Member of the Moment: Gillian Cervero

GMN regularly features members on our blog to demonstrate the diversity of our association and expand opportunities for connections. Want to be featured? Email Nikki Powell ( 

Meet Gillian Cervero, Grants Manager at the California HealthCare Foundation in Oakland, Calif.

Q. How did you get into grants management?

My first job after graduating from college was as a Development Assistant at the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health (LPFCH), the fundraiser for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and child health programs at the Stanford School of Medicine. A year later, I was recruited to be the Program Assistant to the newly launched Community Programs and Grants department. It was like being in a start-up with so much learning and implementing. This was also my first real exposure to grantmaking. I helped develop our strategic funding priorities and grantmaking procedures. Later, I was promoted to Grants Administrator, where I was responsible for funding requests and reports, and managing the grants database (one of the first versions of Gifts for Windows)!

Q. What’s your background (education and work)?

I’ve always had a vested interest in children, health, and education issues, and active in the community. In high school, I was a volunteer at Stanford’s Medical Center, so it was like coming full circle to have my first post-college job at LPFCH. I aspired to be a Child Speech Therapist, as I was a college intern at a local clinic, and even volunteered at the Stanford Speech Clinic during my first years at LPFCH.

I received my Bachelors in Psychology from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. My favorite non-major classes were Business and Human Resource Management, and I knew that my career would be in that field if my goal of becoming a Speech Therapist didn’t materialize.

I’ve worked in the non-profit sector for most of my career, with both fundraising and grant making experience.

At LPFCH, I was a Development Assistant, and later gained invaluable grantmaking experience as the inaugural Program Assistant and Grants Administrator. My last position at LPFCH was in the Finance, as Manager of Gifts and Grants Administration, where I supervised the gift processing team that processed annual gifts and generated accounting reports from the fundraising database (Raiser’s Edge).

I worked for the Trust for Public Land as the National Grants Administrator, and currently am the Grants Manager at the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF). I served as Chair and Co-Chair for the Regional Northern California Grants Managers Network (GMN), and currently a GMN Board Member. I’m also a Board Member of EdVenture More, a non-profit that seeks to reduce Summer Learning Loss, build 21st Century Learning Skills and save hands-on learning in schools.

Q. What’s your favorite part of the grants management job?

I love the fact that my job encompasses a variety of work from grants compliance to program or information management to strategic planning. One day, I may work on streamlining our grantmaking procedures, and on another work on database maintenance or reporting. While at CHCF, I’ve helped with a grants system conversion (from Gifts to EasyGrants), moved from paper grant files to paper-less files, and experienced several cycles of implementing new program goals and initiatives. It helps that I not only enjoy performing different tasks, but also working with different people. I continuously feel challenged and engaged.

Q. What frustrates you about your job?

As most grants managers can attest, time management is an on-going struggle. It can be frustrating as there never seems to be enough hours in a day to complete the various grantmaking tasks. There are hard deadlines, say with weekly grant or quarterly Board reports, and certain lower-priority tasks like grant closeouts or responding to grant inquiries have a tendency to stay on the To-Do List. I find blocking out time on the calendar during the week for those tasks makes it seem less stressful and burdensome. Allocating extra time for more complex tasks or projects is also helpful. Taking ownership and making time management a high priority is critical. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or delegate responsibilities.

Q. What do you wish your colleagues and coworkers knew about what you do?

This year’s 2016 GMN Conference theme of “Take the Lead,” truly epitomizes the role that grants management has played in improving the field.  It’s been incredible to see how grants management has evolved, from a ‘back end office’ administration function to being a partner and leader on how grants get made.

I have rare insight as I knew GMN prior to the national organization being formed.  As a grants manager neophyte, the Northern California regional grants group (with many peer foundations in the Bay Area) played a critical role in helping me develop skills and learn best practices. The regional group was about exchanging ideas and sharing learnings  like Gifts coding and reporting tips, letter templates, how to organize a grant file.

It never (and still doesn’t) felt competitive between my peers, which is refreshing and reassuring. That collaborative and collegial feel was a driving force for me to become more active and volunteer with the region.  I wanted to give back and provide that same support that I received.

Later, I became a Regional Chair, and during that time, National GMN was officially established and set out to be the centralized hub to provide support for all regions and offer resources to be more effective. Over the years, GMN has grown leaps and bounds, as an organization with additional staff, as well as increased membership and conference attendance. GMN represents our membership, and the role of grants managers has shifted from purely administrative functions to incorporating technology, program, and strategy. Grants managers are advancing within their organizations and now partnering and sitting at the table with senior management.  Grant titles are reflective of that growing partner and leadership trend, from Grants Manager to (Senior) Grants Operations or Grants Officer.  As a current GMN Board Member, this is an exciting time in continuing to elevate our grants profession, and providing the support for all regions.

Q. What do you wish every grants manager knew about their job?

At CHCF, we refer the Grants Administration department as the “Bridge between Finance and Programs.” We stress the importance of that partnership among all departments in how grants get made and their success.

As grants managers, it’s important to always have that partnership mentality to be successful.  Never downplay or underestimate your role whether you are a Program Assistant or Grants Associate, etc.

As such, grants managers can wear many hats and come from a NGO, small family or corporate foundation. Regardless, we have a unique skill set with invaluable experience and perspectives.

We’re lucky to have GMN provide the tools for those new to grantmaking to the seasoned grant managers, with events like the annual conference, regional meetings and online webinars.

It’s up to us to be accessible and active. Volunteer and seek opportunities for professional development.

Be mentors to our peers. Be partners and more importantly, leaders within our organization and beyond to our philanthropic community.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” (Mahatma Gandhi)



Nikki Powell

Nikki Powell is PEAK Grantmaking's effective practices director. You can find her on Twitter @nikkiwpowell.

2 Responses

  1. Ale Santaolalla says:

    Hi Gillian, I really love that you said that the grants dept. is the “Bridge between Finance and Programs.” In my role as Grants Manager I have developed a much closer relationship with our finance department over the years. Our communication has increased and has led to streamlining our processes.

  2. Rosenna yau says:

    Hi Gill, it is wonderful that you have a great insight into your job. Being a Grant Manager has to be very efficient and knowledgeable, not only one has to be calm and multi-tasking all the time. Now I see that all your skills spill out to your personal life. You are incredible! Rosenna

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