After a career in higher education slammed to a halt, Melanie Lambert embraced the opportunity to pursue her passion. Forming TurnKey Writing Solutions in 2017, the Cartersville resident provides nonprofits virtual grant writing subscriptions.
“My grandfather worked hard his whole life and was fortunate to retire and spend his last years traveling with my grandmother, his daughters and my sisters and me,” Lambert said. “He was usually very silly and fun-loving. But I remember one time he was talking to me about his work as an engineer and how he trained and built up his skills and education.
“He got really serious and said, ‘Melanie, never turn down free education. It doesn't matter what they're teaching. You can always learn something.’ I think taking that advice really sparked in me a fascination with learning. … I think that's what makes me a good grant writer.”
Name: Melanie Lambert
Occupation and title: Grant writing/fundraising consultant — managing director and CEO of TurnKey Writing Solutions
City of residence: Cartersville
Family: Husband, Kris, and children, Connor, 4, and Harrison, 2
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Reinhardt University
The Daily Tribune News (DTN): Share a little about your professional background. When and why did you form TurnKey Writing Solutions?
Melanie Lambert (ML): I had an amazing opportunity pretty much fall into my lap in 2007. A position opened at Reinhardt University — my alma mater — in the development office. I'd had a little experience working with the college's Phon-a-thon, but no real concept of "development." I interviewed and they must have seen something in me that, at the time, I couldn't see. I was fortunate to work with and learn from some of the best fundraising professionals in our region in JoEllen Wilson and Mary Alice Alexander. They took me under their wings and taught me everything they knew. You'll never hear a kid say, "I want to be a fundraiser when I grow up and ask people for money!" But it came naturally to me. My career continued to develop, and I continued to have strong, female role models to guide me each step of my career.
In 2017, after 10 years of building a career I was proud of, I got laid off. It felt like the worst moment of my professional life. It was such a slap in the face. Even though everyone told me that it had nothing to do with my ability, it's hard to go through that experience without questioning yourself and your skills. It felt like everything came to a screeching halt. I had a 1-year-old with my then stay-at-home-dad husband. My Type A personality kicked things into gear hunting for jobs, but I couldn't find anything that felt like it wasn't a step backward. While I was willing to do what needed to be done, my husband chimed in with, "You've always wanted to try consulting. Maybe this is God firmly closing one door so you can open another."
And, on Sept. 1, 2017, TurnKey Writing Solutions was born. Initially I was committed to providing every aspect of fundraising writing to nonprofit organizations. But it was a lot to manage and too much to market. My friend — and now business partner — Jeff Tindall helped me develop the TurnKey that exists today, offering affordable grant writing subscriptions to nonprofits to help them save time, spend less and raise more. Ultimately I want to help nonprofits better serve their clients by providing grant writing services comparable to hiring a full-time staff person, but much more affordably because it's 100% virtual.
DTN: What services does TurnKey Writing Solutions provide?
ML: We provide monthly subscriptions for grant writing and all of the elements that go into building a grant writing fundraising strategy. All of our subscriptions include an onboarding call with our client, grant narrative development — proposal, letters, etc., monthly research, a custom grant calendar, monthly reports, cultivation of grant-makers and potential funding partners and ultimately grant submission. Depending on the subscription level, we also offer post-grant reporting. We can provide these services at about 85% less than hiring a full-time grant writer because it is 100% virtual.
DTN: Describe the range of nonprofits you have assisted at TurnKey Writing Solutions.
ML: The best part about TurnKey is really our ability to work with any nonprofit. Since launch in 2017, we've worked with nonprofits that are just starting out with an all-volunteer team and a small budget all the way up to nonprofits with multi-million-dollar annual budgets, dozens of staff members and robust programs. We've had the honor of working with nonprofits in so many different sectors and learning about missions and programs that are changing lives across the country. Some include veterans service organizations; direct services for immediate needs, like food and housing; arts and culture organizations in dance, theater, museums and historic restoration; education, including colleges, private schools, college readiness and extracurricular programming; health care; animal welfare; environmental conservation; and international causes for women and children.
DTN: What do you enjoy most about leading TurnKey Writing Solutions?
ML: There is never a dull moment. Honestly the best part is getting to be part of all of the wonderful work our nonprofit clients are doing and discovering needs and the organizations addressing those needs. There are so many things needed in this world that I really had no idea of before TurnKey. I spent most of my pre-TurnKey career in higher education fundraising. And that's great. I got to help so many people achieve their educational goals by finding and securing funding for scholarships, professorships, buildings, etc. But, after 10 years, I needed a change.
With TurnKey, it's different every day. One day I may be working on a grant to help entrepreneurs develop inventions and businesses and the next may be a grant to help homeless children in Nepal get the education they need to break out of a cycle of poverty. The variety is fascinating and inspiring. And of course, winning grants. When I'm able to tell our client that we've secured a grant and they can move forward with a program or project, that's a great day.
DTN: Describe one of the most memorable grants you have written.
ML: Our first win at TurnKey will always be my favorite and most memorable because I get to see the fruits of that work on a regular basis. I've had the honor of working with Red Door Food Pantry in Cartersville since our launch in 2017. That fall, we submitted a request to the Episcopal Community Foundation for Middle and North Georgia. After their review, they requested a site visit and I was able to consult Red Door on how best to manage this next step in the grant process.
