GPA 2019 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay, by Michael Hertlein

OR/SW Washington Chapter Michael Wells Scholarship

Not just another cup of coffee.

This was my first GPA annual conference. I had both high expectations for the conference, and at the same time no idea what to expect. Would the lectures really teach me something? Would the networking times really produce anything? Would this be “just another conference” or would I walk away with real-world skills and connections I didn’t have before?

The conference started off positively with Vu-Le giving the opening Keynote Presentation. He managed to summarize many aspects of what it’s like to be a non-profit professional, while challenging us in the non-profit sector to pursue even more collaboration, rather than see other non-profit entities as your competitors. He did so with a dash of humor which kept everyone smiling throughout his presentation.

Then the breakout sessions started. Three days of teaching on a wide variety of topics. Since I am a grant writer by profession I mostly attended classes that would improve my everyday writing, with one or two on career advancement to help me plan for the future. Thus far in my career I have only written grants to private foundations, and as of yet have never written a federal proposal. I of course have heard about federal proposals, how they can be much bigger to write, but also how your clients can potentially receive a lot more money from a federal proposal. Naturally I was interested in an opportunity to win my clients much larger checks, however had very little real knowledge what it takes to write a winning federal grant.

Over the course of these three days I was able to gain incredible insight into the writing and review process of preparing a federal grant, as well as the grant management necessary after a federal grant has been won. This came in the form of formal lectures on federal grant writing and management, as well as sitting down with grant writers who write exclusively federal grants for their city or university.  

Next, I focused on preparing for the GPC exam since receiving the GPC credential is one of my career goals. I had a very similar experience of following formal lectures on reasons to consider the GPC, exam requirements, etc. I also had the opportunity to sit down with a number of GPC’s and hear why they pursued that credential as well as how that credential has affected their career as a non-profit professional. I was also somewhat worried about the logistics of actually taking the exam, however the friendly people of the Grant Professional Certification Institute (GPCI) helped me problem solve a solution that would work for my specific situation.

Finally, I followed a number of sessions specifically on grant writing. During these sessions, I received many simple yet powerful tips and tricks to make the whole grant writing process easier. One powerful example was the importance of clarity. The goal is not to “dumb down” your writing, but make it simple and easy to read. The presenter likened it to trying to open the packaging of a new product. You can eventually get it open, but with difficult packaging you will struggle, possibly even become frustrated. When you make your writing simple and easy to understand you have a better chance the reader will understand it right away, perhaps even enjoy reading your grant. Which will ultimately improve your grant’s chances of being funded.

Throughout the conference there was time to sit down with private and federal grant writers, grant managers, non-profit management software development professionals, and even funders who attended the conference to talk about issues, gain understanding of the other person’s “side of the coin”, and ultimately build connections that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. I have attended a number of online grant writing workshops via my computer in my office, and I intend to do so again in the future. However, the opportunities to network and learn from other professionals with a totally different experience of the non-profit landscape was very enlightening and educational for me. I plan to use all I have learned during this conference and very much look forward to the next conference in Denver, Colorado. Hope to see you there!  

Scholarship applications for the GPA 2020 Annual Conference will open soon. More information is available here.

GPA 2019 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay, by Lisa King

Grant Professionals Foundation Scholarship

It’s my favorite event of the year – the annual Grant Professionals Association (GPA) Conference. I have been to two previous conferences, but this year I was fortunate enough to be selected as a Grant Professionals Foundation Scholar. This year was also particularly special for me because I earned my Grant Professionals Certification (GPC) in April.

Washington, DC was a dream setting. Coming from Southern California, the cool air and autumn-colored trees set a refreshing tone to be around my grant peers and learn from the experts in the field. Each year I like to choose one to two areas where I feel I need growth and attend the appropriate breakout sessions. My focus was on evaluation and federal funding because the organization I work for, the Orange County Department of Education (OCDE), was recently awarded a Perkins grant and it had been a long time since OCDE had received federal funding.The conference gave me the perfect opportunity to brush up my skills.

