The Kester Group is focused on helping your organization successfully compete for grant dollars. Winning grants requires so much more than the ability to write, although we are certainly good at that. The successful grants professional knows how to ask guiding questions to push you to design the most competitive programs possible and to present content in a way that makes sense to those deciding whether or not to award grant money. Our extensive experience serving as grant reviewers and working with grantmaking organizations gives us unique insight into the grants process that makes your proposals more competitive.
Therefore, we are full-service firm providing a broad range of services including consulting and advising about which funders to approach, when and how; program design and evaluation; and, of course grant writing. We can help your organization develop its own capacity by leading highly-recommended grants training. Members of the firm are also regularly invited to address national and international conferences, as well as regional and local training and fundraising events. See our Speaking/Training page for more information on these services and where you can receive grants training soon.
Although the Kester Group is based in northwest Arkansas (Fayetteville), one of the nation's fastest-growing regions, we regularly serve clients from around the nation, including Virginia, Arizona, the District of Columbia, Texas, Michican and Colorado. Please view our Clients page for a list of satisfied clients. The principal and associates of the firm have decades of experience in the non-profit community, as employees, volunteers, board members and consultants. We know you and are committed to your mission.
Several members of our firm are profiled here below. Other associates join us on a contract basis as-needed and when a proejct fits their unique skill-sets.
Cheryl L. Kester, Principal of The Kester Group, is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE). She has extensive and varied expertise in serving academic, faith-based, public-safety, health care and social service organizations. She has 21 years of experience in the non-profit sector, including more than 11 years of fundraising experience. Since 1999, she has helped secure more than $48.2 million in grants for her clients and employers. A lively speaker, she leads workshops on grants topics, publishes articles, has taught a graduate grants course, makes conference presentations, and serves as a grant reviewer for private and federal funders. You may view a copy of her complete vita here.
Shirley Forbes Thomas, Ph.D. – President Emeritus and Of-Counsel - Dr. Thomas founded Thomas-Forbes, LLC in 2002 and welcomed Kester as a partner in 2005. Prior to founding the firm, Dr. Thomas taught English, founded and directed the JBU Honors Scholars Program, wrote grant proposals, and served as Dean of Undergraduate Studies at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Thomas has served as a grants consultant for clients from higher education, social services, health care, arts/historical museums, and faith-based organizations. While she officially retired from her partnership in the firm in 2008, Dr. Thomas remains active, primarily in prospect research and editing proposals.
Janet Kester, M.Ed. - Senior Associate- Janet has over fourteen years of experience in the field of education. Her academic experience has sharpened her research, writing, and editing skills. As Head Debate Coach for Liberty University, she evaluated documents, formulated and monitored budgets, and planned public relations events. As a Director of Education for Sylvan Learning Center in Lynchburg, VA, Janet planned programs to meet ambitious and achievable learning goals for students and to meet wider organizational targets. As an elementary and secondary educator serving on faculty committees, she strengthened educational outcomes through curriculum selection and program evaluation. Most recently, as an adult educator, she has realized the importance of grants in building stronger communities. Janet earned her Bachelor of Science Degree from Liberty University, Teacher Certification from Cal State Fullerton, and her M.Ed from the University of Virginia.
Dale Bruce, LL.B. - Senior Associate - Dale has extensive professional experience in the fields of both education and law. As attorney for the Department of Justice, she honed her skills in critical analysis, persuasive advocacy, thorough document preparation, diligent research, editing, and evaluation. Her project planning and management skills, organization, and attention to detail have led to a pattern of success in the courtroom as well as in other professional contexts. As Special Projects Administrator in the Grants One-Stop offices of Pima County Community College in Tucson, Arizona, she composed and co-authored proposals, and established monitoring systems for grants development and awards management. During her tenure, funding tripled and the largest grant in the history of the College was secured. She is now a valuable member of the grants team at the Kester Group.
Tia Cavender, MA, GPC - Senior Associate - As Principal of Chase Park Grants, Cavender operates her own successful grants consulting firm, specializing in green grants and sustainability projects. The Kester Group and Chase Park Grants regularly collaborate on joint projects. Cavender has 12 years of experience in higher education and hospitals conducting research, evaluation and grant seeking projects. Throughout her grant writing career, Cavender has prepared grant proposals to a wide range of funding sources including private, family, and corporate foundations, state and federal agencies as well as local and national corporations.
Traci R. Letellier is an experienced writer, proofreader, researcher, and editor whose work encompasses web sites, brochures, newsletters, articles, mission statements, and press releases. She served as Communications Specialist at John Brown University before writing for Innovista International in Oxford, UK. Her organized, professional, and imaginative style has earned her success as a freelance writer, proofreader, and editor since 2003. She has studied writing and fundraising at the Institute of Fundraising and the Publishing Training Centre at Book House in London. Letellier’s clients praise her thoroughness, attention to detail, and creativity in a wide variety of settings and projects. Letellier graduated Cum Laude from John Brown University with a B.A. in English, and has studied Contemporary Poetry at the University of Oxford.
Sara Eichmann has over ten years experience working in the public health arena both in the government and the non-profit sector as a program coordinator, executive director and contract writer. Her writing experience includes both federal and state government grants for the Arkansas Cancer Coalition and the Arkansas Department of Health, and contract work for multiple universities and local non-profits. She served on the Board of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure – Ozark Affiliate from 2003-2008 as the Grant Committee Chairperson, and in this capacity she helped prepare grant guidelines, facilitate the review process, monitor grantee progress, and promote funded programs. Sara has also served as a grant reviewer for several local, state, and regional non-profits. Sara earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Rhodes College, her Master’s in Public Health from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and is a Certified Health Education Specialist.
Jeremy Burns is a doctoral fellow at the University of Arkansas English Department, where he teaches classes in literature, popular culture and composition. He is an experienced researcher, editor, and technical and creative writer, whose work has been published in a number of forums. He has been working as a free-lance grant writer since 2007. Jeremy earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in English and Creative Writing from Arkansas Tech University and a Master of Arts in English from the University of Arkansas.
Cherissa Roebuck has worked in the higher education segment of the non-profit sector for seven years, both as a full-time communications professional and as a contract writer. Her freelance writing experience includes contract work for multiple universities as well as publication in six regional and national magazines. Cherissa earned her Bachelor of Science in journalism from John Brown University.