Road to becoming… a grants officer

Ailbhe Kirwan, community programmes assistant at the People’s Postcode Lottery, on how she got to where she is today

Education: Queen Margaret University. MA in Cultural and Creative Enterprise (2014-15); University of Limerick BA (Hons) in English and New Media (2008-12).

Work experience: 2017–present: Community programmes assistant, small grants team, charities department, People’s Postcode Lottery 2015–2017: Customer experience agent, People’s Postcode Lottery 2013–2016: Cashier / front of house and bar supervisor, Edinburgh Playhouse 2015: Ticketing coordinator, Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015: Front of house manager, Edinburgh International Science Festival 2014: Ticketing services supervisor, hub tickets 2012–2013: Quality assurance tester, Rockstar North 2012: Box office and administration supervisor, Edinburgh International Book Festival

Tell us about your job? I assess, monitor, process and evaluate grants for three charitable trusts that award funding between £500 and £20,000. There are two funding rounds each year and we receive more than 5,000 applications, so I am kept quite busy! Alongside the administration of grants, processing data is becoming an increasingly important aspect of my role.

Do you have qualifications and did you need them? Yes (see CV). I joined People’s Postcode Lottery as a customer experience agent in 2015, handling calls from players, and that allowed me to really get to know the organisation before moving across to the charities team last year. I wouldn’t say my qualifications were necessary for the role that I’m currently in, but for me personally they have proved invaluable.

What’s the best bit about your job? I get to spend a lot of time with many good causes that players support. I undertake at least 15 visits to projects around Great Britain to understand the impact of the funding they’ve received. These field trips are the best part of the job. You can get a flavour of what a project is about by reading the application, but actually seeing in person the incredible work that grassroots organisations are undertaking in their communities is so much better.

How easy is it to climb the career ladder in your profession? As a relative newcomer, entering this role through an unusual progression route, it is difficult for me to say. Within People’s Postcode Lottery, I know that progression is definitely possible with hard work, being innovative and keeping the best interests of charities and good causes at heart.
What single thing has made the biggest difference to your career? A supportive manager or mentor. A career in charitable giving was something I thought would be out of my reach. That was until a really lovely, intelligent and super supportive manager came into my
life and really invested in my potential.

Is this where you wanted to be? This is not a role that I was aware of/ striving towards back when I was studying, however this is even better than roles I had previously envisaged. The work is hard, the environment can be high pressured, however the team ethic and transformative goals that we are all working towards make this the best role I’ve ever had.

What’s your biggest career success? Getting to grips with the technical aspect of the role. I was aware that when I came into this role there would be an element of data processing, but now my role has gone beyond this and, with help from the database administrator, I’m undertaking some very techy tasks that I thought would be beyond my abilities. The biggest success with this was the creation of our new online application form earlier this year. I was instrumental in scoping, designing and implementing the elements needed for this to go live in a very short amount of time.

What’s your top tip for someone thinking of becoming a grants officer? Volunteer! For myself this was (and is) predominantly for arts and film festivals and events. When you work within a charity you understand what can be done on a small budget and also where there is the most need. I would also recommend getting into a role (voluntary or otherwise) which involves application writing. The skills that you gain are invaluable when it comes to designing application forms, monitoring processes and evaluation procedures.

What’s next for you? At this time I am definitely in a position where I’m being regularly challenged and have scope to be innovative, while loving the people that I’m working with. The culture at People’s Postcode Lottery is hard to beat and so I am focusing on progressing up the ladder here. For 2019 my main focus will be to gain accreditation in our database administration. Wish me luck!