Member of the Moment: Symone McClain

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 ( 

simone r mclainMeet Symone R. McClain, Manager of Grants and Office Operations at the William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio.

Q. How did you get into grants management?

When the company I was working for in Cleveland, Ohio, relocated out of state, I started seeking new opportunities. I knew about Cleveland’s philanthropic history, but never considered work in philanthropy. My first position in philanthropy was at the Cleveland Foundation as a grants administrator. My previous positions involved data processing and records management. These skills and experiences were a great fit for the grants administration role at the Foundation. I was able to learn about the nonprofit field and also how important the grants management function would become for both the grant making and grant seeking communities.

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

I started my career at Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Brook Park, Ohio as a CRT Operator. Those were the days when information was transmitted by telephone to an operator who keyed information into a database for credit approval. Over the years I have held positions at The Boston Company Family of Funds/The Shareholder Service Group, Baldwin-Wallace College, The Cleveland Foundation, Nordson Corporation Foundation, Healthcare Georgia Foundation and now the William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Foundation.

I earned my bachelor’s degree from Baldwin-Wallace College, now Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio with a degree in business management and completed their Project Management Certificate program. After relocating to Atlanta, Georgia, I earned a MBA and Human Resources Management Certificate from Keller Graduate School of Management. I also completed a Grant Writing Certificate Program at University of Georgia and the Harvard Kennedy School – Nonprofit Financial Stewardship program. I am a member of the Leadership Gwinnett Class of 2000.

I am currently serve on the Board of Directors of the Grants Managers Network (GMN). Other board, committee and advisory roles include the Foundation Center in Atlanta, GA, United Way in Gwinnett, Southeastern Council of Foundations, Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services and Metropolitan Atlanta Corporate Volunteerism Council.

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

As I look at the framed GMN poster on my office wall of a tree representing the growth of knowledge, the best part of the grants management job to me is my ability to use my experiences and knowledge to made decisions and to continue to grow in the field. The field continues to grow due to the changing dynamics of foundation work. Refined programs and new initiatives require changes in the grants management process, forms, and budgeting. I enjoy streamlining processes and thinking about the long-term impact of the grants management functions.

Q. What frustrates you about your job?

Not having enough time to do everything! Not just doing, but doing things well. One grantee question or change in schedules or even an email could impact the entire day’s work. Sometimes the routine of the end result…a report or template might seem simple and easy to produce, but the work that needs to be done to ensure that the information on that simple report might take more time than a few minutes, hours or days.

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

I will start with a quote from Michelle Greanias, “Grants management is a function not a title.” The grants management roles and responsibilities have evolved from data entry to include data integrity and data management; information technology; strategic planning; systems management; program support/management; evaluation; financial management; etc.

The grants management function is multifaceted and cannot be defined by a title.

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

Grants managers should know that the work they do is essential to helping their foundation meet their goals and objectives. Be creative and be innovative! Take some time to think about how you as the grants manager want to build your career and what paths are available to you. The Grants Managers Network is where we find the tools that we need to be effective in our jobs, but there are also knowledge building and career support resources available to grants managers professionals. For new grants managers, seek mentors through GMN who can offer support and their expertise in the changing field of grants management.



Nikki Powell

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