A Completely Different Conference Experience

by Wendy Strain – Chuck Howard Scholar

When I was first hired into a grants office, having little to no idea what I was doing (how many of us have been there?), I was sent to a different organization’s grant writing conference. It was my only true initiation into this new world I was entering.

It was a learning experience, and I did come home with some helpful information, but hadn’t made any significant new connections or felt I’d received any profound insights into this profession in any way. What I learned about grant writing had to be done on the job and through my efforts.

Going into the consulting space several years later, I knew joining an organization of grant writers would be important for my continued growth and development, so I purposely sought out something different from what I had been led to in the past. I was looking for something more engaged, more devoted to furthering the profession, and more supportive of its members.

Because of my experience with GPA membership so far this year (through my local chapter and the online portal), I felt certain my conference experience would be completely different from that other one and boy, was it ever!

I honestly can’t tell you if I learned more from the sessions I attended or from the individual conversations I had with other attendees. I believe I made some connections that will blossom into potential collaborations, frequent associations, and maybe even long-term friendships.

Truthfully, I had trouble deciding which of the sessions to go to in any given time slot. Often, there were two or three I was thinking of. It says a lot about a conference and the involvement of its members when so much value is being placed on the table.

Something I really appreciated was the availability of the conference app. I promptly lost the printed schedule I was given some time on the first day, but I was able to keep track of the several sessions that looked interesting to me by favoriting them in the app and checking them often on my phone. Plus, I could always download the handouts from the sessions I couldn’t attend and at least have access to the main points offered.

Being able to access the map to each meeting room was a huge bonus as well. I confess I failed to enter session evaluations after each one – too busy talking with people I’d met during the session or at other sessions, then rushing off to the next event – but I did remember to check in for many of them by the second day.

It was also wonderful to know the handouts for each session could be downloaded right from the app. Rather than trying to scribble down everything on the slides as well as catching any additional insight the speaker had to offer, I was able to relax and really pay attention to their knowledge, only making notes when I wanted to highlight something said that didn’t appear on the slides.

I know this helped others relax as well because every session I attended was full of interested and engaged audience members asking intelligent questions and contributing to a broader or more focused discussion, depending on the case in question. That the speakers were all open to this and even encouraged, it was another welcome and significant indicator of the quality of this organization and the people who are members.

As surprised as I was to receive my scholarship to attend the conference, I expected quality and engagement, expectations set in place by my local chapter leaders. Yet the conference still managed to exceed all those expectations. I returned home with much to think about, much to do, re-energized and excited about the next steps on my journey toward serving my community and my profession.

A Scholarship of Exponential Value and Impact

by Jackie Beyer – Tracey Potter Doe Memorial Scholar

“View yourselves as the product.” Attending the National Grant Professionals Association Conference in San Diego, California definitely changed my way of thinking about myself. I had never viewed myself in this way before. I learned I am responsible for the success of my career by taking mindful, careful steps. Attending this conference was my first big step towards a successful career. The value I received and impact of the scholarship were exponential.

My attendance at the conference could not have come at a better time. I have been in the Grants field for a little over two years and sometimes feel like I am still getting my feet wet. Attending the conference provided me with exposure to the grant field, time to network with other professionals, access to products and services that I had no idea even existed, and ideas on how I can grow professionally. Being surrounded by like-minded people was encouraging and helpful, because I now know I have an army of people behind me, supporting me, and willing to share their knowledge with me. The first day, when I was volunteering at the Wine Pull, I realized I was with people like me who were thrilled that I was a “First-timer.” People kept telling me I was lucky to be so young in the field because I had more time to learn and hone my craft. I had never looked at my current status in that way and appreciated the encouraging statements.

