An Interview with Grant Consultant & Program Developer Stephanie Watson
By Rachel L. West
Advocacy & Community Outreach Consultant
One of the first posts ever written for The Political Social Worker was Job Search for a Macro Social Worker. I later turned into a series of articles then a webinar. That series is the heart of this blog. I started this blog because of the frustration I felt as a new MSW who wanted to focus on macro issues, but who found very little direction about how to pursue community practice work. I knew there had to be others out there who felt the same. I was right.
A common concern I hear raised by new social workers is that they receive little to no guidance with regards to pursuing a macro career. Much of what they are told in their programs is about seeking direct practice jobs that will place them on the path to clinical practice. Late last year, as I was pondering the blog’s 2014 editorial calendar I had an idea. Why not interview established macro social workers about their career? My hope is that the interviews will provide new professionals will some insight and direction with regards to career planning.
This week’s interview is with Stephanie Watson. Stephanie is a grant consultant and program developer based in Atlanta, Georgia. In the interview Stephanie discusses how she got into grant writing, gives advice to aspiring grant writers, offers tips to new social workers about serving on boards, and her thoughts on macro social work licensing.
Rachel West: Did you attend a social work program with a macro track? Do you think attending a program with a macro track matters in the long run?
Stephanie Watson: Yes, I did attend a social work program with a specific macro track. Absolutely and most definitely to me, it mattered! It solidified my decision to work in the field but not necessarily one-on-one in a clinical way. I believe that there is power in the knowledge and skills that I gained, and that I developed and honed. It opened my eyes to a whole new world – that I felt like was mine for the taking. In almost everything I do, I think MACRO, I think BIG picture. I think implications, and cause and effect. And I think, what can be done to make things better overall? Where are the holes and what is missing? What is working and what isn’t? What is obvious, and what is unique and unconventional, (what) connections need to be made?
It gave me a structure, a framework, with which to hang my thoughts, my ideas and ideals… for me to move around in and for me to question the world around me. It gave me the backdrop of social justice and idea of, within our groups, organizations, families, communities, states and so on, there are common themes and threads that we ALL share. My social “work” is about the community in which individuals live, work, play and raise families. It’s about protecting the vulnerable, the underserved, and advocating for those who can’t do it for themselves. Instead of one person at a time, I look at from the organizations that serve these individuals, the policies that impact them, the health of the communities in which they live, and groups of people that surround them.
RW: Post MSW did you obtain any additional degrees, certificates, or licensing? If so what were they?
SW: It’s funny that you ask this question. This is something that I struggle with all the time. I would be enrolled in school, workshops, and classes ALL the time if I could afford the time and the money to do so. I am a single mom with three young boys. I have never been faced with the necessity to obtain my license. My jobs have all been in the part of the field where I was developing programs, doing research, writing proposals, doing advocacy for vulnerable populations, and project development and management. The places where I did the majority of my work did not require a license. I would love for National NASW (to) think about Planning, Policy, Administration and/or Research licensure. That is probably a long way off though!
I, however, have not ruled anything out. I have thought about getting a second Masters in something like Public Administration – not quite sure if that is my niche either. Like I said, I have not ruled out getting a doctorate, which would probably be in social work. I would like to get my Project Manager Certificate and be licensed by the Grant Professionals Association. I plan on starting work toward those in the fall.
RW: How did you get into grant writing? What suggestions do you have for someone interested in learning about grant writing?
SW: Well, be careful what you ask for, right? When my oldest child was ten, I decided to slowly get back into the field. I missed it and its challenges – it’s what feeds me. I would tell people, if I could do something like grant writing, or research, or program development from home that would be great. An acquaintance introduced me to a new executive director at a residential school for at-risk teens, and I started at ground zero with them. While I had written federal and state proposals from previous positions and had written a TON of reports, needs assessments, and done literature reviews for program direction, I needed the skills and knowledge necessary to craft compelling grant stories, so I charged next to nothing as I was learning along the way.
But as I was ramping up, (what) I did do was go to the places where grant writers and social work planners would hang out – I went to A LOT of networking events; the Foundation Center here in Atlanta, community meetings, free workshops, etc. I would talk to people about my background and what I like to do. Then I met someone that worked with a ton of non-profits and I picked his brain. He and I started corresponding professionally about the field, and he introduced me to Susan Bacon of Palmetto Grant Consulting here in Atlanta. The rest is history!