Ultimately the foundation was impressed with the amazing work happening at Red Door and awarded them the largest grant in the foundation's history. With that grant, Red Door Food Pantry was able to purchase the refrigerated truck that has helped bring food to so many more people in need throughout Bartow County. Before the truck, Red Door was really limited to distributing food from their physical location in downtown Cartersville. People had to come to them. The truck has really transformed the organization's ability to serve our neighbors beyond Cartersville.
DTN: What was the inspiration behind TurnKey Writing Solutions’ Nonprofit of the Month contest?
ML: In our work, I get to interact with so many nonprofits. Through these conversations, I was just amazed at how creative nonprofits were meeting needs that I had previously been unaware even existed. I wanted to create a platform to shine a spotlight on those organizations. The Nonprofit of the Month award is the result of that. We highlight those organizations on our website, in our e-newsletter and on our social media platforms.
DTN: How are the winners selected?
ML: We ask people from all of our social networks to nominate a nonprofit that they feel is worthy of the recognition. Those organizations are contacted and asked to provide us with a brief interview. We ask each organization the same questions and their responses are presented to our award committee. The committee reviews and scores the responses and ultimately selects a recipient for the month.
DTN: Describe the range of organizations that have won the nonprofit of the month contest, and were you pleased to see Footprints on the Heart — a Bartow organization — selected as TurnKey Writing Solutions' July Nonprofit of the Month recipient?
ML: Since this award started in January 2020, we've recognized an organization in Kansas that helps infants, children and adults with disabilities; a nonprofit in Atlanta that empowers Latinos to adapt, integrate and thrive; a civic club in Colorado that encourages women locally and worldwide through service and advocacy; a Virginia-based organization that provides veterinary care for retired service animals at no cost to owners/handlers; a nonprofit in Seattle that pivoted with COVID-19 to provide its usual in-person support and education for individuals with chronic illness on a virtual platform, expanding their reach; a nonprofit based here in Bartow County that supports families after the loss of an infant or child less than 2 years old; a community wellness center in Michigan that also pivoted post-COVID by offering socially distant workout classes and camps; and a Florida nonprofit that matches mentors with at-risk young women to help them complete their education and seek careers that will enrich their lives.
Seeing Footprints on the Heart recognized made what is already an amazing experience even more joyful. I try to take advantage of any time I can be a part of highlighting the work of any organization in Bartow County. We have such a giving community. It's one of the things I love most about living and working here. Footprints on the Heart is meeting a need that some people aren't even comfortable talking about, let alone facing head on with those living with the unimaginable grief of losing a child. Khristie and her team truly deserved this recognition — and so much more — and I look forward to ways that we can continue to shine a light on their work as well as the other organizations we've recognized in 2020.
DTN: What is your greatest professional and/or personal achievement?
ML: My greatest achievements are my children. They are both the best parts of me and my husband combined into these two tiny amazing people. From a professional and personal perspective, I believe my greatest achievements happen each and every day in our house. Our normal little house in Cartersville is a home, a schoolhouse, an office, a playground, a domestic church. Since March, my husband has worked from home and I've been doing the same since 2017. Our 4-year-old started Pre-K this year and with the challenges of COVID, we decided to homeschool.
Before COVID, I could work at a coffee shop or the library and get away for a few hours. With the pandemic, our home — like so many others — became the center of the universe. We work here, eat here, shop here from our computers or phones, worship here with live-streaming church, learn here with homeschool lessons and play here all while managing the general upkeep of the place. It's a lot. And I know we're not alone. It's mentally and physically exhausting sometimes. But when we go to bed at night happy and healthy, we've prayed, our jobs are secure and there's food in our bellies, that's my greatest professional and personal achievement.
DTN: How would you describe yourself in three words?
ML: I'm not very good at describing myself, but I think I'd use — loving, fun and committed. Those are the three words I hope people would use to describe me.
DTN: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
ML: I'm surprisingly handy. I can fix pretty much anything as long as I can access the internet for YouTube videos or Pinterest life hacks. Before we moved in June, our house needed some repairs. For anything that didn't require a licensed, bonded professional, I took the "Let me try this first" route and it worked out every time. Sometimes even to my surprise!
DTN: What do you like to do in your spare time?
ML: In my almost-40 years as me, I've learned that I have to be creating something in order to not feel idle. In my spare time, lately I've been completely engrossed in painting and rehabbing old furniture. I've had an Etsy shop before where I sold handmade items and am considering relaunching it. I love random road trips to new places. Baking is my outlet after a tough day. We moved in June, so decorating our new house is constantly on my mind. I love fall festivals this time of year, farmers markets, consignment stores and coffee shops.
DTN: Where is your favorite place to be in Bartow County?
ML: Downtown Cartersville is truly my favorite spot in Bartow County. I love the versatility of it. The same parking lot that hosts a farmers’ market full of fresh produce, local honey and handcrafted soaps can also be the site of a dozen barbecue food trucks with crowds of beer-toting foodies the next weekend. It's changed so much in just the seven years I've lived here and I love watching it grow.
When people ask good places to eat in Cartersville, it's hard to narrow down the list just from those downtown. It's fun to walk around mid-morning or afternoon and pop into shops with the kids or come back later and have a drink and a fancy dinner for a date night. It really feels like everything we need or want is right there and I love that. It's beautiful and fun and unique.