The first two sessions I attended were fantastic! I kicked off my morning with A Better (or Just More Fun) Way to Logic Model. The session was hosted by Erin Holbrook from Via Evaluation. Erin was engaging and allowed time for hands-on implementation on how to create a logic model. One of the biggest takeaways was the “If —>Then” logic. It was stated that the Inputs, Activities, and Outputs are the “If” and the Outcomes and Impact are the “Then”. For example, “IF you do x and y, THEN it should equal z.” This logic ultimately shows change over time.

The next session I attended was, Federal Grant Post Award Considerations for Grant Writers. This was hosted by Scott S. Sheffler in partnership with Feldesman + Tucker + Leifer + Fidell, LLP. For those with federal funding or considering federal funding, this session was informative! It was stated in the very beginning that, “Federal grants do not give you money, you are entering into an agreement.” Word to the wise, look at the three “Certains”: 1) certain activities (scope of work); 2) certain time periods (project and budget period); and 3) certain costs (necessary and reasonable). Make sure what you are agreeing to is beneficial to your organization and the beneficiaries of the funding/program. I could have listened to Scott present for hours. The knowledge gained in this session was worth the cost of the conference!

The rest of my days were great and connections I made/make are priceless. I am grateful for this opportunity and look forward to attending more GPA conferences in the future.

Scholarship applications for the GPA 2020 Annual Conference will open soon. More information is available here.

GPA 2019 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay, By Diane Demarest

I want to express my gratitude to the GPA Foundation for the honor of being selected as a Scholar and gifting me with a lovely medal and support to attend the conference!  Additionally, I left the conference with a string of pearls!

After 40+ years of writing grants, I’ve found that professional education can sometimes be a disappointment when the content is for beginners or presenters do their very best to include all levels.  But, I love learning and there is something I can learn every day.  So, when I invest my time in a training, a webinar or a conference, I consider it time well spent if I leave with one pearl of wisdom – one new idea, one new strategy, one new connection or even one new perspective.  This year I left the GPA conference with a whole string of pearls!!

Some of my conference pearls were sheer enjoyment – the Hamilton performance – Bravo! Bravo! – who needed theater tickets????   I haven’t seen it uploaded on the GPA site, but it is certainly worthy of an encore!  

Vu Le, there IS a lot of humor in the non-profit world and unlike winning grants (which makes us smile 😊), humor helps us do our job better because the number of mental connections between the information and emotional responses (laughter) are greater and help us retain new info! Thank you Vu for reminding all of us not to take ourselves and maybe the world too seriously!

Even before the conference kicked off it was super to meet with fellow chapter leaders. Great ideas, encouragement and a boost to go home and energize our members. Also, terrific to meet Shelly in person – thanks for all you do for us!

The pearls I picked up from sessions are creating a very long string, but here are just a few –

  • Build the credibility of your organization – great tips from Susan Schaeffer.  I’m a grant writer for an organization that has attracted a few ‘big fish’ funders but we’re working hard to catch others. Susan said aspirational funding is competitive not necessarily merit based– everyone who is a finalist has presented a great proposal, but what can make you stand out?   A great organizational resume – not just leader resumes.  
  • Were you ever stumped by indirect rates and process?  Karen Norris knew her topic inside and out. Did you know that if a federal agency limits the indirect to say 10% instead of your federally approved rate, it must be codified in law that the agency and program has the right to do that? I’ve never questioned an RFP, but it could be wrong.
  • The ‘Grant Consulting Models’ gave me some new insights into what grant writing as a freelancer in retirement might look like.  Should grant writers volunteer their time – or not?  Hearing from a successful group of grant business women expanded my thinking.
  • ‘Ignite the GPC Competencies’ – Wow.  Speed learning on steroids! Each speaker fit tons into 5 minutes. A great overview of the competencies that got my wheels turning and convinced me that getting my GPC is a goal for 2020.

Since this will be shared in a blog, how about bloggers Amanda and Kimberly from fundraising Hay Day!  I loved getting to know them and how they got started during Discussion Den – Lend Me Your Earbuds.  If you want to impress your young adult children, blog speak is it!  I love that they bring humor to our work (you might be sensing a theme here).  I’ll be plugging into Fundraising Hay Day on my treadmill!

