One of the fresh faces on the Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) Board of Directors, Laura Chynoweth offers much-valued expertise in grant writing and fundraising. Although she and her husband presently live in Utah, her passion for the ocean and marine wildlife ignited while at University of Hawai‘i at Manoa working on her master’s degree in documentary linguistics — the study of endangered and at-risk languages.

During her time on Oahu, she regularly visited Maui and other Neighbor Islands. Her first experience with PWF was a Molokini Turtle Arches tour at the invitation of a friend who worked as a naturalist on the boat. “That was about 10 years ago, and I thought it was a really great organization then,” she recalls.

Initially terrified by the prospect of scuba diving, Laura conquered her fears by taking a course through UH offered at half-price. “I love the ocean, but found the idea of scuba diving claustrophobic,” she recalls. Jumping in with full gear despite her trepidation, she credits the experience as life-altering. “Once the visibility opened up, a huge turtle glided by, and I think I screamed underwater,” she continues. “I felt free, like I was flying.” Today, Laura holds an advanced open-water certificate, and says she still has that overwhelming sense of excitement each time she scubas. One of her favorite sea creatures, in addition to humpbacks, is the green sea turtle — which she considers her spirit animal.

Pondering career choices after graduate school, which including teaching linguistics, Laura ultimately fell into grant writing and today is CEO and founder of Granted Fundraising Consultants, an agency specializing in grant writing for nonprofits. “I realized that this was a way to use my writing skills to leverage resources for good,” she explains. “When the opportunity popped up to serve on the PWF board, I thought, ‘This is my dream — to give back to Maui and Hawaii and keep that connection alive.’”

Although she excels at building and facilitating relationships with program stakeholders from multiple sectors, Laura also brings to the Board vast experience in nonprofit strategic development planning, setting up development and communication processes, board development and fundraising training, grants management, ensuring brand and voice consistency across marketing and fundraising, and a host of other related areas.

She says she’s particularly impressed with the power PWF has to influence and involve people through its Research, Education and Conservation programs. “I love the interconnectedness of all three pillars,” she continues. “It’s one thing to tell people how important our work is; it’s another to show why the work is so critical through research studies and findings. By getting people out on the boats where they discover not only how majestic these animals are, they become educated on how vital marine life is to our ecosystem and how they can contribute individually through conservation efforts.”

As someone who doesn’t currently live near the ocean, she’s passionate about how those in landlocked states can actively participate in marine conservation. “We need to start a club for landlocked whale lovers,” she says with a grin. “People need to understand the connection between their actions and the messages those actions send.” Referring to reef-safe sunscreen as an example, Laura notes that unsafe products are still sold on the Mainland. “By still buying reef-damaging sunscreen, you’re telling these companies that it’s ok,” she adds. “Since all things eventually end up in the ocean, there’s no reason why someone who doesn’t live by its shores can’t be part of the solution.”

Laura hopes to parlay her considerable experience in grants and fundraising into helping PWF make profitable connections through matching the directors’ strengths with like-minded institutions and individuals. “Some potential funding sources may be primarily interested in education, so inundating them with research statistics can be counterproductive,” she asserts. “As there’s no shortage of nonprofits in search of money, it’s vital to make the right connections with the right messaging, and I’m excited to contribute to that process.”