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Tom Kenny: Nonprofit Grant Writer to Grant Writing Consultant

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by Alexis Swenson
March 18, 2022
 Tom Kenny: Nonprofit Grant Writer to Grant Writing Consultant
Tom Kenny became interested in grant writing after writing (and winning!) many grants in a nonprofit leadership position. He decided to change careers to grant writing consulting for greater time and geographic flexibility. Grant writing consulting is proving to be a perfect blend of his skills, interests, and personality.

Funding Area
Social Services

Orrington, Maine

TK Writing Co.

How to Pivot Careers

Tom Kenny had his first taste of grant writing while working in nonprofit leadership. He managed a large team and held some hefty responsibility. One responsibility was grant writing. It didn’t take long before he realized that he was pretty good at it. He didn’t immediately switch careers to pursue grant writing consulting full-time, but steadily built up to it until the timing was right.

“I had been reading books on grant writing for a couple years to try to polish my skills,” Tom said. “And I was thinking maybe I could do that someday. Finally, I was presented with this opportunity where I could go out and do that. I felt like the universe pushed me into it.”

It was stressful to consider the logistics of making such a major career pivot, but Tom knew that the change was right for him. While he liked leading a big team and being a changemaker in his leadership position, after a few years of doing that he realized he had lost himself in it.

“I didn't really know what I liked to do anymore,” Tom said. “I was so caught up in work that I didn’t have hobbies. I really wanted to make some changes. I wanted to have more time and be able to do things that I enjoy, but also still have a big impact on my community and the world.”

👉 Check out this video for our top 7 tips to launch your successful transition from full-time grant writer to consultant.

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Making the change involved a lot of small steps, a supportive community, and some major mental shifts for Tom. Tom came to understand that if he was going to make this career change, he couldn’t expect a regular paycheck every two weeks. He decided to do what was necessary to make his dream work. This included selling his Jeep Wrangler to buy something more economical.

“With the way that used car prices were, it was worth a lot more than what I owed on it,” Tom said. “I was stressing myself out for something I didn't even really need. An economical car was worth the peace of mind while I got my business rolling. Every day doing something to further that vision to being a reality. Consistency and remembering why I wanted to do it was huge.”

A nice car can be a sign of success of sorts, but Tom quickly scrapped that mentality to focus on building his business and gaining momentum. This new perspective helped to clarify decision-making for Tom. He was able to make decisions that were for the good of growing his business.

Grant Writing Consulting

In his first year of grant writing consulting, Tom landed several clients and a growing pipeline of work. Working as a grant writing consultant is a perfect fit for Tom because he enjoys helping people and knowing that his efforts are meaningful. Also, Tom has been able to build a more flexible schedule with greater work-life balance.

Tom has found clients in a number of ways, including through LinkedIn. He did the free premium trial on LinkedIn and that provided him a few really great contracts.

Tom also stresses the importance of getting your name out there and having a simple website. The website and his LinkedIn profile are both concrete evidence for people to look at and see his tangible skills.Consistency has been crucial for Tom. For example, one client lead submitted a new contact form on his website from a business card Tom handed out a full year prior.

“I've really enjoyed LinkedIn so far. It seems like everyone's there for that same reason of learning and being professional,” Tom said. “It's a really good environment. I go on there a lot more now than I ever did before. I actually enjoy it more than other social media now because people post inspiring quotes and articles and it’s a learning environment.”

👉 Check out this video for How to Get Clients as a Grant Writing Consultant.

how to use Asana to stay organized

At this point in time, the demand for Tom’s work is on the brink of being more than he can handle as an individual. With such strong momentum behind him, he’s toying with the idea of building out a team.

“The stuff that I started being consistent with about a year ago is starting to gain momentum,” said Tom. “Now everything's sort of happening all at once. How can I make this happen? I'm brainstorming who I know that could maybe help me. I can definitely see myself building a team whether big or small.” Fortunately for Tom, he has access to hundreds of peer grant writers to expand his team and find the right collaborators.

As Tom continues to hone his grant writing expertise, he took a part time job as a grant writer for a local organization that has helped to expand his knowledge in an unfamiliar focus area. “I feel really good about my path to where I am,” said Tom. “I enjoy my job and my business is also growing steadily.”

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Grant Writing Course and Community

To those considering joining the Global Grant Writers Collective , Tom would say “do it.” He joined after leaving his position in nonprofit leadership and when he was unsure about how to make grant writing consulting a reality. He stumbled across the Collective while searching on Google and signed up that same day. Tom hasn’t looked back.

“When I was driving around town, I was listening to the podcast version of the book and I loved it,” Tom said. “Wow, this is the bee's knees! This is what I needed. I had a really solid foundation with grants, had written a bunch, and I was pretty successful at it. The Collective really reinforced what I was doing and it put me in an entrepreneurial mind of what to do, and how to frame my business.”

Having the wisdom and support of the Collective has been beneficial for Tom. The Collective is for people who are new to grant writing and have experience with the skill.

👉 Wondering if the Collective is only for beginners? What if you’re an expert grant writer? Watch this video for answers.

how to use Asana to stay organized

“It’s so nice to have a community to ask questions to,” Tom said. “The members of the Collective are great too, because there's such a variety of experience. Even people that are newer and maybe don't have a lot of grant writing experience, have other experiences. It's great to have a community and a place where you belong.”

The Collective has also encouraged Tom to celebrate his wins more regularly (yay, celebration is one of our core values!). One of his major wins was learning his client was awarded $620,000 to expand telecounseling to kiddos in schools. His biggest win to date was his client being awarded a $900,000 state grant to help establish health equity among BIPOC and immigrant communities. In his second year of grant writing consulting, Tom has won close to $2 million in grant funding mostly from private foundations.

In the beginning he would often call family and friends to share the good news, but his celebration has evolved since then. “Now I kind of do some different things to celebrate like going for walks or rewarding myself in different ways like that. I guess sometimes a mountain of nachos can be involved.”

Grant Writing Resources

Watch our interviews with other Collective members here: Grant Writing Unicorn Spotlights.

Read this blog post to learn more about making a career change to grant writing.

Interested in getting your feet wet with grant writing? Check out our free training on how to build a career in grant writing.

Want to speak with someone in the Global Grant Writers Collective to get their perspective? Shoot us a DM on Instagram and we can connect you: DM us on Instagram.

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About the author...

Alexis Swenson serves as Unicorn Coach and Content Director for Learn Grant Writing. The product of small-town northwestern Minnesota, she is a self-declared “old soul” and grounded free spirit. She has secured over $2.7 million in grant funding in her career. Alexis writes to help people learn, laugh, and not be so hard on themselves.

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