I collected so many pearls but here is one for anyone going to next year’s conference in Denver.  Bring your mittens and sign up to volunteer some time during the conference. As a first-time conference goer, volunteering at the Welcome Desk for just a few hours helped me meet so many great folks up close and personal!   I left DC feeling very connected and I can’t wait to see you all next year in Denver!

Scholarship applications for the GPA 2020 Annual Conference will open soon. More information is available here.

GPA 2019 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay, by Amy Lottes

St. Louis Chapter Scholarship

Little Nuggets Can Lead to a Pot of Gold

I attended my first GPA Conference about a year after I became a full-time grant writer. During the conference I received notice that I had achieved my GPC credential. I finally felt like a Grant Professional! When I was applying for a scholarship for the Washington conference, I spent a lot of time reflecting on that first conference where I discovered people who spoke my language, who were professionals and who were passionate about their nonprofit work. I learned so much.

I was thrilled to have been awarded a scholarship to attend the conference and anticipated it eagerly. Attending a GPA Conference is like being a kid in a candy store. So many choices, so little time! I worried that I wouldn’t get enough out of the experience to be worthy of the award.

I needn’t have worried. As I look back on the sessions I chose I realized that while every session might not be 75 minutes of pure, useful, information, each and every one provided golden nuggets of information that I could take back to my work and use to make a difference in both my writing and my organizations. Over the two and a half days I filled my pot with many nuggets until I had a pot of gold to bring back with me. Some nuggets were totally new information, others were valuable insights or tips that I had forgotten or pushed to the back of my mind.

Some Nuggets that I gathered:

  • Faux-Lanthropy – following on the heels of Vu Le, this session was a reminder to focus efforts on high reward activities that build relationships with donors and sustainability for my organizations.
  • Grant Consulting Models Session One and Two gave me great insight into the different models of consulting, and a guide to help me understand when I might (or might not) be ready to take that leap. The common thread was a passion for grant writing and the importance of the GPA community.
  • The “Drabble This” session brought the art of storytelling back to me. I realized that I was so caught up in word and character counts, of providing the data and measured outcomes that I had lost the human voice of the children I was writing for. Within a week of the conference I brought that voice to an application in a 100 word story and received a six-figure award! I am now looking at all my applications with a new eye, figuring out where to put the STORY.
  • “Planning is Everything: Strategic Grants Planning” helped me realize that I need to sit down with my organizations before each new fiscal year to learn where the organization strategically wants to go and figure out how my work can help get them there. By helping my organizations identify their goals and needs, my writing will be more targeted and impactful. It will create a literal road map for the entire year.
  • In “Win Big, Fail Better” I learned that while it is so important to do your research and planning to win that award, there is much to learn from a failed application. I am determined to now review failed applications more closely to discover the weaknesses so that future applications will be stronger.
  • Marin Boess’ “Power Writing for Grants” was lively and entertaining and was a fantastic reminder of how to get the most out of limited space. “Write to Express, not Impress” – SO important. Her many other tips will help me move from passive to active voice and make my proposals SING!
  • In “Want to Teach” I learned the value of sharing knowledge with others and gained the courage to consider teaching courses in grant writing.

With my bucket full, I returned home with renewed energy and excitement. I am eager to bring these nuggets to my organizations to help make them stronger, my writing more purposeful and raise critical funds to further their missions and have an impact on my community.

Thank you, GPF, for making this conference possible for me. I can’t wait for Denver!

Scholarship applications for the GPA 2020 Annual Conference will open soon. More information is available here.

GPA 2019 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay, by Victoria Threadgould

Susan Kemp Scholarship

I was very fortunate to be the recipient of the Susan Kemp GPA Conference Scholarship at the 2019 Grant Professionals Association (GPA) Annual Meeting. As a first time attendee, I was excited to go to the many breakout sessions – and thankful for the conference app and presentation handouts, which helped me plan in advance – as well as meet and network with other grant professionals. I wore my scholarship medal with pride and used it as a way to start conversations with other attendees, scholarship recipients, and exhibitors.

