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Insights from Nate Birt on our new Fundraising, Grants, and Partnerships Professional Development Series!

Nate Birt, the founder of Silver Maple Strategies, a distinguished communications and fundraising consultancy dedicated to empowering nonprofit leaders in driving impactful climate-change solutions. Nate's expertise has been recognized through his latest book, "7 Secrets of Highly Effective Social Impact Communicators," which rose to become a No. 1 new release in business ethics on Amazon. Formerly the vice president of Farm Journal's pioneering climate-change division, Trust In Food, Nate led groundbreaking initiatives such as the strategic development and coalition-building efforts behind a Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities grant proposal. This proposal secured a remarkable $40 million award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in fall 2022.

He is currently serving as a key informant for New Technologies in Ag Extension (NTAE). Nate brings insight to teams, facilitating the cultivation of sustainable funding opportunities and partnerships for our current NTAE projects and programs.

Nate is bringing his knowledge and skills to CES professionals!

Free professional development is available from Nate via a monthly series titled "Upskilling Fundraising, Grant & Partnership Development For Extension Professionals: An Interactive Workshop Series," from April to September 2024. This series will provide participants with insights and strategies designed to  enhance Extension professionals’ skills and knowledge for success in today's evolving landscape of grants and fundraising. Topics covered will include using AI tools ethically during the fundraising process, navigating grant challenges, formulating winning proposals, diversifying funding sources, and more.

Each session is designed to be interactive and engaging, providing you with practical tools and support to elevate Extension projects and programs. This series is open to all Cooperative Extension professionals.

To delve deeper into what Nate has in store and what opportunities this series holds for participants, continue reading the interview with him below!

Interview with Nate Birt:

  • Q: In your experience, what are the most pressing challenges Extension professionals face in fundraising and grant development today?
    A: I believe there are three key challenges for Extension professionals in fundraising and grant development (‘I’m sure we could brainstorm more as a group, but let’s focus on three for the sake of our sanity!). Keep in mind, these challenges face any leader within academia, nonprofits, etc. You are not alone!

    The first challenge is that these activities are time-intensive. I’ve been a part of numerous grant proposal development projects - and, later, grant implementation. Take your estimate of hours required to complete the job and then multiply it by at least 50%-75%. I do believe there are tools and opportunities on the horizon that will take a lot of the burdensome/administrative pieces and make them much easier to manage. But we’re not there yet, so a fair amount of creativity is required to accomplish everything that’s needed. (I look forward to helping you tackle this!)

    Second, these activities require deep coordination - often across multiple teams/divisions/organizations. And many of the leadership/meeting-running/etc. disciplines aren’t things we learn in school or even perform in traditional workplace settings. Fundraising and grants require a whole new level of leadership and emotional intelligence - and, above all, mental and organizational resilience.

    Third, fundraising and grants are evolving. There’s a growing focus on partnering with the private sector, for example, and there are opportunities to chart your own course if you can figure out the path to putting your idea in front of the right people, with the right relationships in place. It’s really exciting, and also enough to make someone throw up their hands and quit without the systems in place to make it all manageable.
    Fear not - we will start to make traction together in each of these areas. 🙂

  • Q: As the host of the series, what do you hope participants will take away from their experience or specific skills or knowledge they will gain?
    A: More than anything, I hope participants walk away feeling greater confidence in themselves, in their teams, and in their own capacity to pursue funding and impact with the projects they are working on. I’m also hopeful that through our time together, participants will learn practical mindsets, processes, and resources they can use to reduce stress and anxiety in the day-to-day of fundraising and project implementation, find greater joy, and become more efficient on their own and as a team.

  • Q: How do you envision this series contributing to the professional growth and success of Extension professionals?
    A: In my not-too-distant past, I served for two terms on a local Extension Council, and I also am a product of a land-grant university (University of Missouri). My children are active in 4-H. So I see practically daily the value of Extension professionals, and I think too often Extension’s value is underappreciated. In fact, I was visiting recently with a dad at my son’s martial arts practice, and he’d just discovered 4-H. “Why don’t more people know about this?” he asked me.

    My hope through this engagement is to remind Extension professionals why they do what they do - inclusive of 4-H, of course, but far beyond that, as well - and to equip them with the mindsets, systems, and resources to become even more successful in doing work that matters, securing funding to ensure the work happens, and building community with likeminded Extension professionals - which cultivates empathy and appreciation for one another and our respective superpowers.

    Above all, I hope these sessions equip participants with greater resilience. Extension doesn’t mess around. Its professionals roll up their sleeves and get to work every day, without looking for applause or glory. But wow, what a difference you make - and I want to see that impact continue and grow with every day that passes. That’s the goal of this series.

    Q: Can you share any personal anecdotes or experiences that have shaped your approach to fundraising, grant and partnership development?
    A: I had the privilege of helping the executive team at Farm Journal Inc. build its climate-smart agriculture division, Trust In Food, which included close collaboration with the Farm Journal Foundation, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and a variety of other organizations to stand up a project called America’s Conservation Ag Movement, which continues today via federal and private-sector funding.

    One of the biggest things I learned through that process is that fundraising, grants, and partnership is first and foremost about building deep human relationships.

    Yes, you have to think about budgets, and metrics, and reporting, and so on - but none of it will do you any good, or last, if you haven’t first strengthened your own mindset and resilience, developed strong interperseonal relationships, and given yourselves more than a heap of grace along the way. I look forward to bringing that perspective to these sessions!

Register for the series here!

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About the Extension Foundation

The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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