Editor’s Note: Today we continue with the second interview in our Women At Work series, which is focused on a diverse range of working women and their experiences. Amy’s interview provides a companion piece to our first interview, with her mother Eileen. If you haven’t read that piece, I highly recommend it!
What do you do for a living?
I am the Foundation Giving Manager at the National LGBTQ Task Force, which means that I write grant proposals, reports & track grant deliverables for all manner of foundations (private, family-run, corporate, etc.).
How did you start working in this field? Was it a pretty straightforward career track or did you find your way there through other types of work?
I have been a grant writer since 2002, almost all of the 14 years working for LGBT non-profits.
I got to this career circuitously. I spent 11 years pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago Divinity School in History of Religions, focusing on Tibetan Buddhism. I got my doctorate in 2001. I moved to NYC to do field work with the Tibetan diaspora community for my dissertation (and to move in with my girlfriend). After guest teaching at two colleges in the late 1990s while I was writing my dissertation, I realized I was geographically restricted in where I was willing to live, which made it nearly impossible for me to find a tenure-track job teaching at a college or university. I started volunteering at the LGBT Community Center in Greenwich Village and eventually applied for & was hired to be their Grant Writer in 2002. I had never written a grant before in my life, but I had just completed a 250-page dissertation & considered myself a writer. And, apparently, that was enough for the Development Director to take a chance on me.
I worked for the Center for 9 years. I was mentored by one of the founding fathers of the LGBT Movement, the then-Executive Director of the Center Richard Burns, who knew a lot about foundation philanthropy, especially in the LGBT world. I came to realize that being a Grant Writer was a really great career: I love working in the non-profit sector, especially working for LGBT rights and justice. Grant writing affords me the opportunity to do research and to write, which are the two things I most enjoyed in my academic career.
What does a typical day on the job look like for you?
It always starts with checking email and making sure I have responded to anything that came in since I left work or over the weekend. Usually, my weekly work plan revolves around the following:
1) Deadlines for grant proposals or reports – I need to make sure that I am in touch with my programming and financial staff people well in advance of due dates. So, there is a fair amount of emails & phone calls to track down where our organizers might be working at any given time.
2) I am a part of each of our weekly programming team meetings, including the Academy for Leadership & Action (our organizing team), the Public Policy and Government Affairs department and the Creating Change & Leadership Development department, as well as our bi-weekly Development Department meetings.
3) I try to engage in prospect research at least twice a week to research new (to us) foundations that might consider funding the Task Force.
4) I have one weekly meeting with my supervisor where we review my work plan and any upcoming writing that must be completed.
What is the best thing about your job? The worst?
The best thing about my job is working with other people at my organization, collecting information about the work they do and analyzing it and writing about it for a variety of different foundation audiences. I most enjoy being able to measure the impact of our work, particularly analyzing how to measure how advocacy work makes a difference in the world. The worst thing about my job is probably having to work hours that do not play to my strengths. In other words, I would prefer to work from 7am to 3pm, partly from home and partly at the office. I would like it if I could be judged solely on the work I produce, and not on whether I am actually in my office at my desk from 9am to 5:30pm.
Growing up, what did you think of the work your mom did? Was the issue of women in the workforce something you guys talked about?
I grew up knowing from a very early age that my mother was a working mom, and, in fact, a mom who usually placed her work slightly above her mom duties. My mom owned her own businesses from the time I was born until she retired (well after I had graduated from college). Since my mom gave birth to me when she was 39 & 1/2 , I grew up knowing that my mom was quite a bit older than any of my friends’ mothers. I used to work at my mom’s office, starting when I was in elementary school, stuffing envelopes & helping with other menial tasks. So, I knew her colleagues and I knew that she was one of the bosses. I grew up knowing that my mom’s work was very important to her, to her sense of who she was in the world and to how she chose to spend her time. I knew that she found her work fulfilling and that she had a fair amount of flexibility around how and when she worked. I did not recognize at the time that there was a great deal of privilege bound up in the kind of work she did. I knew that my mom had a graduate degree in Journalism and that she prided herself in being relatively autonomous in her adult life around the kind of work she pursued and the people with whom she worked. I probably had an unconscious understanding that my dad was the primary earner in our household, although I never had any idea of how much money he made or how much money she made. My mom was also very involved with NOW and the League of Women’s Voters from when I was quite young. I do not recall my mom ever really sitting me down and talking to me about why this work was important to her or what, precisely, she did. But, I definitely grew up believing, as a core value, that my mom was a competent, independent woman who used her intelligence strategically in her work and who volunteered for causes that meant a lot to her, namely the rights of women in the workplace and in crucial roles in society.
Do you notice differences in the way she approached your career, and the way you approached yours?
I believe that my mom genuinely always wanted me to perform work that was meaningful to me and that I chose based on my distinctive competencies and interests. For example, when I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Buddhist Studies from a very unconventional school (Naropa University in Boulder, CO) after college, she encouraged me to delve into this subject although she knew nothing about it. When I decided to forgo a career teaching at the university level, largely because I desired to stay in NYC, she was nothing but supportive and encouraging that I find something in the non-profit sector that I would find fulfilling and that would afford me enough of a salary to continue to live as I pleased. So, in short, I believe that my mother approached her own career much in the same way that she approached mine: with a great deal of autonomy, with very little judgement or expectation as to how much money I would make and with an understanding that both of our greatest strengths lie in our intelligence, in our ability to write well and in our desire and facility in working well with others.
How much do you make a year?
My salary is between $55,000 and $65,000 a year.
Are you aware of the gendered wage gap, and do you see this and/or other discriminatory issues in your field of work? How do you think it could be improved, if at all?
In my particular field, I am not aware of the gendered wage gap. I am aware of the negative gap in my personal wages as compared to others in my specific field in NYC, and I have raised this discrepancy numerous times with my employer. However, in the relatively narrow field of grant writers at LGBT organizations, which is the comparable field with which I am most familiar, I am not aware that women make less than men. Broadening the scope a bit, I am aware of a wage and leadership opportunity gap within LGBT non-profits based on gender, gender identity and race. This is an issue that is the topic of many discussions both within the LGBT world as well as within the broader progressive non-profit sector.
I am a strong proponent of mentoring and of the establishment of leadership development opportunities at all levels of proficiency: for people just graduating from college being given paid internship opportunities; people in entry-level positions being given chances to network and build competencies in new skills; people in mid-management being invited to participate in leadership development programs that can introduce them to key decision makers in their fields where they can cultivate a plan for advancement and executive directors of color and women who are given clear and viable pipeline opportunities to continue to develop their strengths as leaders in progressive movements. I also believe that salaries must be both competitive and reasonably relative within the structure of an organization.
Anything else you’d like to add? Perhaps advice for women thinking of entering your field?
I really enjoyed these questions & the opportunity to think about my answers! My advice to people considering jobs in the progressive non-profit sector is to GO FOR IT! This is a great and very important sector in our society that does not get nearly enough attention. It is such a critical alternative to pursuing a career in for-profit companies, where the pay may be much better but the belief that you are making a difference in the world is seriously in question. In my humble opinion.