Mandy Orozco, Grantwriter | Women Owned Spokane | Spokane Photographer

Mandy was one of the first women I connected with when I moved to Spokane. She had a quiet demeanor but I knew she had a strong spirit. She’s one of those women who is always in your corner cheering you on but can also empathize with any pain you might be going through. It is no surprise to me she works for non-profits. Read below for the full text of how she got started, what struggles she faced, how she learned to value herself as well as juggle what it means to be a business owner and a mother and a wife.

Can you describe what you do and how you got your start?

I’m a non-profit consultant and grant writer. I do fund development and strategy. That means I help non-profits get more money so they can sustain their mission and do what they’re doing better or get to the point where they can do what they want to do. I do that by identifying ways they can raise money. Sometimes that includes identifying what makes them special, sometimes that’s evaluating what they’re doing and how they can do it better.

I got into grant writing and fund development by accident. More than 15 years ago, I was working with a non-profit in Southern California and they needed a grant and I agreed to write the proposal. I figured out how to write a proposal and wrote it, and we got the grant, and then I did another one and got the grant. I became an independent contractor, went through a lot of training, and started picking up clients. Some clients were located close to where I was living and some were in other states or across the globe. I increased my clients until I had a full load and then I signed on as an employee with a big human services organization in New Jersey when I was living there.

When I had my first child I was forced to take a step back and figure out how I was going to balance it. That’s when I went out again as a grant writing consultant. That provided flexibility for what I wanted to do with my family and also challenged me to set a rate that was more fair for what I provide.

How do you market?

I’ve never had to advertise. I get clients through word-of-mouth. I’ve had clients in New York and New Jersey. DC and Virginia. I like working for clients in different parts of the country. When we moved here [to Spokane] almost 10 years ago, I wasn’t really interested in a client here because I liked working remotely and the flexibility that provided me.

But about four or five years ago, I started working at Spokane’s MAC, grant writing for the museum. Then someone at Catholic Charities found out about me and I started grant writing for them. Working onsite is a newer thing for me. It has some good things and some hard things. When I first started working for agencies in Spokane, showing up to meetings didn’t feel as productive for me because I was used to squeezing a lot of value out of each hour. But if a client wants me to be at a meeting, then that’s something the client values.

Is finding your value the biggest challenge?

Yes! For me, the hardest part about this is pricing my time. I know other people who price higher. I’ve been doing this more than 15 years, and my success rate is very high, but I have a hard time pricing myself at a point that I think is “fair” – I definitely err on underpricing myself.

What do you think is holding you back?

I want my clients to think I’m an amazing return on investment. Like, “Oh, we just got this many million dollars from her and she only charges this.” [laughs]

One time I was in New Jersey for this work party for one of my clients and I was talking with one of the employee’s husbands. And he said, “Oh your boss loves you so much. You work for peanuts!”

And I remember thinking, he meant that as a compliment but that’s a horrible thing. I was hurt by it, but it helped me realize I needed to price myself appropriately. I’m still working on it.

You were saying there are others out there who price themselves higher… do you think it’s more likely those are men?

I see both, but I think it’s more likely to be a woman who underprices herself. The gender pay gap is debilitating. Women even ascribe lower values to other women so I don’t doubt we do that to ourselves. If I were a man I might feel more comfortable pricing myself 30% higher – and clients might feel more comfortable paying a man a higher rate. That is all really challenging.

What’s been one of the best things about being in business for yourself or the business that you do?

Grant writing and fund development work is a good fit for me. I get to make changes in very difficult situations, but without the emotional baggage that comes with being in the trenches. I get to deal with the stats, what it means that a child has been abused, how we can stop that [abuse], or stop generational abuse. Or I can create or improve measurements to track the value or success of programs. I came from an abusive home, so my work has immense meaning to me.

Doing the grants and fund development side of it is a good fit for me because I don’t think I could handle the stress of being right there in it, like helping a kid heal – at least not right now. Where I’m at is a better fit for me. For example, I got a grant for a nonprofit to open a satellite location out-of-state, and I could see how my work impacted all the families that agency served at the new branch. Those are really exciting things for me to see and they align with what I’m able to give right now.

Advice for other future grant writers?

All of us are our own puzzles. For me, grant writing fits my puzzle. I love to write, I’m detail-oriented, I love problem-solving, and I have the right marketing skills…I can figure out what is a good fit for a funder and make sure I don’t apply if it’s a bad fit. All those things are key traits in a grant writer. If all of those are a fit, then training is the next step. There’s a lot of free training available that wasn’t there when I was starting out. Finally, work hard and build a strong foundation, get lots of experience by volunteering or taking on small projects.

