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She Raised Nearly $700,000.00 in Just A Year and a Half - Interview with Elena Esparza

grant writing Feb 15, 2021

Join me by watching this interview with Elena Esparza and I am very excited to talk to her about her success. Below is the transcription of our interview. Enjoy! 

Rodney Walker Hey, guys, this is Rodney Walker, I'm so excited today to bring you Elena Esparza, who's going to be coming to you. She has won some funds and I'm excited. I love bringing to you students who have gotten funding, and she's one of them. Welcome today, Elena. 

Elena Esparza Hello. 

Rodney Walker How are you doing out that way? 

Elena Esparza I am good. It's nice we're still enjoying our summer. 

Rodney Walker Great! You were up in the San Diego area. Tell us the name of the organization that you're working with and tell us about what you do out that way. 

Elena Esparza So I work for the Tampa squad Inhibition Indians. It's a tribal government just north of San Diego, and I am currently their procurement in contract administrator. Several years ago, I assisted in writing some grants, which is when your class and I was successful, got some funds for the thing. 


You Should Never Doubt Yourself

Rodney Walker Now let's back up so you before you and I got a chance to connect and go through the training. What were you doing any writing before that time or writing some or what was the story? What was going on? 

Elena Esparza I had never tried any kind of grant writing. The CFO that I worked under had he knew that I had worked with Grant as far as doing some reporting for one of our other departments. I had never tried to write a grant and he said, hey, let's see if you can do this. And I said, well, I don't know what I'm doing, which is what I think your class and the way that you broke it down and really kind of clicked. So that's how I got into it. 

Rodney Walker Got so. So you were doing the reporting, the grant management part of things just kind a maybe the numbers, making sure everything was reported back to them. But no writing at all. 

Elena Esparza No, no writing. 

Rodney Walker Now, tell me this, Did you have a background in writing? Did you do anything to write about what is really? 

Elena Esparza I know just college papers. 

Rodney Walker OK, ok, just college papers. And I'll tell people all the time that you can write a college paper. You can, you can do this. 

Elena Esparza Oh, absolutely! 

Rodney Walker That's good. So did you connect, we connect, you go through the training. What, what were your thoughts before, actually. Let's go back and take a look. What were your thoughts before actually going through the training because you sound like when you see a folk approached you, he saw something or she saw something on you and thought that this was something that you could do? But what were your initial thoughts when he told you about that? 

Elena Esparza Oh, my goodness, what am I going to do? I have no idea, even if a funding announcement. 

Rodney Walker So so needless to say, it sounds like you were nervous. 

Elena Esparza Nervous, scared, apprehensive best out that the thesaurus, all the words. 

Rodney Walker Wow, wow. OK, so then you start hearing the information, you start learning the information. And what happened when you started hearing the information? Did it become less daunting or what would happen in that process? 

Elena Esparza I originally started out with the smaller foundation grants and the one that he had wanted me to go for was it was a culture grant for our Education Department to help build up their library. So that was a very small grant. It was only a couple of thousand dollars. But even reading the funding announcement, it was. How do I interpret what am I supposed to be getting from this to then put into the proposal? OK, so that's where you come in. And I brought up because in your class, you know, we work on what we're actually working on and break it down, which is completely real-world applicable and amazing. So doing that it kind of gave me a better guideline on how to really interpret what I'm reading? And what do they really asking for? 

Rodney Walker Yeah, very nice! So you said you actually bought the information, still working on the grant, seeing things become a little more clear to you. And then I'm imagining that you probably are still nervous. Are you still nervous in the process of what happened that you took that got the information from the class and started planning? Tell me what else happened. 

Elena Esparza So after taking the class, I came back, sat down in front of my computer, and said, OK, so I need to write a term paper asking for money. 

Elena Esparza And really it's more of writing a story. It's telling the background of our organization. What are we wanting? What are we trying to get out of it and what are we going to show for it? And putting that into a story that makes sense to people who have no idea who you are and to really get them to want to give you. Was sitting down and writing it. Sorry about writing it and getting all the information in there that they were asking for. 

Rodney Walker Wow. So did so. So basically, you're taking the experience you had from writing all these papers way back when and now you have a whole lot to be able to use that and you start telling your story. How hard was it to tell your organization story after you kind of went through the process? 

Elena Esparza Well, it was fairly easy. I am part of the community. My husband has grown up here so I can pull from him, asking the chairman questions, asking the department directors questions about kind of the background and the history. And then working with the schools to get test scores and how to pull that information off, so it was really just like going to the library and trying to get information for a research paper. It's pulling from all these different sources and then making it cohesive and understandable. 


