Redistributing Power in the Funding World: A Q&A with Emily Ross

August 15, 2023

Emily Ross joined Maryland Humanities as the Program Officer, Grants in June. She talks with us over Zoom about what she’s looking forward to in her new position, what appeals to her about leading Maryland Humanities’ Hatza SHINE Grants Program, and more.  

Join Emily at the next Virtual Q&A about the Hatza SHINE Grants August 29 at 3 p.m

Q: What made you decide to apply for the role of Program Officer, Grants?

A: Sure. What originally drew me to the position was Maryland Humanities itself as an organization. I think it’s a fantastic organization and I’m a big believer in the value of humanities-based education. And I’ve always wanted to work in the arts and humanities. And I have before and I wanted to continue that throughout my career. I was drawn to the position of Program Officer, Grants because I wanted to be in a position where I was able to connect small organizations to funding opportunities that would have a real impact. And I know that Maryland Humanities has offered some really strong funding opportunities before so I’m really excited to be a part of it.

Q: Is there anything you’re excited about applying from your previous work to this position?

A: Yeah, so I’ve just graduated with my Master of Social Work degree from University of Maryland, Baltimore, which gave me a really strong foundation and grant making and implementation and social science and research policy.

One of the first things that [Maryland Humanities Executive Director] Lindsay Baker said to me when we met was, “You know we don’t do social work, right? We don’t do social work at Maryland Humanities.” I was like, “Uh, you kind of do a little bit.” Because I specialize in what’s called macro social work, which encompasses social research and project management and program development, all of which are framed by social justice and economic justice, which is supported by the Social Work Code of Ethics.

I’m really excited about applying my skills and developing partnerships and conducting outreach. When I was at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, I had the opportunity to initiate a partnership between the Department of Children Family Services, and the museum and that taught me a lot about what it takes to build a successful partnership. I am just really excited to acquire those skills in this position, as well. It’s really about learning that connections can sometimes happen in the least obvious places, and happen at the speed of trust, and just always being open to hearing people’s needs.

Q: What are you looking most forward to in this role?

A I’m really looking forward to learning more about all of the amazing humanities organizations across the strait. I’ve been in Maryland for two years now, but that’s just been in Baltimore. And I know there’s a lot more to the state of Maryland than just the city of Baltimore so I’ve got a lot to learn about the funding landscape and the community of all the humanities organizations. I’m really looking forward to also working on a long-term goal of growing grant funding to strengthen these humanities organizations across the strait, and focusing on new funding models for communities that have been maybe previously overlooked.

Q: What do you find valuable about offering general operating support?

A: I think general operating support is a really right step in the in the right direction towards a grantmaking practice that is trust-based. We as an organization trust that the organizations who received the Hatza SHINE (Strengthening the Humanities Investment in Nonprofits for Equity) Grants, they know what they need to spend it on, they know best on what they need to spend it on, and we’re not going to sit here and judge and dictate what they should or shouldn’t spend it on. And that they’ll do it responsibly. So whether that’s simply keeping the lights on getting folks their salary, or even launching a new program, we know that they know what they can best use this money towards.

I think that kind of really speaks to redistributing some of the power dynamics in the funding world. As a funder and as an organization, I think we have to be willing to give up some of the power and some of the control and be more of a supporter and a collaborator rather than judging what an organization needs. And above all, I really want to show up in this role in a way that’s approachable and relational rather than transactional.

Q: What you find unique specifically about the Hatza SHINE Grants Program? And what your favorite aspect might be that you haven’t already addressed?

A: Yeah, first I do think it’s really important to note that the fact that we provide general operating support is a big part of what makes the Hatza SHINE grants so unique. I think I’ve been already getting a lot of feedback from folks who are interested in applying or previous grantees who keep saying, you know,  this is the only opportunity that we’ve we found that that supports general operating everything is so program based, especially for really small organizations. And I think that also makes the Hatza SHINE program unique that we really try to focus on the small and mid-sized humanities organizations that maybe don’t have the staffing capacity or the programmatic capacity or resources to be really competitive in fundraising.

I would say my favorite aspect of the program is that I feel like we’ve really set a good intention to see it grow. I think it presents a really great opportunity to build networks and engage with others and really amplify the state’s investment that they’ve made in this program and just strengthen the community of humanities programs throughout Maryland.

Q: Can you elaborate on that last part a little bit?

A: Sure. The state’s given us this money, and they they’re trusting Maryland Humanities to grow our partnerships with the organizations that we work with. So I think I want to see the program grow, and it has grown already. So just in the past year, we were awarded 50 grants through the SHINE program, and this year, we’re set up to award 95. So I think that that’s definitely a message from the state saying, “Hey, we support this and we think this is a great idea. And we want to see it grow.” So I’m excited to see where what’s in store in the future.

Q: I know, you mentioned the number of grants, of course, but I’m wondering if you could talk about anything else that’s changed about the Hatza SHINE grant program this year, as opposed to our first round?

A: Sure. I did want to emphasize the name change. So we’ve changed the name to honor Marilyn Hatza, who was our director of Grants and Community Engagement. She was really central to the creation of the SHINE Grants program. It really felt right to honor her by memorializing her name in the in the grants program. And I’ve had the pleasure of learning about her sort of vicariously through folks that she worked with in the past. I’ve been getting a lot of feedback saying, thank you so much for honoring her in that way. And it’s interesting to hear about such a prolific person and hear about the work that they did, and I think it’s inspiring to hear about and I’m glad that you know, Lindsey made that decision to rename the program.

Applications for the Hatza SHINE Grants are due September 1. Learn more.

Category: Grants Outgoing