In the Q&A below, Jennifer Graves, Grants and Finance Manager at Well Being Trust, shares about the women who have influenced her personally and professionally and what gives her the greatest sense of pride in her work.
What inspired you to join Well Being Trust?
I spent many years as a grants manager for an Oakland-based nonprofit, Super Stars Literacy, where I was responsible for securing all of our grant funding and coordinating with our foundation partners on grant proposals and reporting. While I loved supporting the mission of that organization, I didn’t feel like fundraising was my ultimate career goal. But I always enjoyed working with our foundation partners, and I became more and more interested in the idea of supporting programs and issues from the grantmaking side. I made the transition to the philanthropy field in 2016, and have been happily working in foundation grants management ever since.
The Grants and Finance Manager role at Well Being Trust appealed to me because I would be able to manage the entire grantmaking process, and since Well Being Trust was a relatively new organization, there would be a lot of opportunities to refine the processes that they had recently started to implement. I liked the fact that I would be working with a small team, as that offers opportunities for close working relationships, and I was already familiar with working alongside health systems through my work at Kaiser Permanente. I was also excited to have the opportunity to support mental health and well-being issues.
As a psychology major, I had worked in the mental health field very early on in my career, in settings ranging from psychiatric hospitals to adolescent group homes to employee assistance programs, so I’ve had first-hand experience with many of the issues that Well Being Trust is working on.
What gives you the greatest sense of pride in what you do?
I am very proud of what Well Being Trust has been able to accomplish in the mental health field, especially considering we are a young organization with a small staff. Every day I learn something new from my co-workers or our partners. It’s very gratifying to help our team execute our strategy and see how all of these individual projects contribute to a larger impact. As someone who enjoys detail-oriented work, it’s an interesting challenge to track all of the 75-100 grants and contracts we have open at any given time, move each of them through each stage of the grantmaking process, and track their eventual impact.
Grants management touches every aspect of our organization – program, finance, communications, evaluation, administration – so it’s important to me that I keep everything running smoothly in a way that supports others in their particular roles.
Has there been a time when you felt being a woman impacted your career positively or negatively.
Luckily, the nonprofit and foundation fields are ones in which you tend to see women at all career levels, so I never felt like I had any gender-related barriers to being hired or promoted. But, like many other women, I’ve experienced the challenges of juggling family and work responsibilities – things may be improving, but I think society and systems still place unequal expectations on women. There’s a quote that says something like, “We expect women to parent like they don’t have to work, and work like they don’t have to parent.” I think that speaks to the frustrations of a lot of women who are also parents and for those who are primary caregivers.
What women do you look up to? Who was a female influence in your professional or personal life and why?
I am surrounded by amazing women at Well Being Trust. Each one is incredibly smart, thoughtful, capable, talented, and kind. Looking back, one of my biggest professional influences was Carla Koren – we were both on the founding team of volunteers who launched Super Stars Literacy. After the organization was fully established, she became the Board Chair and I was hired as the Grants Manager, and we worked closely together in those roles for many years. Carla has won many impressive local and national awards for her volunteer service, and without her leadership, inspiration, and guidance, I probably would not have had a career in the nonprofit field, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. She cared deeply about creating solutions to social problems, and with her “we can do this!” attitude, Carla encouraged me (and many others) to constantly learn new skills and take on additional responsibilities.
I’m also enjoying seeing my daughter follow in my footsteps. As a recent college graduate, she is working in the nonprofit fund development field, so I can relate to everything that she does in her job. It’s fun to have those experiences in common, and it’s especially rewarding when she asks for my advice on something that she is working on. I don’t know how long that will last, but I’m enjoying it for now!
What hopes do you have for the future in mental health and wellness?
Every one of us is affected by mental health issues in some way, and this needs to be a priority on a personal, community, and national level. I hope we can continue to destigmatize mental health issues and ensure that they are treated in the same way as physical health issues. I also hope we can make progress with understanding the vital conditions for well-being and ensuring that they are present in every community.
Read more – Women’s History Month: Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope