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Senior Grantwriter Michelle Ferguson joins JVA after nearly a decade as a grantwriter at organizations focusing on the health and safety of pets, and on support for people with disabilities. Born in Hong Kong, Michelle speaks Mandarin Chinese. She also has a distinctive sense of humor, which we at JVA are enjoying getting to know.

How did you get into grantwriting?

JVA Senior Grantwriter Michelle Ferguson

My career in the nonprofit sector began in 2013, when I started working at PetAid Colorado as its grants and communications writer.

While there, I worked in tandem with Dumb Friends League to establish a health care safety net for pets. It became a personal passion of mine to help reduce pet homelessness and make wellness services available for pets at risk of entering the shelter system.

I also worked with The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help provide medical subsidies for livestock in Colorado’s rural counties. Then, in conjunction with the Animal Assistance Foundation, I helped facilitate a pilot program called Parvo Prevention & Intervention to decrease parvo mortality rates in the Denver metro area.

In 2018, I began working at Easterseals to partner with individuals, families and the community to reduce the impact of disability and health challenges so that those living with a disability—whether cognitive or physical—were able to overcome obstacles to independence and increase quality of life through wellness, employment, respite and recreation service programs.

Throughout my time there, I was responsible for the coordination, writing and final submission of grant proposals. I was able to secure funds on behalf of Easterseals’ Neurological & Stroke Rehabilitation Center, Pre-Employment Transition, Disability Benefit Services, Rocky Mountain Village and YAY! summer camps and Community Transit, as well as Access Gallery (a social enterprise and Easterseals affiliate).

Of course, JVA’s grantwriters pride themselves on being generalists—able to write about just about anything. But are there any particular focus areas you will have?

Yes, five funding areas that excite me most! The arts, disability, health care, animal welfare and education, specifically to improve and promote increased literacy.

What is your favorite thing about this type of work? 

Working in philanthropy with important and valued community organizations gives me purpose, and it’s a unique way to be able to help others.

It’s not just a job—it is a fabric of my life—and I feel honored and privileged to work every day toward helping foundation benefactors support the incredible, inspiring work they do.

What interested you about JVA in particular?

What makes JVA stand out so much to me compared with the social sector in general is its dedicated commitment to catalyzing REAL change and sparking much-needed dialogue in ways that are braver, bolder, and provide new alternatives that are not only more authentic but amazingly accessible and affordable to just about anyone interested in making a contribution toward the causes they care about.

An example is JVA’s willingness to teach the appropriate skillsets and provide “toolkits” that are actually useful. This approach of imparting knowledge that can be actually implemented is a welcome divergence from more ineffective, outdated strategies. I’ve heard so many great things about JVA’s trainings from various professional colleagues, all of whom thought it extremely worthwhile and beneficial.

JVA promotes collective progress one step at a time and can prove life-changing. It seems to me that JVA has a two-pronged approach for complex problems. First, it empowers and encourages the individual who would like to take ownership of their development but isn’t sure how. Second, it increases collective community involvement. This embraces the fact that many of us are, indeed, lifelong learners capable of doing more for others in ways that are accountable and integrity-based.

Building relationships and increasing understanding through compassionate outreach has the tendency to make a person to feel real warm and fuzzy—this I know for certain, because after nearly a decade since first experiencing it, the warm fuzziness has yet to subside.

Tell us about one of your favorite projects or an accomplishment you are especially proud of.

I am proud of having gained more proficiency with government grantmaking, as well as having a deeper understanding of what exactly it entails. It was extremely rewarding to receive major support for my clients from the City of Denver and Fort Collins, Mile High United Way, the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, Colorado Creative Industries, Arts in Society, National Endowment for the Arts, Rocky Mountain Human Services, and Douglas County Developmental Disabilities Mill Levy.

Is there anything that has surprised you about this type of work?

There is a surprisingly substantial number of population groups who face major obstacles because they are stigmatized as being helpless and unable to care for themselves (e.g., people living with disabilities, older adults).

This stems from long-held societal assumptions that do not value individuals or recognize the contributions they’re able to make. Having the ability to eliminate such harmful barriers and even out the playing field may seem like a lofty ambition to some, but it’s one that keeps me going.

Everyone at JVA was amused when we saw the intro to your LinkedIn profile. What led you to choose to go with humor in this forum where people can take themselves very seriously?  

Do you mean with regard to The Pinky Ferguson Detective Agency? Well, I was actually pretty serious about that, and the sleuthing successes I’ve experienced so far involve: catching a tire slasher in the act; following around a dear friend’s maggot-brained boyfriend who was having an affair with the Hooters waitress; and discovering what kind of lunatic was stealing my neighbor’s Wall Street Journal from his doormat. Not going to lie—I’d like to have more successes, but I am very picky with the clients I choose and do not like working with folks who I think are:

1) lazy (or a thief) like Jack and the Beanstalk;
2) inciting ruckuses for no particular reason and posing a disturbance to the public people; and/or
3) getting far too big for their britches

Your past work as a grantwriter has focused on the health and safety of pets, and support for people with disabilities. Would you like to share anything that working in either (or both) of these areas taught you?  

In all of these areas, two primary aims are key:

  • Helping to transform power structures to be more equity-driven and therefore capable of fostering the innovation necessary to effectively challenge archaic approaches that have little to no relevance in our current, increasingly data-driven funding and policy landscape.
  • Advancing opportunities, programs and services that allow under-resourced populations to have increased choice and independence. This is an absolute imperative when it comes to populations whose skills and capabilities have been historically overlooked as a result of perceived limitations. Having the freedom and fluency to speak out in ways that are actually heard and clearly acknowledged not only empowers an individual’s voice within their community, but helps to reduce the discriminatory stereotypes that have held them back.

Your JVA bio mentions that you were born in Hong Kong and you minored in Mandarin Chinese at NYU. I’ve read that Cantonese is the main dialect in Hong Kong. Can you share a little bit about the languages you speak and perhaps what led you to study Mandarin?  

My mother is from Taiwan, where Mandarin is most commonly spoken and traditional characters remain the preferred written language as opposed to simplified. My  公公 (grandfather) was a Nationalist, so when Mao Zedong took over in 1949, he and 婆婆 (my grandmother) had to sneak out of mainland China with my mother hidden in a basket. She was just a wee baby then and doesn’t remember any of it.

But, before 公公 died in 2018, he spent a lot of time telling me stories about what was happening back then, while also constantly reminding me how vital it is to treasure my Chinese heritage so … Mandarin and traditional characters it continues to be for me!

FUN FACT: 公公 was a huuuuuuuge Bing Crosby fan and owned all his records.