The value of the conference, to me as a Grant Professional, was more than I expected! I had anticipated gaining some new ideas, maybe meeting a few people, and learning a couple of tricks and tips. I received all of that, times ten. I connected with many Grant Professionals in some of my sessions and even stayed after a few sessions to talk and swap stories. Beyond the professional connections I made, I was also offered tools that I can use going forward in the field. In addition to useful tools, I discovered there is so much more I can be doing to further my career. Something I did not anticipate receiving was a nice, long list of book recommendations offering excellent career advice, stress relief, and problem-solving ideas.

Workshops I attended added the most value to my experience at the conference. “Crafting Great Grant Budgets,” lead by Cheryl Kester was an excellent session. Being a person who is more English-major orientated, budgets are often a foreign language for me. Ms. Kester provided an excellent breakdown on how to simplify big budgets into an easier to use summary. I also appreciated her many different examples from different kinds of businesses, as well as her budget checklist. I plan to use the checklist every time I have a budget come across my desk.

The most beneficial session to me was the workshop titled, “Be Your Own Career CEO-How to Develop Your Grant Professional Portfolio.” Scott Scala led this workshop and made me realize that I was going about my professional development in a way that may not necessarily produce results I want. I thought that working my 9-5 job, attending Grant Professional Association (GPA) chapter meetings regularly, and various training offered through work would be enough. Mr. Scala opened my eyes to other avenues of professional development that I had not considered before. He stated that an online presence is very important for career development because it assists with cultivating recognition, resources, and networking that may be needed in the future. I had never considered using social media for my career before this workshop. Another point that stuck with me was Mr. Scala’s PowerPoint quote, “If you want others to care about you, care about others.” In this field, competitiveness with fellow writers is easy, but doing so inhibits you as a professional, your colleagues, and the profession, as a whole. Grant Professionals should be willing to help others, teach others, and share resources in order to grow to our fullest. Following this session, I am determined to be known as the professional that is willing to help and connect people with what they need.

Another workshop I enjoyed was the “Ignite the Grant Profession-8 Topics from 8 Successful Grant Pros.” The style of presentation was altogether new to me. Five minutes per four people and then a break for questions and then five minutes for another four people with questions at the end. Excellent way to hold attention and present on many different topics in one sitting. I loved learning how each Grant Professional had completed very different things in each of their careers from the other. This presentation highlighted the fact that a Grant Writer does not have just one set definition of what they do; rather, the field is fluid, and the opportunities are endless. Topics that were covered ranged from phone apps as grant writing tools, getting out of your comfort zone in order to grow, is consulting for you?, and standing in a reviewer’s shoes.

The last workshop I attended at the GPA Conference was “Why Grant Professionals Really ARE Superheros” by Amy Shankland. The presentation discussed all the crazy turns Ms. Shankland’s professional career took and how sometimes she had to take a chance in order to get where she is today. I feel like this session was enlightening because it demonstrates anything is possible in this field and in order to grow professionally, you have to be willing to adapt to changes. Ms. Shankland also allowed time for each person to tell their own story about a time when they were a superhero in this field. I loved hearing about all the different agencies in the U.S., the good things they are doing, and the people who are behind all the good work.

This memorable experience would not have been possible without the financial assistance the Tracey Potter Doe Memorial Scholarship had offered me. The impact of the Tracey Potter Doe Memorial Scholarship is tri-fold. The scholarship helped me, but it also helped my agency, and therefore our clients we serve. By applying for this scholarship, I reminded my agency that I care about the cost of my professional development and want to save the agency money when I can. I understand that professional development is necessary to learn and grow in the field, but I don’t want to be a financial burden to my agency who does so much good in our community. This scholarship helped me feel less guilty about going to the conference because I knew that the cost would be mostly taken care of. I was able to relax and enjoy myself and focus on the information I was provided, rather than how much the conference was costing my agency. The money saved can be used towards our homeless, domestic violence victims, or low-to-moderate income earning clients we serve who need it the most.