Read, read, read, a lot of grant proposals. Write, write, write, narrative about programs or organizations. Go to www.foundationcenter.org. There is a massive amount of information there and they often have free webinars. If you are lucky to be close to a Foundation Center brick-and-mortar location, they offer in-person classes for free as well. Shadow a co-worker on the next proposal they are writing. Ask if you can help. Maybe take a shot at writing a portion or two of it. Volunteer at a local small non-profit to see if you could help with writing a proposal or two. Talk to other professionals in the field. Read grant writing manuals and texts – there are some gurus out there.
Also keep in mind that proposal writing is just one piece of an agency’s overall development and funding plan and strategy. It is part of a larger picture – much larger. So you can be interested in moving an organization forward, and find yourself in the middle of writing for grant money. Again it is just one strategy. As a grant consultant, we look at the other moving pieces in an organization as well – the staff, the resources, the target population, the needs, the other streams of revenue, the board, and trends and issues in the field.
By the way, I see a Grant Consultant as a program developer of sorts. I take scattered information and pull it together into a cohesive structure that utilizes project history, a needs statement, evidence to develop model programming, a target population, goals and objectives, and then outcomes, impact, and evaluation.
RW: You have sat on a few boards. There are many students and new social workers who have an interest in volunteering as a board member for a nonprofit. Can you offer any advice about getting on to a board?
SW: Boards are interesting animals – no two are alike. One of the Boards I sat on for a long time, I actually helped start the non-profit from a grass-roots effort, up to the hiring of an Executive Director and applying for funding and developing programs. That was a true full-circle experience.
I think that the best way is to volunteer for an organization first and see if you like its set-up, its culture, and the way it does things, and see if you agree with its philosophy. If you are able to talk to or interview current board members, that provides a great start too. But do your homework beforehand.
Sitting on a Board is a huge, and often underestimated, responsibility, and often one is required to do much more than “sit.” The Board provides direction for the agency and many times, one needs to know about the workings of the organization, and needs to have buy-in as to the organization’s true mission and what the organization is about. Each Board Member needs to bring something unique and valuable to the table, and be able to support it through thick and thin. Typically, the Board diversity and strength is a huge reason why funders support organizations. You definitely learn A LOT sitting on a Board.
RW: How did you end up becoming an independent consultant? Was that something you had planned to do? What advice would you offer to someone considering becoming an independent consultant?
SW: You have to be driven. You have to LOVE what you do and you have to be dedicated to your clients, serving them with excellence every exchange you have with them. I became an independent consultant because I wanted to experience a variety of projects and programs. I LOVE the flexibility of being one – in terms of time, where I work, what project I take on, and also the freedom it gives me to explore and learn about all aspects of the field. Often times, I will find myself in the middle of researching a certain social topic, like homelessness in Atlanta, and will start reading the Georgia Code, true research articles, and bills going through Congress.
Of course if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Taking “true” time off is sometimes hard. I really didn’t wake up one morning and say, I want to be an independent consultant. Things just kind of happened that way, and it has made sense. You have to be willing to see things from different angles, take calculated risks, and have confidence in yourself, your education and your skills. I guess that I have always been entrepreneurial at heart. I like seeing connections. I like working on different and odd projects. I like exploring the literature, the Code and policy, and best practices for programming to pull pieces together that leads to something bigger than its parts. I like making that type of impact.
A lot of times, when I am working with a client, I may not know the subject matter or the exact topic, but I know that I have the skills to learn about it and figure it out. I am always honest though and say that I don’t know if I truly don’t. I have turned down work before if I feel uncomfortable with the type of work they need done. I know my limits too.
RW: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
SW: I am in the midst of organizing my thoughts, suggestions and experience in plans of writing a book (or maybe two). Not sure how that will “pan out” but it will be in the area of getting back to one’s essence, being true to oneself, getting back into the social work field, and non-traditional social work jobs, practices, trends and direction. It will be about hope and dreaming BIG.
Macro social work to me means a variety of things and its scope is almost endless. It includes program administrators, community planners, and social policy makers. It includes researchers, activists, program developers, and project managers. All of these people are necessary for the field to operate and for it to keep moving forward. For me it is way too narrow to view the social work arena as counseling or as therapy only. People that “practice” at the macro level look at people in environment, but more often than not work on the environment piece of the equation. The social work field needs professionals working on both ends. Our clients deserve it, but so do our homes, families, and communities.
Stephanie’s Professional Profile
Currently Works at:
Building Connections, LLC
Independent Consultant, Grant Consultant and Program Developer
Furman University, Bachelor’s in Education – Special Ed, Early Ed, Elementary Ed – and Studio Art
Virginia Commonwealth University, Master of Social Work, Planning, Policy and Administration
How to Connect with Stephanie:
Twitter handle @Stephan85085371