She’s taught English as a second language in northern Spain and in San Rafael, written for community newspapers, organized events for the Marin County Fair, planned reunions at UC Berkeley, and worked for Lucasfilm.

And she’s raised more than $1 million for art and human service organizations in the Bay Area.  “I can’t take full responsibility for all of that, but I was definitely part of the process,” says Adriene Rockwell, now mother of a preschooler and part-time grant writer.

Her journey in the non-profit world has taken her from agencies that provide services to immigrants and homeless people to organizations that offer art programs and run museums.  

Adriene, 45, sought work in the art field in part to balance the intensity of human services work and because she comes from a family of artists.>“Everyone in my family is an artist except for me,” she says. 

She left her “perfect job” as development director for di Rosa, a Napa art museum, when her son was born in 2006. “I intended to keep working there,” she says. But after a difficult birth, “I knew I didn’t want to miss even one hiccup.” She is now resuming her grant-writing career. 

Adriene grew up in Marin County and moved to Benicia from San Francisco in 2003. She joined the board of Arts Benicia shortly after arriving here and currently has a grant-writing contract with the organization. 

“I feel very proud of my involvement in Arts Benicia,” she says. “It’s in a very good place, doing very well. We got our first two foundation grants last year.”

Adriene’s husband is a classical music composer who teaches math and directs the choir at College Park High School in Pleasant Hill. Their son is 4.

How did you end up working in Spain?

After I graduated, I decided to have an adventure. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I sold my VW. It was a convertible and I loved that car, but I sold it and got a ticket to Spain. I taught English as a second language in Oviedo, a town in northern Spain.

How did teaching in Spain lead to working for non-profit agencies?

When I came home, I wanted to keep my Spanish alive so I taught English as a second language in San Rafael, first with Canal Ministries and then the Canal Community Alliance. Meanwhile I worked for the Pacific Sun (a Marin County weekly newspaper). I did their calendar and was a writer. But it just wasn’t working financially and I needed to make a living. So the Canal Community Alliance hired me as a grant writer because of my writing experience and they trained me! They taught me a lot. I ended up doing a lot of work for them.

What keeps you interested in writing grant applications?

There’s a lot of reward in grant writing. It gives you a ticket into people’s lives. You get to sit down with people who are running the program, people who are benefitting from the program and really understand how the program is making a difference. I understood I wasn’t going to be able to write a compelling proposal unless I got really close to the program. There’s really no way to write a good grant application without a good program. And then when the money comes in, Hallelujah! I’d ring a bell so everyone would know and we’d really celebrate that.

What did you do while working for Lucasfilm?

I was there as an assistant in the public relations department during the re-release of the trilogy. I was transcribing interviews with George Lucas and doing other work related to the re-release. It was the most wonderful, joyful job. It was one of the two favorite places I’ve worked: Skywalker Ranch and di Rosa. Both are very creative environments. It was exciting and I loved it, but there’s a bit of a glass ceiling at Lucasfilm and I was feeling a need to do something more meaningful. And I ended up in the most gritty setting.


I went to work for a medical van serving the homeless in San Francisco. It was called the SOS van – Street Outreach Services van. …
I focused on grant writing. I used my journalism background to write articles about things like homeless people who commit suicide.
It was so heavy. I was feeling old, and I was young. I remember thinking it’d be so cool to work for a museum.

How did working for a museum differ from your work with human service agencies?

I started working for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in 1999, and it is a big museum, so slick. I was used to working for social services and this was a different ballgame, a big step in professionalizing my grant writing. I call it my grant writing boot camp. I was turning out one grant a week. I was part of a development team of five, and one other person was a grant writer. We were responsible for raising $800,000 a year.

How has fundraising changed in response to the economic times?

Funders have less money to give, but they don’t want to see that you are desperate. They get that. It’s all about your strengths. They want to know you are being creative and not drowning in your problems, that you’re thinking things through and being strategic about solutions.The competition is so much greater because there is less money to go for, so organizations have to get their houses in order.

What does it mean for organizations to “get their houses in order”?

Number 1, you have to have a workable budget that’s pretty well thought through. Number 2, you’ve got to show you’ve done your strategic planning, and, number 3, you’ve got to have great programs. You’ve got to have a database, a way to track your donors and a system to thank them. You’ve got to have a board of directors who knows what its role and responsibilities are, directors who understand they need to be giving. You want to see that 100 percent of your board is giving to support the organization.
You’ve got to have a good staff and good, strong morale within the organization. Fundraising is the last thing you do. You have to have your house in order before you can ask foundations to invest in you.

What percent of your grant applications end up getting funded?

Generally I would not count on more than 50 percent. But if you start to target your requests, if you do your research and you talk to your funders, then you find your percent of return increases in relation to the time invested.

What’s next for you?

Here’s my dream: I’d like to have my own shop in downtown Benicia. I think it will have repurposed things – pre-loved, beautiful treasures. There will be an element of community service in it and I think it will involve youth, teaching them how to run a business. But that’s down the road. For now, I’m going to develop my grant writing and I think I’d like to go back to school to become a teacher. I want to develop my creative side so I’m thinking about elementary school. It still might happen.