Jo McMahan believes winning a grant is like winning the lottery.

After nearly 30 years of writing grants for organizations in Tyler, Mrs. McMahan has started a business based on her craft.

Mrs. McMahan, 60, of Whitehouse, has been writing grants for people as a side business off and on for a long time, writing hundreds of grants throughout the years. In November, she jumped into it full-time through, a complete grant consulting service for nonprofit organizations. She has worked for small and large nonprofits, as well as health care and volunteer organizations, she said.

Foundations, the government, corporations and other organizations choose to give money to nonprofits to further their missions. Nonprofits and other organizations needing funding must go through an application process for the money and grant writing is essentially writing a proposal to be awarded the funding. Mrs. McMahan's job is to match up the nonprofits with those organizations wanting to give money and write a proposal to win it.

Mrs. McMahan focuses on grants for organizations serving human needs, education, health care, children, youth and women.

She said she likes being able to help a nonprofit identify what their needs are and help them get funding for new programs and other new things that might not be in the budget.

"It's kind of like winning the lottery," she said, adding that it's a rush when she learns she has helped someone win grant money for their organization.

"Somewhere out there, I'm helping individual people by helping nonprofits," she said. "It makes me feel good."

Mrs. McMahan also helps new nonprofits who might not be grant ready think of ways to build up their services to become grant worthy.

"There are so many nonprofits in our community that are doing great things, but with today's budget constraints, they can't afford to employ a grant writer in a full-time position," she said. "I want to help nonprofits grow their organization and find funding for their programs. By offering my services on a contract basis, I think more nonprofits can afford a grant writer to help them look for funding."

Grant writing is nothing new for Mrs. McMahan.

She grew up in Tyler, attended Tyler Junior College and East Texas Commerce, now Texas A&M University at Commerce. She earned her master's degree in education from The University of Texas at Tyler.

Mrs. McMahan taught special education elementary students for six years before working in special education support to help teachers find resources for their classes. She then became grant coordinator, and worked for Tyler Independent School District for a combined 28 years.

When she first started writing grants for TISD in 1985, she had no idea what she was doing so she attended workshops and learned on the job. She soon realized it was something she really liked to do, she said.

For three years, she worked for The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, writing its grants and assisting with funding. She retired in 2006, but after six months, decided it was no fun, she said.

Mrs. McMahan worked for the local United Way's Nonprofit Development Center, first writing grants part-time then serving as director for several years. In July, she left to start her own business and devote more time to writing grants.

"If I want to do this, I've got to jump in with both feet," she realized of starting a business.

Her goal is to be able to write the grants from wherever she is, without being tied to a desk. With today's technology, she can work on grants while on vacation, which will let her live the life she wants to live and allow her to keep working, she said.

When she started writing grants decades ago, she said the federal register, a print catalogue mailed out every day, showed what federal grants were available. She said she could build a home with all the federal registries she received over the years.

Now, searching for federal or other grant sources can all be done online, are updated daily, can be accessed from anywhere and allow a much quicker process.

Mrs. McMahan said because she had worked for nonprofits for so long, she had to make a shift to thinking as a business owner. Counselors from the Small Business Development Center's SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), helped her with her pricing structure and other things she needed to run a business, she said.

Mrs. McMahan will be teaching grant writing classes at Tyler Junior College.

She and her husband of 37 years, Larry, have one daughter. McMahan is a retired school teacher who works part-time for Meals On Wheels. Mrs. McMahan said they live on Lake Tyler and she enjoys sitting at her boathouse, looking out over the lake, as well as traveling and reading.

For more, contact Mrs. McMahan at 903-530-5925 or email


If you know of a professional woman or business service in the Tyler area you think should be highlighted in this column, contact Business Editor Casey Murphy at or 903-596-6289.






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