The opening performance of Hamilton was a clever and entertaining way to kick things off and it set the tone for the rest of the conference. Vu Le was the perfect keynote speaker. Everything he said was amusingly – yet shockingly – true. Amongst all the cute pictures of baby animals, his message about the power imbalance rang home: “White-led organizations have to be willing to give up some of their resources, power and comfort.” I loved his idea of moving away from “hunger-style” grantseeking and mission-driven organizations, and instead focusing on community-driven alliances. After his opening remarks, I subscribed to his blog,, and now enjoy his emails every Monday!

Below are a few key highlights that stood out for me, as well as some noteworthy snippets of information and advice:

Risky Business: Funder Risk Assessment

A key takeaway from this breakout session was realizing how your financial package tells a story. Few organizations curate this story well and it’s important to understand how a poor budget, unexplained deficits, or overly rosy income projections will raise red flags and could result in declining a grant request.

Grant Consulting Models: No One Size Fits All

It was reassuring to hear these presenters speak about how all grant professionals – working within a variety of consulting models – can be part of the same workspace. A consultant has to think of ways to develop their career and their business. I came away from this session thinking about why I do freelance grants work, where will I go in 2020, and what resources and skills I want to develop.

Grant Management – Assembling the Nuts and Bolts of Successful Grants Management

After listening to this session, I was impressed with just how much work goes into the presenters’ full grant cycle management processes. It made me realize the real work only really begins once you receive the notice of award!

This is What Mentoring Looks Like: Insider Insight on GPA’s Mentor Match Program

I was inspired to update my GPA Mentor profile after attending this session. Mentors spoke about their experiences working with grant professionals and the importance of a mentee having a goal. I saw value from both sides of this relationship and hope to be matched with a GPA mentor in 2020.

Drabble This! Using Stories in Grant Applications

I like how a story can be used to support a needs statement. I want to experiment with Drabble in my future applications, to test my ability to express interest and meaningful ideas in a confined space (100 words or less).

Writing Isn’t an Art, It’s a Skill – The Fundamentals of a Well-Written Narrative

I found this session to be very insightful and practical. I was reminded of how grant writing is about logical thinking and organized writing. The presenter shared a clear process for writing with purpose, authority, persuasion, integrity, and keeping in mind the audience – respecting a reviewer’s time and mental energy.

Power Writing for Grants: Fast and Easy Tools for Writing that Gets the Results You Want

This was another session that emphasized writing with clarity. There were many useful tips and tricks (e.g. replacing inflated words, pruning inflated phrases, liberating buried verbs), and I liked how the presenter split a grant proposal into three parts:

  • Planning – think and outline
  • Composing – draft and review
  • Polishing – edit and proof.

After attending nine breakout sessions, writing 16 pages of notes, taking 4 headshots, collecting 2 chapsticks, and eating far too many mini-chocolates, I finished off my trip by walking through the Smithsonian Zoo on Saturday afternoon. I was lucky enough to say “Bye Bye, Bei Bei” before he headed back to China, and I had to catch my plane back to Texas!

Bei Bei, the Panda
Bei Bei, the panda

Scholarship applications for the GPA 2020 Annual Conference will open soon. More information is available here.

GPA 2019 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay, by Isabel Rosa

South Florida Chapter Scholarship

Join a Regional Chapter and Apply for the Scholarship!! Do it for You.

In 2018, I earned my GPC credential and decided to assist my first GPA Conference. Little did I know that it would be so groundbreaking for my professional development despite being a decade into the career as a consultant and with a recently obtained credential in the field! It was amazing to engage with so many professionals from different fields with the same interest. I decided that the 2019 GPA Annual Conference was a must for my continuing education.

I am a consultant; we cover our expenses and must make time for continuing education away from work. The economic burden adds up (travel – I am for Puerto Rico; flight; hotel; transportation; food; etc.). I was particularly eager to assist to the Conference because of different personal distresses concerning next steps in my career.