Ways To Boost Your Confidence

Rodney Walker Yeah, so so so you put your investigator's hat on and start going around interviewing you pull together and you put that information into the proposal and you submitted. So. So what was it like when you submitted that the first proposal that you did and what was it like? Do you feel like this is a win or do you wonder where you? Doubtful what are the emotions that were going on? 

Elena Esparza It was nerve-wracking. I was definitely nervous and I was excited. It was like, OK, so this is my baby and it's out there, and are they going to like it? And then it was the waiting game. 

Rodney Walker How long was away? 

Elena Esparza It was about six months. 

Rodney Walker OK, so tell me what happened when all of a sudden the news comes to you that you guys have got to show me that picture of what happened?  


Elena Esparza So I get an email from the funding agency and they're like, hey, we like your proposal, we want to give you some money. And so I think about the email because I didn't believe it. So I printed out tickets and I asked him, what does this say? Well, I think it says and he said, well, yeah, it says that we're getting the money. And then it was the happy dance and run. And like, I like what I did. 

Get Funded Inner Circle!

Rodney Walker Bravo for you! Bravo! I know that first one, you always win at first grant it's so, so super exciting and it's a really big boost of confidence. How much was the first one for? 

Elena Esparza I believe that one was only four, maybe seven thousand dollars. It was a small library back, but that was seven thousand dollars for our organization to get books for the kids and build up their library. Yeah, the real-world implications was so much bigger than that. Seven thousand dollars. And since then I've gotten funded for a lot more. 

Rodney Walker Wow. So you get the seven thousand dollars, the funds go to the library, you guys are able to help the children and others be able to get resources that they probably wouldn't have had. And then what? What's going on with you then? I mean, like you first want to know what happens next. 

Elena Esparza Then the CFO says, OK, so go on grants dot gov and see what else we can get. Go on foundations, you know, the foundation website, see what we can qualify for. So a large portion of my day was researching different grants and grant opportunities and really just kind of seeing the cycle. You know it's not just one grant one time. A lot of these funding agencies, I noticed, is kind of a recurring things so every year in a you missed that window. OK, well, it's the same time next year. So we're kind of researching all those different granting opportunities and he's like, we got one so see what we got it. 

Rodney Walker So what so what ended up being this what ended up being the next one or two in funding for. 

Elena Esparza We did get a acculturate for our is our community spirit house. So it's where we hold a lot of our. Like memorial events,

Rodney Walker OK. 

Elena Esparza You know funerals and that kind of but it's it's all culturally based. So really developing that area, talking about that one got different. 


She Got Three Hundred Thousand Dollars

Rodney Walker How much was that one for, approximately? 

Elena Esparza Oh, I don't even remember. It was so long ago, but then I know I got the money I had applied for the method suicide prevention grant. 

Rodney Walker OK. 

Elena Esparza And we did get the one I asked for a hundred thousand a year for three years. So three hundred thousand total for one ten. 

Rodney Walker Wow. Just been a great hero around there. So you've got three hundred thousand dollars for that one. And that one was you say something at the end you said that was for what? 

Elena Esparza It was for suicide prevention. So holding prevention courses and in all the resources on the reservation. 

Rodney Walker Wow. Was that the largest one to date at that time that you at that time. Yes. And being and then and by this time, I'm sure you're doing a happy dance all around. OK, now I know they probably was this lady right here. 

Rodney Walker We wonder if she regrets that she's created three hundred dollar grants here, huh? What was the feeling like? What's it feeling like when you bought that much money? 

Elena Esparza It was surreal. I couldn't believe it. I had actually, you know, that I was being that I was able to contribute to not only the community that I worked for, but the community that I live in now for people that I care about and that I know. 

Rodney Walker Wow, that must be a real special feeling, especially you're not just doing grant writing that's going to be for some projects out there. It's your actual community. 

Rodney Walker So you so when you go to that library, you see those books that were probably.. 

Elena Esparza My daughter, goes to the Education Department, she uses that library. She is the resources that we've done. You know, we got funding for some of our cultural activities that we have there. She's in the direct benefit of that. We have meetings all over for people that are near and dear to me. 

Rodney Walker Wow, that must have must really be a special feeling. And I'm so proud that you, first of all, that you stepped out. He did. And then just seeing what's probably been the most memorable thing that you raise funds for, that you've been able to kind of look back saying, wow, I hope to contribute to that. What would that be for you? 

