GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Jillain Veil-Ehnert

What a joy and privilege it was to gather together in Seattle for the annual GPA conference. With the assistance of the Grant Professional’s Foundation scholarship, I attended my first in-person conference since the pandemic and it was an amazing opportunity to learn from industry leaders. I left the conference invigorated about our profession and ready to finish the year strong and embrace all that is to come in 2022. So many societal norms and the way we all do business has changed in the past two years that this year’s conference was even more valuable.

One of the advantages of the hybrid conference offered in person and online is that the sessions that were recorded are available after the conference itself. Whether I want to supplement my notes or view a session I could not attend, the recordings are valuable resources. I often use information I have gathered at the conference in my prospect research and being able to go back and cite a source or replay recommendations helps me better prepare for new funders and/or guidelines. Thank you to the staff and volunteers at GPA for providing this dual format.

The GPA conference is the best professional development opportunity for those serious about honing their craft. I value this conference because it helps me learn how to improve my skills and deepen my knowledge. By the end of the conference, I had numerous notes, new connections, and recommendations for technology to enhance my work.

The heart of the conference is the people. The planning committee and GPA staff included many opportunities to connect in informal and formal settings. In addition, there are those grant friends that I only see in person at the conference itself and catching up with them personally and professionally is a treat. Due to the online conference last year, I met in person many of those contacts that had been online only until now. The people are the heart of our organization and they illustrate the genuine care for each other and interest in welcoming newcomers. If you have not attended (in person or online) I encourage you to join us next year.

GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Denise Henry

Giving, growing and learning. These three words aptly define my career and approach to being the best grants professional and fundraiser I can be. I believe career growth starts with being a lifelong learner, listener, and collaborator to add strong team value for community good.

For me, 2021 began with a new job in higher education grants management after previous grants and development positions at small, community-based nonprofits. Early in my new role, I came across a Grants Professional Association email, and read it with great interest. I hadn’t heard of GPA before, but was so glad it came across my radar because I knew it would be a great way for me to grow and learn.

This past summer, I saw a few emails about the upcoming GPA conference and decided to take a deeper look at the website to learn more. I knew I needed assistance to attend, so I looked for scholarship opportunities and noticed The Dr. Bev Browning/Dr. Bernard Turner African American Conference Scholarship from the Grant Professional Association Foundation to attend the Annual Conference virtually. What a prestigious opportunity!

I applied and the rest is history! When I received my award notification, I was elated, deeply humbled and couldn’t wait for the GPA 2021 Conference to begin. Needless to say, when it did, it was everything I thought it would be and more!

My Key GPA 2021 Takeaways

First, the Opening Keynote Session set the stage for me. Although I was a virtual conference participant, I felt like I was right there in the room when Johna Rogers created a great rallying and encouraging moment for us all with “stand up!” or “hands up!” as we proudly shared the parts we all play in serving our communities through our grants work! All I could think was: look at the reach of our collective impact!

I was also impacted by Kia Jarmon’s keynote when she discussed Storytelling, my favorite aspect of grant writing. She asked a powerful question: “Based on the stories within my work, am I helping or hindering those we serve?” Her presentation solidified my personal commitment to respectful, community-informed storytelling.

Secondly, Kim Richardson’s workshop on Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Your Grant Proposal helped me see the need to look at DEI not just in our organization and those we serve, but also in partnerships, consultants, and recruitment.

Thirdly, I really appreciated the Matchmaker Webinar Funder Opportunity Rubric that was a great tool for Cost/Benefit Analysis and determining if a funder is a good conceptual match. Apples to Apples, or Apples to Oranges?

Lastly, I’m grateful for the Conference Connect Higher Education discussion where we talked about grant expectations and timeline processes for grant project participants. I loved connecting with and learning from other grants professionals!

Overall, I am so grateful to the Grants Professional Association Foundation for The Dr. Bev Browning/Dr. Bernard Turner African American Conference Scholarship to attend GPA 2021 Conference. It was a great opportunity to learn, grow, and connect, and I very much look forward to the GPA 2022 in Louisville!!

GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Leilani Ocasio

Tips for a first time GPA Conference Attendee

As a first-time GPA Conference attendee, I’d like to share some tips! First and foremost, I am
incredibly grateful to the Grant Professionals Foundation for their scholarship opportunity. As a
new grant professional, I would not have been able to attend the conference without this

A safe assumption to make about grant professionals is that any opportunity to prepare and
gather information will be welcomed. If you are anything like me, someone with input as your
number 1 Clifton strength, this will be helpful!

The main thing you need to know about the GPA conference is that it is a legitimately magical
place filled with people who love deadlines, spell check, and glittery clothing (read on to get
some context). Do not be intimidated! Here are a few of my other takeaways:

TIP 1: Plan your session agenda before you arrive.
Once the agenda is available on the GPA website, explore the different tracks and choose the
sessions you would like to attend. As a new grant professional, I knew I wanted to focus on
attending sessions that broke down the basics. I am also the only person in development in my
organization, so I needed to focus on gathering tools for making my work as efficient and
organized as possible. By identifying my needs beforehand and choosing my sessions, I found
that my two main interests went hand in hand and that many sessions fell under one or both
categories. This allowed me to fill the other half of my schedule with sessions focused on
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Had I not done my research and planned by track, I wouldn’t
have been able to attend nearly as many sessions that met my needs, and I would have been
overwhelmed or swayed by exciting session titles. I could have missed out on an incredible
annual grants strategy workbook which has drastically improved my overall professional

When choosing your sessions, be sure to add in breaks and try attending both virtual
and in-person sessions to avoid fatigue.

Tip 2: Go to the networking events- Meeting other grant pros is fun!
The grants profession can often feel lonely, especially if you are a newbie. Not many people
outside of the grant world understand the job and its pressures. One of the most rewarding
experiences of this conference was getting to meet other people you don’t have to explain your
job to! When I arrived at the conference, I noticed that almost everyone already had
connections. At first, this was intimidating until I realized these connections were formed at
previous GPA Conferences! I met so many great people who shared their professional
experience with me and what motivates them to continue in this work. This was very
encouraging, and the motivation I received from these conversations has kept me going through
my craziest grant season yet. The conference facilitated many opportunities to make networking
less intimidating. I found the networking lunches each afternoon to be very beneficial, and I
recommend attending them. You will be welcomed with open arms as a newcomer! These
conversations and connections taught me about opportunities to get more involved in our
profession through board committees, volunteer opportunities, and GPCI and CFRE testing

Tip 3: Attend the social events! Specifically, the GPA Annual Spelling Bee

Similar to tip 2, there are many opportunities to interact and have fun with other conference
attendees. There are game rooms, knitting rooms, daily runs, and a scenic hike. However, the
most important of these events, in my opinion, is the Annual Spelling Bee. Picture the
Superbowl, but for Grant professionals. This spelling bee was the highlight of the conference!
My actual pro tip here is to wear sparkly clothes to this event. There’s a not-so-secret secondary
competition called the “Sparkle-Off,” which is exactly what it sounds like. My mentor and friend
just so happened to get second place in both the Sparkle Off AND the Spelling Bee. Just know
that she’s coming for first place next year in Louisville!

GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Colleen Engelbrecht

When you are a grant professional, the majority of your work life is spent crafting a winning proposal for others – not yourself. After participating in last year’s Grant Professionals Association’s virtual conference, I knew that I had to get myself to Seattle. But how? