Saturday, February 10, 2018

It's All About That Bass - Maryn Boess - Grant Writing Trainer Extraordinaire - That Is!

--By Emily Anderson

Just as Meghan Trainor sings that it's all about that bass, it's all about a certain Ms. Maryn Boess who is all about grant proposal training. 

Maryn Boess (pronounced base) is a grant writing guru who loves all things grants-related. She's a long-time grant writing professional who has written grants as well as reviewed grant proposals others have submitted. Her familiarity with both sides of the grant-seeking and grant-reviewing world has helped to shape her current business format - she provides wonderful grants-training courses online. She's based in the Pacific Northwest but enjoys teaching people all over the world.

Here's a close-up Q&A with Maryn Boess.

Photo courtesy of the GrantsMagic Facebook page
How long have you been in business with Grants Magic U? 

I’ve been a grant professional since I wrote my first grant proposal in 1984 … yikes! Pre-Internet, pre-computer … In 1989 I broke off and started working on my own as an independent grant project planner and consultant. Over time I noticed that I was having a different level of success than many of my peers and colleagues, especially with federal funding. I put together a simple little 2-hour workshop for the local United Way called “Are You Afraid of Federal Funding?” – it was beyond standing room only. 

At some point I realized that I had an ability to synthesize complex information and make it accessible. After a [clash] with one of my biggest clients, I decided to stop the grant writing and go full time on developing and delivering grants trainings. I don’t exactly remember what year that was … maybe 2003? That business grew and grew and grew and I was traveling all over the country giving live workshops. GrantsMagic U was born in April 2015 when I realized that though I loved developing and delivering the training, I did not so much love all the traveling and I could really reach more people if I could transfer the portfolio of courses to an online, virtual platform. The path forward was pretty rocky but we opened our first signature course in October of 2015 with three nonprofit associations as partners – a big win! 

What do you enjoy most about teaching grant proposal writing?

I have always lived for the “aha!” moment – that moment when I can see a new concept drop in and someone suddenly “gets” something in a really big way – (something) that transforms them, transforms their belief system, and transforms the way they relate to themselves and their reality. I’ve taught in other, non-professional arenas and I’m always going for that big “aha!” (moment). Even (with) making a video all by myself in my office I have no trouble tapping into that energy and excitement and passion in myself and I am 100 percent committed to making sure that it comes through, full on, in everything I share. 

So I love two things about this work. First, I LOVE it when someone shares with me their excitement at having gotten a grant thanks to the tools they’ve learned with me. Even more, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it when I get an e-mail from someone expressing gratitude for my passion and my energy and encouragement: “You give me great confidence that I can do this” or “I’m so inspired and excited” are two of my very favorite phrases.

What brought you to the Pacific Northwest from Arizona?

Sometimes life decides it’s time to shake things up. That was me, in 2010. After living most of my life and raising my family in Phoenix, the earth kind of shook under my feet and all the things that had kept me feeling pretty much obligated to stay in Arizona all fell away, in powerfully positive ways. (Example: A large part of my business was specifically tied to providing grant-maker information services specific to Arizona nonprofits. Out of the blue, I was given the opportunity to transfer that service over into the care and keeping of the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, which still views the Arizona Guide to Grants Online as a key element of their member service portfolio.) 

I’d first visited Portland as a board member of the Grant Professionals Association, in 2009, and knew (even though it was November) that I’d move there in an instant if I could. Green things! Water! Hurray! So when life set me free, so to speak, I made the move in early 2011. What made it easier was my daughter and her family (including my grandson) also moved with me. Within the next few years my second daughter and one of my two sons have also moved here.

What do you want people who are seeking a career in grant writing to know? Is it a hard career to get into? Do people with certain skill sets have a better chance of being a grant writer than people who don't possess certain skills?