I received various e-mails notifying about the opportunity for a Scholarship for the 2019 Conference in Washington D.C.. I identify, evaluate, write, and request opportunities to do good for others. I relieve their economic burden for the implementation of their initiatives and professional growth. I was eligible, so why not do it for me? I decided to apply, and it was a pleasant surprise when it was awarded.

There are no GPA Chapters in Puerto Rico (unfortunately), therefore, I joined from the start the one closest to home, the South Florida Chapter. I have always been informed about their meetings and continuing education activities and appreciate that it is a very active group. They allowed me to attend the GPA Annual Conference; they funded my award. I never even realized that being part of this group would allow for such a great opportunity. I met various members at the Chapter dinner during the Annual Conference and they are a very welcoming, diverse fun group that I am grateful to form part of!

The Scholarship allowed me to stay at the hotel where the conference took place, immerse myself fully into the educational and networking experience. It helped me analyze and make decisions concerning my career path. It helped me consider different approaches to challenges I was facing as a professional. These ranged from setting boundaries as a consultant with my clients and establishing functional contracts (it was shocking to learn all I was leaving out despite being a law school graduate) to evaluating the possibility of becoming a trainer and being more active with the GPA.

The Scholarship is successful with the assistance of volunteers that participate at different levels, including at the Silent Auction. It was very engaging to help in the set-up of the auction tables, learn more about it, and the level of organization it entails. I commend its organizers for their time and devotion and look forward to volunteering in the upcoming years.

I invite you to join a GPA Chapter, even if it is not located in your hometown. For example, if you are in the Caribbean, join the South Florida Chapter! I also invite you to apply for the Scholarship next year and become more involved with the GPA. It will expose you to new opportunities you might not consider otherwise.  

Scholarship applications for the GPA 2020 Annual Conference will open soon. More information is available here.

GPA 2019 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay, by Bethany Fields

SE Texas Chapter Becki Shawver Conference Scholarship

The “Grantalorian”

For my fellow GPA members who are also sci-fi fans, many of you know that Disney + released its new Star Wars series “The Mandalorian” the week following the 2019 GPA National Conference.  The series follows the journey of a bounty hunter called a “Mandalorian” as he navigates life post the return of the Jedi in Star Wars Episode 6.

As I have reflected on the epic time I had at my first GPA National Conference and devoured my new favorite addiction thanks to Disney +, I was struck by the similarities between the Mandalorian’s story and our profession. Grant writing, like bounty hunting, is often a solitary endeavor where you tirelessly work to use your expert skills to track down valuable assets for your organization.  The process can often leave an individual exhausted, disillusioned and feeling like a scruffy “nerf herder”.

Most Mandalorians work independently but are members of a guild that offers guidance, resources and support.  In one episode of Disney’s series, the Mandalorian gets into a sticky bind when a difficult job becomes complicated. As enemies surround the weary warrior, his situation appears hopeless and dire when suddenly he is rescued and reinvigorated by the arrival of his guild brethren.

I have been a grant writer/manager for over ten years and a GPA member since 2013. While I love my work, I can attest first hand that non-profit compassion fatigue is real. Like the Mandalorian, I was facing some challenges in my professional life and needed some help.

Enter the 2019 GPA National Conference and my guild, the Grant Professionals Association, to my rescue.  First, let me say, if you have never been to a GPA National Conference, you need to put it at the top of your task list ASAP. As a first-time attendee, I was blown away by both the breadth and depth of information and opportunities offered by this event – it was the shot in the arm that I needed.  I spent the whole week feeling like I was at a health spa hooked up to a vitamin IV – except I was being pumped with information and resources that I could use to transform and improve my work as a grant writer and manager.   

