Molly Daniels is the Senior Program Specialist for Premera Social Impact, which invests in nonprofit programs and initiatives aimed at uplifting the underserved populations in our communities. Daniels is also a mom to four children, a wife, a volunteer, a youth mental health advocate, a writer, and more. In the latest installment of our ongoing Premera Perspectives series, Daniels discusses her role at Premera, the joys and challenges of work and family, and the importance of being open about our struggles.
Q: Please tell us about your role and Premera and how you ended up here.
A: I joined Premera in 2019, after being a stay-at-home mom for 12 years. I loved and continue to love being an involved mom—volunteering at our kids’ schools, running the farmers’ market in our town, and generally engaging in the community. I honestly wasn’t sure if I really wanted to go back to work, so I decided to give it a try on a temporary basis. My first position with Premera was a six-month, part-time, administrative-focused job with the Social Impact program. That lead to a full-time job, focused on corporate grants and giving. I vividly remember the very first grant application I was asked to review. It was from an organization focused on the intersection of behavioral health and homelessness—one of Premera’s Social Impact focus areas. As it happens, I had worked with the organization in the past and therefore I could confidently say, “I know this organization. I know the good they are doing on a personal and professional level.” Four years later, I am deeply involved in grant making and so proud and in love with the work. I manage all Premera’s rural healthcare grant programs, making sure commitments and milestones are being met and partnering with organizations that are making enormous contributions in the community.
Q: What is one of the most challenging aspects of your job?
A: I didn’t realize that it would be so hard to give away money! I thought you could just call somebody up and say, “We have a grant for you! Where should I send the check?” In reality, it is much more complicated than that. In 2020, right after the pandemic hit, we saw an increase in grant requests that didn’t fit into our typical giving focus areas. Recognizing a need, we created our County by County program, which allowed us to fund small, grass roots organizations that did not have the staff, time, or expertise to navigate often complicated grant application processes. We proactively reached out to organizations in every county and borough in Washington and Alaska saying, “We have money, we know there’s a need in your community, and we’d like to invest in your organization. You can spend the funds however you need. We just want to help.” Even then, it wasn’t easy to give away money. It was a challenge to identify and connect with nonprofits in every corner of the two states. And once we made the initial connection, there were sometimes concerns that strings might be attached—would we require extra paperwork and reporting that small organizations don’t have the capacity for? We had to be very clear: no application required; no paperwork necessary. Here’s a check; do what your community needs.
Q: What is one of the most rewarding aspects of your job?
A: I love seeing programs come to life that wouldn’t have been possible without funding from Premera; finding organizations I knew nothing about and working together to develop an impactful program and watch it grow. Through our County by County effort, we learned that some of the organizations we funded qualify for Premera’s larger, more traditional grants. Youth Emergency Service (YES), a nonprofit in the very far northeast corner of Washington state is a great example. YES provides youth mental health support in a very rural community, where there is a lot of need but not a lot of community resources. Initially, Premera gave the organization a small grant through County by County, and as I learned more about their work I realized that they fit well into one of Premera’s traditional social impact focus areas—the intersection of behavioral health and homelessness. This meant we could support them in a more substantial way. We worked with YES from late 2020 to April 2022, granting them $125,000 to support a much-needed drop-in center and outreach program in Newport, WA.
Q: What makes Premera Social Impact stand out from other corporate philanthropy?
A: Premera really does give differently. County by County is a good example, but even with larger grants, we try to make the grant process as simple as possible. Youth Emergency Services, for example, has one person on their staff, which means they don’t have the capacity to go through the traditional grant process. But we knew the impact they make in their community, so we adjusted the application process to fit their capabilities. We also really listen to the community. Premera is one of very few corporate giving programs that acknowledges we are not the experts. We trust our grantees to be the experts. They guide us, and we are along for the partnership.
Q: In addition to your role at Premera, you are a parent to four kids. What is that like?
A: Being a mom to our four kids, ages 17, 13, 10, and 9, is so much fun and so much work! I love and cherish them with everything that I have and, at times, it hasn’t been easy. Every day brings something new—sometimes joyful, sometimes not, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Q: You recently wrote an article about being a parent who experiences anxiety. Please tell us a bit about your experience.
A: We have been through a lot as a family. As a result, we are very open with one another, including about our mental health. One of my kiddos is on the autism spectrum and struggles with anxiety and OCD. In April of 2021 she experienced some suicidal ideation, likely in response to stress around COVID. We took her to our local children’s hospital to get some help, and that opened the doors to having very real—and age appropriate—conversations about mental health. It gave me the opportunity to talk to my kids about my own struggles with anxiety and the importance of self-care. I want my kids know it is ok to struggle sometimes. Everyone is so afraid to struggle—it’s natural to look around and think ‘Everyone else is doing fine, why aren’t I?’
So, I posted an article on LinkedIn called Embracing Parenthood with Anxiety, a Journey of Strength and Resilience. Even though our family is open, and I find myself being open with my really close friends, it’s scary to say more broadly, “I have anxiety and these are my struggles.” There is so much stigma around parenthood and mental illness. You ask yourself, “Can I be a good parent if I struggle with mental health issues? Is that ok? Can I do both? What do people think of me?” So, I felt like let’s just really, really talk about it. So many people are struggling, and it’s important to let others know they aren’t alone.
Q: What impact does your experience as a parent have on how you approach your work at Premera?
A: I am an impatient person by nature. I want things to happen right now. Having kids has forced me to slow down. Sometimes you recognize that your kiddo needs more time, more patience—they need you to help them through the process. The same is often true for the organizations we work with.
One of my biggest fears when I started working in corporate giving was that I’d end up just writing a check and moving on. But much like parenting, there is no saying, “And now I’m done!” Handing over the check is just the beginning. It’s the catalyst for building a partnership and helping our partners build on what they’re doing, expand their services and make the greatest impact they can on the communities they serve.