Researching is to a grant writer what stretching is to a marathon runner—the process brings clarity beyond focus.

While researching a Missouri nonprofit client that serves people with developmental disabilities, I was deeply affected by a call with facility staff about the ten, acutely disabled patients they care for—all requiring a nurse to accomplish basic tasks for them. This work was undertaken by a team of caregivers who work long days at a physically and emotionally demanding job, serving patients unable to express appreciation.

The head nurse had to be persuaded to tell me how much they do each day. “You know, it’s my team,” she shared. “They’re the hardest working people I know.” The nurse’s words guided me through my New York City commute, riding the subway at rush hour.

To clarify, one doesn’t “ride” the New York subway; that implies stillness. Commuting was more like body surfing against waves of people with bags and backpacks dangling off limbs. I vacillated between silent mutterings and distracting myself with the skyscraper skyline to make the time go by.

Centering my thoughts inspired me to reflect on the client. As I did, I gained perspective. Any of those patients would gladly trade places with me, since I could stand unassisted. While I irritably lugged groceries, they would gladly carry their own weight.

That day, my research to get to know the client stretched me beyond my present circumstance. We hear a lot about gratitude and kindness, but it can become like white noise. Listening to the nurse’s narrative personalized people so well that I no longer saw the number ten (stats), I recognized these individuals’ contributions (stories).

As a grant writer, when I hold the reality of my clients’ efforts and multiply it by the experiences of dedicated donors and workers as well, the power of philanthropy is exponential. This experience also changed my own story when it comes to complaining versus complimenting unsung heroes.

Melanie Louis
Vice President of Grant Writing and Research
New York