Fundraising Five with Emily Cole-Jones
Describe your role with Fox Advancement. Why are you passionate about your work?
I am the Director of Institutional Support, which means I oversee Fox Advancement’s services relating to funding from institutions. That includes grant writing from federal, state, corporate, or foundation funders, as well as grants assessments to uncover funding prospects, and grant readiness services to help organizations prepare to write and receive grants. In terms of our work at Fox, I like to relate our work back to the Fred Roger’s quote, “Look for the helpers”—at Fox, we get to “help the helpers.” It’s humbling to be walking alongside so many incredible organizations as they put grant funding to use changing lives. Because the payout can be significant, federal grants in particular present an immense opportunity for organizations to create a tangible impact in their community or region, and it’s so fulfilling to play a role in making that possible.
How long have you worked with Fox Advancement?
Kevin [Fox] gave me my start in fundraising almost 20 years ago as a Development Assistant. Since then, the firm has grown exponentially, and I have served in various roles, both as a subcontractor and direct team member. I have worked for other nonprofits along the way and forged some great relationships, but I’ve always maintained a strong connection with Fox, and most recently rejoined the staff in the fall of 2018. I keep coming back, not because I’m a glutton for punishment (although maybe a little!), but because of the level of expertise, professionalism, and respect the firm has for our clients, for the work itself, and for each other. Kevin has and continues to be a mentor and friend, as do the colleagues I have the privilege of working with every day.
What do you enjoy most about Federal Grants? What is an example of a fundraising challenge you've faced, and how did you overcome it?
For me, grant writing has been the common thread throughout all my various fundraising experiences. Federal grants are intense and demanding, but can be incredibly rewarding. Just by nature of the level of research and information gathering required to complete a federal grant application, grant writers essentially become subject matter experts in a very short period of time. (Ask me sometime about riverbank hazard mitigation and stabilization, higher-blend biofuel infrastructure incentives, or what the acronym “TAACCCT” stands for!) Regarding an example of a fundraising challenge, virtually every federal grant poses multiple challenges, not the least of which is getting all the needed parties around a table (or Zoom meeting, as it were) to come to consensus on the focus of the grant. One grant that I coordinated and wrote on behalf of a client to the Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration involved a lead applicant with half a dozen partners—there were 24 voices around that particular table, each with their own vision of how the grant should be used. The good news is, through respectful discussion and a cost-benefit analysis, we arrived at a consensus. We developed a compelling $3 million application, submitted the grant without any technical issues, and it was awarded! A best-case scenario.
What is a particularly memorable interaction you've had with a Federal Grants client?
A common denominator among my initial interactions with federal grant clients is their sheer relief that there are people (i.e., our stellar writers at Fox Advancement) who are willing to take on the heavy lifting of developing the federal grant application. This is especially true for clients who are new to federal grants. I think our team really shines in this area—we are able to take complex RFPs and technical requirements and distill them down into manageable and understandable components, making the process less daunting, and let’s be honest, less scary! The best compliment I received from a federal grant client was that I made their application sing. If you’ve ever read a federal RFP—which, if we’re using the musical analogy, is about the most monotone or even dissonant sound imaginable—you will understand how much I treasure that feedback!
On a personal note: Describe your perfect day from beginning to end!
On the perfect day, I’m waking up at first light on a quiet, cool summer morning at my family’s lake cabin in northern Minnesota, enjoying a hot cup of coffee straight from the percolator, and heading out for a leisurely paddle in the canoe on a glassy lake. Coming back for snack of wild blueberries under the white pines, and then spending the rest of the day reading and napping in the hammock, floating lazily in the water, and sunning on the dock, with many snacks and beverages in between. Grilled brats for dinner and a cozy campfire with s’mores in the evening, listening to the calls of loons and tree frogs, and watching fireflies light up the beach. Nothing better!