McCaskill-hosted symposium aims to increase access to grant funding

Cassandra Wainright woke up at dawn Wednesday and hit the road soon after. Driving from Kansas City to Columbia, she couldn’t contain her excitement. “I barely slept last night,” she said.

This was the second time that Wainright, a Kansas City-based pastor and non-profit worker, has attended a grant symposium hosted by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

“The previous seminar was of much smaller scale,” Wainright said.

This symposium was part of an effort by McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, to equip her constituents with knowledge and tools to navigate the fundraising process and, ultimately, support local economic and business development.

The event took place at Battle High School in Columbia, drawing an estimated 800 business owners, non-profit workers and government employees. Representatives from 28 federal and state agencies shared information and held training sessions.

The day’s goal, McCaskill said, was to “make those competitive grants more accessible to more small communities, more not-for-profits and more charitable organizations in Missouri.”

“The idea is to avoid the necessity of knowing the secret knock or having to hire a very expensive grant consultant in order to secure grants,” she said.

McCaskill’s staff has held similar seminars across the state in St. Louis, Springfield, Kansas City and St. Joseph. Unlike the other events, the Columbia symposium included a daylong open house, which allowed attendees to ask certain agencies specific questions individually.

Apart from the presentations and open house, the symposium included a pair of two-hour grant writing training sessions led by Tom Vansaghi, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management. Vansaghi covered the process of writing grants, from researching potential funders to composing an outstanding proposal.

Wainright said that session was her favorite.

“I think what really helps us is that (the seminar) is very easy to understand,” she said. “The language isn’t full of terminologies, above your head.”

Wainright said that after the symposium she wanted to help the two organizations she works for — Calvary Community Outreach Network, a non-profit focusing on youth development and health education, and Concerned Clergy Coalition, an organization for pastors — try a new fundraising approach and sustain grants through grant writing.

Troy Renner, executive director of Shelby County Economic Development, traveled for over an hour to attend the symposium in the early morning. His favorite part of the symposium was also the grant writing session, which he said was “very informative.”

Renner, who was a radio journalist for 28 years, has worked in economic development for the last three years. He said the seminar helped expose him to resources that would enable him to play his new role better.

All the presentations’ content will soon be available to the public on McCaskill’s website.

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