O’Neill Alumni Spotlight

Sydney Joseph is from Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from O’Neill in 2017 with a BSPA in Nonprofit Management, and again in 2019 with her MPA in Nonprofit Management. From her home in Indianapolis, she remotely works as a Grant Writer for the Seattle Aquarium!

1. Can you tell our students a little bit about yourself?

I graduated from O’Neill (SPEA, for part of that time) in 2019 after completing the Accelerated Master’s Program. My focus was nonprofit management. During my time in school, I interned with the IU Foundation, the School of Education’s development office, and the Wells Scholars program. I also worked in the Business SPEA Information Commons, which I loved. The best people work in that library, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of it! Since then, I’ve worked at an education nonprofit, in higher education, and now I’m the Grants Officer at the Seattle Aquarium. All of my roles have focused on grants, proposal development, and partnerships. I also volunteer as a grant writer for two nonprofits who provide services and programming to people who are incarcerated. 

2. What skills are most important in your role? 

As a grant writer, one of the most important skills you can have is attention to detail–especially when you’re working on federal grants, you have to read through grant guidelines that can often approach 100 pages, and then you have to comply with those guidelines or you risk being disqualified from consideration. Grant writers are also storytellers, and you have to be able to adapt to your audience. Some grants might be highly technical, whereas other grants may require more creativity. Lastly, I would say being able to manage multiple tasks is necessary for a successful grant writer. Grant writers often face competing deadlines and have to juggle multiple narratives, attachments, submissions, and more. Grant writing is both a science and an art–you have to follow instructions, but it really boils down to how well you can tell your story. 

3. What trends do you see on the horizon in this type of career? 

I think and hope that the broader field of philanthropy will move more toward trust-based philanthropy and community-centric fundraising — models that are both rooted in equity and envision a more just nonprofit world. There are so many possibilities under these models, but changes we are starting to see include reducing or removing reporting requirements, empowering grantees and communities to be the experts that they are, shifting decision making power, increasing general operating/unrestricted support, and more. Grant writers, and really fundraisers in general, are uniquely positioned to help redistribute wealth and power, but I hope the philanthropy field will continue to move toward giving practices that involve whole communities every step of the way. 

4. Our school’s motto is “Lead for the Greater Good”, what does this mean to you?  

The motto resonates with people for so many reasons, but for me, it means leading with the greater good. My identities often put me in privileged positions, so leading for the greater good means knowing when to cede, share, and use those privileges. It means constantly interrogating my own ways of knowing and understanding of the world. Leading for the greater good means letting our values be the guiding hand behind the decisions we make. For me, those values encompass equity, relationships, and compassion. 

By Sophia Hottois
Sophia Hottois Peer Educator