Overall, attending the National Grant Professionals Association Conference in San Diego, California was worth the days out of the office, the money spent, and the time it took to drive there. I walked away with a new mindset about what it means to be a Grant Professional, I learned I am in charge of my career and my growth, and I took away information from each workshop I attended. Although the experience is over, the training I received will follow me throughout my career and impact many. None of this would have been possible without the assistance offered through the Tracey Potter Doe Memorial Scholarship. Thank you to the Grant Professionals Foundation for considering me and for investing in my future.

Need a reason to make a gift to support the grant profession?

Here’s one that impacts you in a direct and personal way.

When most of us joined GPA, we weren’t thinking about advancing the profession. We were focused on our development as grant writers by taking advantage of the many educational opportunities and benefits of networking with other grant writers.

But there’s another side to being part of GPA.

It gives us the ability to positively impact the entire profession by helping ensure that other grant writers are successful. In the end, we all benefit because the better we are at our jobs, the more the grant writing profession grows in credibility and stature.

I give to several nonprofits throughout the year but the gift I make every month to the Grant Professionals Foundation (GPF) is about me and my future.

I know those funds are being used to pay for GPA memberships, national conference scholarships and increasing the number of members who are Grant Professional Certified. Scholarships go to members who don’t have the financial means to become a member or take advantage of GPA educational and career advancement opportunities.

I benefit and GPA benefits because all these individuals will improve their skills and win more money for their nonprofits.

Please join other GPF donors and me and make a gift to support the GPF 2018 fundraising campaign. Make a one-time gift or spread it out over the entire year. Over the coming months and at the national conference, you will learn more about how your gift impacted the careers and lives of other grant writers.

Giving to support GPF scholarships is one way to influence how well all grant writers do their jobs and ultimately how our profession is perceived. Make a gift today!

Susan Caldwell, CFRE
GPF Board of Directors



The GPF Every Chapter Challenge

Why you should give…

One thing I have learned about grant writing – there is always something new to learn. The world of grant writing is not a place that we want to walk alone. From government grants to corporations to foundations, developing a grant proposal can be complicated, labor-intensive and full of twists and turns. It can also be a lonely profession. I need other grant professionals to network with and learn from.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t always have the financial means to afford the learning experiences and networking that is so important to developing our grant skills. The Grant Professionals Foundation was formed specifically to provide opportunities for GPA members who need the additional resources to pursue professional development, the GPC credential or simply to pay membership dues.

The annual Every Chapter Challenge plays a big part in making that happen. GPF is calling on all GPA chapters across the country to step up and support the campaign. Our challenge goal for each chapter is $250. Many chapters are also competing to become this year’s Star Chapter, a distinction awarded to the chapter which gives the most to the campaign.

Funds raised by the campaign will be used to award scholarships for the GPA Conference, the GPCTM Credentialing Program, GPA Membership and Regional Conference Sponsorships. Chapters have the distinct opportunity to invest in growing the grant profession and helping their fellow grant writers improve their skills.

But it’s not just about growing the profession and individual grant professionals. It is also about the critical work that the agencies, organizations, and institutions would not be able to do without their grant writers in the trenches, sweating over deadlines, trying to make sense of the latest curveball thrown in an application. Every time we help another grant writer become better at their profession, we are also helping the myriad of nonprofits that can do good works because of the expertise of their grant writers.

I’ve had the opportunity to review applications for the GPA Conference Scholarships. The scholarships have been awarded every year since 2007 by the Grant Professionals Foundation. One common bond between all the applicants was a sincere desire to get better at their job.

One particular applicant put it this way, “It is easy to get bogged down in our day to day reporting and sustainability sections, which leaves little mental room for growth and new ways of thinking. However, putting away my computer and research for four days so I can focus on thinking about the grant process and the grant world will, I hope, open me up for Aha! moments and fresh perspectives.”

Reading those applications reinforced my commitment to the important work of the Grant Professionals Foundation. We hope every GPA chapter will join us in raising the funds that directly support individual grant professionals, the grant profession and most of all, the nonprofits that are positively impacting lives every day throughout our nation and the world.

Susan Caldwell, Co-Chair
Every Chapter Challenge