We interviewed Mallory Thorne, a writing professional for a local outdoor nonprofit. As the Director of Development for an outdoor based nonprofit called Outdoor Outreach, Mallory works closely with outdoor organizations and secures funding from local and national donors. She has an abundance of experience in professional writing for nonprofits, flexible work hours, and a job she loves. These are job qualities we seek in our own transition from academia to the professional world. We met with her over the phone because she recently broke her leg in a skiing accident.
“I joined Outdoor Outreach in the fall of 2015 to help mobilize the resources necessary to grow the organization’s impact in San Diego. As the Director of Development, my job is to engage and steward supporters in our mission to connect youth to the transformative power of the outdoors. It is inspiring to see the real impact that our small yet incredible staff can have on the lives of amazing young people in San Diego, and I love having the opportunity to share those stories with our community!
Prior to relocating to San Diego, I served as a Grant Writer at America Abroad Media (AAM), a small, dynamic nonprofit in Washington, DC that works to educate and empower international audiences through media. I also worked as an intern and production assistant at the Washington, DC bureau of Marketplace, public radio’s business program. Most recently, I worked in development at the Scripps Health Foundation in San Diego.
What sparked your interest in grant writing for nonprofits?
- After graduating with her undergraduate degree, Mallory found an opportunity at a nonprofit in Washington DC as an intern, writing up potential NPR radio programs about foreign affairs. Before this point grant writing wasn’t something on her radar, but she found soon found out that she enjoyed it greatly. During her internship, they started, “throwing [her] parts of grants, until they hired [her] as a grant writer.” It only took six months of saying yes as an intern before she got hired as a full time staff member.
- After working as a production assistant and grant writer, Mallory, “realized the writing what was I wanted to do.” It’s not for everyone though, “there’s a lot of people lot of people who hate it” Mallory revealed to me. The demand for grant writers is growing, and this may be why. Nonprofits, foundations, and government agencies want to grow of course, but securing funding isn’t easy.
- When she moved to San Diego, Mallory got hired in development for Scripps Health Foundation in San Diego, which was very different from her experience at the DC nonprofit. Instead of working with local foundations, she wrote to individual donors about major gifts. She realized during her year and a half there her love was in writing for nonprofits. When Outdoor Outreach, a San Diego local nonprofit focused on bringing under served inner-city youth into the nature, added a full-time position for their director of development, Mallory quickly applied.
What is a typical day at O.O.?
- Mallory works in the office at O.O. five days a week, collaborating with her colleagues, and attending events and outings– a somewhat typical professional position. However, the difference with O.O., is their encouragement for employees to go out and play outside, and their flexibility for working at home. Especially now for Mallory who tested out the flexibility of her work schedule by skiing, and currently is working from home because she broke her leg doing so.
Approximately how much writing do you do in a day?
- “Quite honestly I could spend eight hours a day for the grants piece, but there are so many other aspects of fundraising” and she continues, “if i wrote grants all day, I’d be bored.” In addition to the grant writing, she manages two annual campaigns for individual donors, she also speaks to partners, researches, and secures potential partners. Mallory on average spends 4-6 hours a day on development writing. It seems like there’s enough work besides the grant writing, but securing funding will always be step one. Since there will always be an abundance of writing, and never enough time to do it all. Collaboration seems to be a great solution.
What is your relationship others in O.O.? Is there any collaboration?
- Mallory gave us a huge, “YES.” She emphasized the relationship building sides of both in the office and outside, with foundations (Parker Foundation, San Diego Foundation, etc.), businesses (The North Face, Patagonia, Prana, Black Diamond, etc.), and government agencies (California State Parks, County of San Diego, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). She works closely with the executive director securing new programs and also the development communication coordinator and community development staff with maintaining communication with their all their partners through gift acknowledgments/web/social media.
What kind of writing do you do outside of O.O.?
- Mallory sits on the board of a rowing club (crew), and does grant writing for them as well. She tells us she’s never been much into into creative writing. She reveals, “grant writing is a term paper, you make a case to your audience, back it up with data and do LOTS of research. You much clearly communicate what you’re doing.” Mallory certainly understands the importance of rhetoric.
Is a B.A. enough?
- “Unless you are planning on going into nonprofit management, I don’t think you need a graduate degree.” Getting what ever kind of experience in writing for nonprofits and saying ‘yes’ to more opportunities and responsibilities, worked very well for Mallory.
How do I market myself? How do I stand out?
- Mallory tells me, “people have to figure out that you can write.” In order to stand out you need to do what you want to be. Accepting an unpaid internship or volunteering is a great place to begin the experience, a recurring theme in our interviews and conversations with writing professionals.
How do you succeed at securing grant funds?
- “There’s a misconception about grants submission. One equally important, is building the relationship with program officers. Stewarding those relationships is just as important as the writing. This is what we’re doing, we’re inviting them to events, bringing them out with the kids.” When donors see a proposal on their desk they remember their experience with O.O. when they saw first hand how it impacted the lives of these youth.
- Some advice:
- Ask if you can chat with a funder about feedback
- Try writing from a different angle
- Always be asking, “what can we work on?” (both in the programming and in writing)
- Make the effort to follow up
How many documents a day/week/year?
- In 2016, O.O. submitted 125 grant proposals (about 80 of which were funded, and 90% of those were repeat funders). About one every two business days.
- Mallory’s job also consists of grant reporting: 6 months and year-end reports on how funds were used. These documents are a mix of numbers, narratives, and financial reports
- “Always write a one page thank you letter. Even if they don’t require it; their impact matters.”
It was great talking with Mallory and receiving some insights into nonprofit writing. In nonprofits great programming takes countless hours of planning and development efforts. For grant writers, the work does not end. There will always be work for us to do, but there will always be work for us to do. Although there will be professional writing work for us somewhere, will it be the flexible and outdoor-centered career we strive for? In order to discover a career which we can contribute something valuable to and receive value from, we must stay open to new opportunities, especially the collaborative ones, and do the work.