaborative course, with people coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and experience, with room for questions and exercises as well.”
Since the course, Ewing is implementing the skills, knowledge, and confidence gained from the course: “I have increased the number of prospective grant funders for Mississippi Food Network, and I feel more confident in building new relationships with foundations.”
Thanks to Tyson Foods, 57 more scholarships will be granted to individuals in 17 states to attend The Fund Raising School courses in order to grow their knowledge and expand their capacities to serve their communities.