PEAK Grantmaking regularly features members on our blog to demonstrate the diversity of our association and expand opportunities for connections. Want to be featured? Email Leah Farmer (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Meet Kelli Rojas, Grants Manager at the Rose Community Foundation.
Q. How did you get into grants management?
When I was an undergrad, I interned for a private family foundation but in the scholarship department. While I enjoyed the scholarship work, I became fascinated with the grants department. Inspired, I decided to focus some of my studies on nonprofit fundraising. I later went on to work in fundraising roles, to train other nonprofit professionals across Colorado on grantwriting best practices and to provide consulting services for organizations around their fund development strategies. My love for grants led me to specifically seek out a grants management role in the funding community. So, I essentially went from writing grant applications to teaching others how to do so and to accepting and managing those application submissions.
Q. What’s your background (education and work)?
I received my bachelor’s in International Studies and Spanish and then my master’s in International Development with a focus on Latin America and Nonprofit Management (both from the University of Denver), thinking I would work for a nonprofit promoting women’s rights somewhere in Central America. I did work in Mexico for a while, but (as we all know) life gets in the way. I ended up settling in Colorado and my love for grants led me to work for a nonprofit organization that provided capacity building services to other nonprofits across the state and to begin consulting. After that, I took a position at a corporate foundation and am now at a community foundation.
Q. What’s your favorite part of the grants management job?
Working with local organizations and process improvement. (Sorry, I couldn’t pick just one!) I love working with passionate applicants and grantees and knowing that, in some small way, what I do enables the amazing work they are doing in and around Denver. I also love fixing broken processes, imagining new ways of doing things, and re-working documents to make things easier and more efficient for our grantees and for our staff.
Q. What frustrates you about your job?
There is still a misconception in the field that grants management is transactional, administrative and simple. Some of it is, yes. But, there is also a whole lot of problem-solving, community understanding, relationship juggling, navigation of complex regulations, systems management, data analysis, and process improvement involved in our roles! Oftentimes what we do is underappreciated because so much happens behind the scenes. Frequently, we are also only staffed to cover the transactional pieces, so it becomes difficult to balance your capacity to handle volume with the expectation of taking it to the next level strategically.
Q. What do you wish your colleagues and coworkers knew about what you do?
Grants managers are often one of the few people in an organization who see, touch, and understand how the various parts of the organization interact (partially because of how our organizations are structured and partially because we seem to be naturally process-oriented). Because of this, we can often foresee hiccups up- or downstream from where we stand. Sometimes our voices are not heard or heeded either because they are not valued or it is perceived as nay-saying. So, I suppose I wish (for all of us!) that folks would see the good intentions behind what they might perceive as nagging and the value we bring with our perspectives, expertise, and natural orientations toward process and problem solving.
Q. What do you wish every grants manager knew about their job?
Yes, the old “when you know one foundation, you know one foundation” adage is true in a way. But in another, it is not! I still meet people who do not know this amazing network of grants managers exists and others who are aware but are not taking advantage of it because they think their work is “different.” We are all unique to an extent, but we face such similar challenges and opportunities when you look at the root of what we do that it seems silly not to connect with, learn from, and lean on one another.
Connect with Kelli on Linkedin.