In the grant writing world, it’s hard to balance optimism and realism. It’s tough! And there are so many misunderstandings and misconceptions about the landscape, the ecosystem, and “how it all works.” If there’s anything at all I would want everyone in the grant writing world to know, it would be to have a better understanding of the world of the grant maker. It’s a world I’ve come to know and inhabit myself. I was very much an insider in the grant making community in Phoenix, and in 2006 I became a program officer / manager of a quasi-governmental grant making program (which I still run), managing up to $2 million a year in grant making. Now my sweet spot, I guess you could say, is to really play off my dual citizenship in the grants world, pull back the curtain, open up that Black Box, and try to give the grant-seeking folks an experience of what it’s like for the grant making folks. I think having what I call the “3-D Perspective” – as opposed to a kind of tactical tunnel vision – is hugely important. And being able to zoom in (to the fine detail) and zoom out (to the very big picture) quickly and without becoming seasick is crucial too.

Being able to write well is important. That means being able to organize information clearly and compellingly. Attention to detail is important, yes indeed. But more than this, I do believe, the ability to stay clear of single-organization / single-focus tunnel vision and step fully into the possibilities as a catalyst for positive change in the community … that’s what I really like to see.

What do you enjoy about non-profit work in general?

My first 10 years in grown-up jobs were pretty much all about writing for corporate clients: business press releases, business publications features, ad copy, etc. I used to call it “selling soap.” It was gratifying to put my skills and creativity to work, but soap was not my passion. I didn’t encounter non-profit work 'till my early 30s and there was no looking back. People of passion work in all kinds of areas. And these days there’s more and more crossover between for-profit and not-for-profit organizations in terms of our roles as change agents in the world. But working with and for not-for-profits just keeps me closer to the heart of that change-agent energy. Many nonprofit folks are entrepreneurial in their approach to their work and I’ve always had a strong (in-born) entrepreneurial streak so I value that as well. And gosh, the not-for-profit sector is so under-resourced! I guess I just decided to dig in and go deep in an arena where I could really make a difference.

Your online courses are amazing, especially for the prices. What do you want potential students / customers to know about your grant courses if they are deciding between your courses and other online grants courses? What makes yours unique?

The comment I hear most often about my online courses is “Gosh, I thought it would be just another dull and dry presentation. But you were so enthusiastic! Your passion was contagious. The time just flew by.” I love that! 

I make a commitment every single time to bring that aliveness and energy and excitement and inspiration and confidence to the training I do. No one will be bored on my watch! The other aspect that sets these courses apart is that dual-citizenship thing – the fact that I can speak with authority about what life looks like “on the other side,” from the grant maker /program officer’s perspective. This is jaw-dropping for almost everyone … it’s so hard to really get outside our own “black box” of beliefs and perspectives … there’s that “aha!” thing again. You just don’t get that 360-degree, 3-D view in other grants trainings!

When students complete your courses, you send a congratulations e-message as well as a profound quote. Do you attach a profound quote to all e-mails when students complete any course of yours? What made you want to do this?

It’s all part and parcel with my commitment to show up and encourage and inspire. Profound quotes ground me and keep me moving forward, and if I can share something that does that for someone else, I will. I use a quotation from Peace Pilgrim at the bottom of every email. I’ve used the same quote for years and years. Every once in a while I try to mix things up and use a different one … but this one just keeps coming back: “Live in the present. Do the things that need to be done. Do all the good you can each day. The future will unfold." – Peace Pilgrim. The simplicity and directness are what appeals to me. 

[I also use quotes] from Howard Thurman, [and it] is just so deep and rich and just feeds my soul and makes me feel brave enough to do really tough things. And don’t we all need more of that in our lives?

Please tell me anything else you'd like to share!

There are big plans for GrantsMagic U in 2018! The foundations (of the business) are solid now and we’re ready to grow and evolve in a big way. We now have more than 4,500 community members from (at last count) 48 states, DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, and at least 11 foreign countries. How amazing is that! I’m both humbled and thrilled … and can’t wait to get busy on those big plans.

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