To carry the health spa analogy one step further, here are few of my favorite “treatments” from this year’s national conference:

  1. Getting to hear Vu Ley speak at the conference opening plenary – OMG! I am not one to typically fan girl out, but my whole office reads Vu’s blog religiously every week. It was such a treat to hear him in person and be lulled by images of baby animals as he laid down some hard truths. I firmly believe he is our industry’s sarcastic spirit animal.
  • All of the breakout sessions – Seriously, it’s like an episode of Oprah’s Favorite Things during breakout session time.  There are sessions galore to meet any grant writers need – from those working to secure start-up funding for a grassroots organization to scientific research at the top-secret university level – there is something for everyone. 
  • The opportunity to network – I met so many kind grant professionals from all over the country. Everyone was earnest and eager to help problem-solve or suggest resources. It truly felt like a supportive, collaborative environment.  I also had the chance to get to know my local GPA chapter members better. We shared an adventurous and humorous evening at the historic “Martin’s Tavern”, where JFK proposed to Jackie O.
  • Gaining tools to become a better grant professional – I walked away from the conference with at least three new techniques/ideas that I was desperate to try when I got back to the office. I’m looking forward the most to incorporating “drabbles” into my narratives.
  • The GPA Foundation and its support of grant professionals – As a GPA Conference scholar, I was able to attend the GPA Conference for the first time through the extreme generosity of the GPA Foundation and its donors. I am eternally grateful to the GPA Foundation for giving me this opportunity and turning me into a national conference convert.  See you in Denver in 2020!

Scholarship applications for the GPA 2020 Annual Conference will open soon. More information is available here.

GPA 2019 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay, by Beth Noble

AZ Founding Chapter Jerry Dillehay Scholarship

My primary objective in attending the 2019 GPA Annual Conference is to return to my organization as a better, more informed grants leader. With this in mind, I made a very deliberate and intentional plan to take workshops focused on logic model development, strategic planning, and personal growth. My goal was to learn new techniques and skills that can be implemented to improve our overall grant strategy process.  First up, I attended the Better or Just More Fun Way to Logic Model session. I have been using the logic model process to guide program staff in project development for proposals. What I gained from attending this logic model workshop is how to use an interactive approach to better engage participants in decision making. The presenters used the compression planning method which creates more opportunity for involvement when combined with the logic model process. Another great tip from this workshop is approaching the logic model from the big picture to the details. By focusing on the impact first, then outcomes, activities, inputs, and outputs the finished product will be ready for proposal development. I plan to implement this new process immediately.

Since strategic planning is a top priority for my learning and skill development goals, I attended the two-part strategic planning session titled “When Ideal isn’t an Option”. This workshop helped me gain insight that strategic planning is more about the decision making process than the plan itself. Understanding that strategic planning requires strategic thinkers to move the process forward and achieve success allowed me to reflect on how that works in my non-profit organization and how I can better assist our organization’s leadership in accomplishing the steps in our plan related to grant funding.

Another key takeaway from the conference that I am implementing immediately is the Drabble technique learned in the “Drabble This” session. Writing a 50 to100 word program recipient story to illustrate the need statement was powerful and compelling. The presenters shared that they have successfully used this tool in government proposals. Seeing their examples and getting an opportunity to practice writing a Drabble was very beneficial.

Attending Diane Leonard’s session titled “Grant Writing is Not a Solo Sport” addressed one of my key objectives of becoming a better grant leader. Focusing on how to make yourself and your team happier and work faster is a critical need for organizational grant department sustainability. The technique of determining grant velocity for an agency gives credibility to the work done by proposal developers and can improve the work functionality of a grant team. Given the complexity of determining our organization’s grant velocity, my plan is to implement this during the next year.

The GPA Speed Dating workshop offered personal growth and networking. Having the opportunity to discuss key grant related topics such as federal proposals, burn-out, succession planning, and different professional opportunities in a small group setting allowed for more intimate, targeted discussion. This session balanced the technique and skill development workshops with an opportunity to have candid conversations with my peers.

Finally, lunch with the other scholarship recipients gave me an opportunity to network with other grant professionals, learn about their organizations, and make new contacts for future conferences. Being a conference scholarship recipient helped increase my involvement with the conference and gave me a strong appreciation for the hard work done by the members of the Grant Professional Foundation to ensure a successful auction. I’m honored to have been a 2019 GPA Conference Scholarship recipient.

Scholarship applications for the GPA 2020 Annual Conference will open soon. More information is available here.