Elena Esparza That would probably be our domestic violence program. So four or five years ago, we didn't have a domestic violence program. And, you know, within the native community, there is a lot of it's one of those. It's seen but not heard. And there's not a lot of resources for that within the Native American community and or there wasn't at the time our community, if something happened on our reservation, those with those children were outsourced to different organizations. So working in conjunction with our police department, we were able to put together a proposal for them to submit to the Australian women through the... And we were able to get funding and actually develop and implement a domestic violence program on our reservation. 

Rodney Walker Awesome. That is awesome.

 Elena Esparza And it's gone now for four years, they're continuing it, it's that one that really touched me because it was such a big thing. 

Rodney Walker Yeah. What kind of impact and what kind of impact have you seen it made so far? 

Elena Esparza Just I mean, I haven't because I don't want you to hear directly, but I know it's created a safe place for people to all go to. We have an advocate that goes out and deals with the court. So it's so multidimensional. He started this group and say it's crazy to think about. 

Rodney Walker That's awesome. So, combined, total how much have you been over raising the idea of the time frame. 

Elena Esparza Within the body, because I only wrote grants for about a year and a half and just in time from the grant proposals that I had submitted within that time. I mean, obviously, it takes longer to get there. But from the ones that I wrote with that time, close to seven hundred thousand dollars. 

Rodney Walker Wow. That's that's remarkable. Especially in such a relatively short time. About a year and a half is what I'm sure you said you only did it. Did you kind of stop now. I'm sure the CEO of like, hey, give me a raise in a Corporate. 

Elena Esparza Well, I started doing an I kind of moved over and started doing procurement and contracting, and that as a whole new beast. 


Never Doubt, Just Get It Done!

Rodney Walker  Yeah, yeah, yeah, but that's good, that's good. What would you say if that was another Native American tribe or government tribe speaking about learning the grant writing that maybe haven't had someone that's been doing what you say to them? Or what would you say to any Empire State about Martin Bigram? Right. That may maybe felt like you felt you were when you were first starting. 

Elena Esparza Just do it. You may not get the first one, you may not get the second one, you're going to get something. There's so many organizations and agencies that want to give money for good causes and you just have to put yourself out there and do it. I mean, plain and simple. 

Rodney Walker So you can take action. You think you think, OK, so let me this that because you think anyone can do you think somebody's home? If somebody hears someone that may be completed some papers in college, they say they did it at least ten-page paper. You think somebody who's a real dumb 10 page paper in college, that they take this knowledge and skill and possibly transfer that and make that turn into grant money? Is that one hundred percent? 

Elena Esparza If you can tell a story and justify what you want with facts and figures, anybody could do it. 

Rodney Walker Wow. Well, you guys didn't even have to know how to spell so. 

Rodney Walker Well, that's great. 

Rodney Walker Well, I'm so proud of the work you're doing for the tribe. I'm so proud of the work that you've done in raising funds. And you know what I mean. The part that makes me the most proud is that you, your CFO, Cynthia, and we talk, you see the photo, you see us sitting saying my way. But you did that fear gripping and you stepped down and you did it and appeared to sound like a cup and start rolling from there because you know, that kind of impact, that's tremendous. I'm really, really proud of you. Is there any final thing that you want to say to you today and let us know this important for you that you want to let us know? 

Elena Esparza And what would that be if so, just get out there, but put out those proposals and get it done. The worst thing you can be told is no. And at that point, you can try again next year. I mean. And literally, anybody can do it. You just got to put yourself out there. 

Rodney Walker Elena, that's so true. I tell people all the time said, no it was free, but yes, comes with benefits. So like you said, all of the words they say is no help. You keep on trying to win. So, let me ask you this, how many No did you get before you've got, Yes. 

Elena Esparza None. It gets rock star, you're such a rock star that was back in the comedy and that was for me though with don't build your program around the grant, build a grant around your program, find it stick with your current program, because then you don't have to change anything. It's just free money. 

Rodney Walker Yeah. Yeah. And you and it sounds like you did a good job of that finding that fit to tell people all the fond of saying that to be wasting time applying what you should be fine. So I can do a great job. Well, I'm so proud of you. Hats off. Kudos for being a grant hero around here for bringing those resources in those books to your community and for the domestic violence programs to be able to bring in all the other problems. And I'm sure somewhere down the line they probably won't get you back on the road to more grants and all that good stuff to bring in even some more fun. So keep up the good work and know that I'm really, really proud of them and all that. 

Elena Esparza Thank you and thank you for all the great information. 

Rodney Walker You're most welcome. Thank you. 

Elena Esparza All right. 

Rodney Walker Will talk to you later.

Rodney Walker is today’s leading expert in Grant Development Systems™ and President of Grant Central USA - Grant Writers Association. Learn more about his online grant writing courses today.

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