There are few enough grant writers out there that if you’re good and you work hard, I think It will work out. If it’s not a fit then you’ll feel it and will probably see that in your success rate, and you should move on to find a better fit of a career.

Advice for female entrepreneurs in general?

I think we women face greater obstacles – both financially and socially. I already talked a bit about the gender pay gap. Some people actually deny that it exists, which exacerbates the problem. Also, single mothers are more likely to live in poverty than single fathers. As for socially, some people get uncomfortable when women out-earn their spouses or when they meet a stay-at-home dad. And the other day I read an article in the New York Times about the gender stress gap, about how in a household more stresses fall onto the woman than the man.

My partner and I have taken turns prioritizing our careers. We needed to find that balance. When I was doing night classes to earn my MBA while working, my partner – who was also working full-time – had to take on more duties around the house. He cooked, cleaned, and put kids to bed all alone four nights a week. He helped me so that I could propel my career further. But before that, when he was first starting his career, I put mine aside and did grant writing more part-time and juggled more things around the home. Now, we both are in a good place where either of us can step up and help when things come up at home, like a sick kid or another emergency, and it doesn’t all fall on me.

The advice I want to give is the same advice I should take. If I think women should be valued appropriately, then I should work hard to value myself appropriately. I would still be working for peanuts if I didn’t have the challenge underneath me to get a little upset about that comment. Or when I had my first kid, I was challenged to say, wait, my pay isn’t sustainable for my family. And now, I’m challenged to value myself when my partner and I decide who is going to stay home with a sick kid or take care of another family responsibility. I’m also challenged to set a fair rate for my time. It’s an ongoing challenge that manifests in different ways.

How long did it take you to get to run a sustainable business? For yourself or for your business?

What I don’t have much overhead. I need a laptop and some basic office supplies. I’ve been sustainable since almost immediately after I bought my first laptop 15 years ago.

Now that I’m bringing home a significant part of our household income, I have more power to say I have a big project due so I can’t call in sick, and that means my partner will have to step in. It’s a relief to not feel like all the household and parent duties rest on my shoulders.

Yeah, even with working moms, they’re still the ones expected to make dinner.

There is a study that shows that in households with children, when both spouses work from home, children perceive the mother as still available and the father as unavailable. Somehow, when the woman is working from home just like the man, she is constantly ready to catch all the falls. And that isn’t fair. We need to strike a balance. I was forced into finding a balance when I could quantify exactly how much money I would lose if I stayed home. My partner is salaried. When I work hourly, that loss from staying home is easily quantifiable.

Anything you’d like to add?

Every one of us needs to find ways to connect with our authentic selves. I love what I do, but I also want to connect with old layers of myself that have been buried under time and motherhood and career. For me, these are creative writing, yoga, art, and quietude. Motherhood can force us to die off in a lot of ways, but I think this also presents opportunities to resuscitate and re-define the best parts of ourselves. It’s important for moms to carve out time for the things that connect us back to our authentic selves. For some people, connecting with their authentic selves happens in their profession. But that’s rare for a career to fulfill all of that.

Do you think women in general, if they find something they earn income through, are more likely to devalue their work or devalue themselves? Less likely to ask for an appropriate amount of money?

That’s probably the case. But we have to ask ourselves why.

When I was pregnant with Lucinda, five or six years ago, I was writing a blog to process my pregnancy and I was grant writing. I was at a party and a friend introduced me to someone and said, “She writes a blog. It’s hilarious. She’s also a great grant writer.” And this other person said, “So do you think you’ll ever be a real writer?” And I remember feeling quite devastated, because in my mind I already was a real writer. I got paid to write. And I got paid a lot more than just a fun writer. I thought I had found the right fit. But that question still hurt me.

I took a step back and did a lot of soul-searching to find out why I was hurt by it. I realized I did identify with creative writing. At UCLA, I studied creative writing. I felt more authentic when I was creative writing. That’s something on my list to connect back with, so that’s one reason why her question stung.

But I also had to challenge the part about becoming a “real writer.” Was I measuring success by notoriety or fame? By having a best seller? I do have challenges thinking I’m not the right kind of writer. Not a sexy kind of writer. I had to embrace that I was a real writer and that I should abandon others’ expectations of what a writer looks like, publishes, or earns. I’ve chosen a different kind of writing career. But there’s still space for me to do other kinds of writing.

There’s value in saying we aren’t going to be wed to one interest or even one career. And there’s infinite value in silencing other people’s expectations so we can be more authentic.

[For more about this project, check out Women Owned Spokane or contact Margaret Albaugh.]

Mandy in her workspace

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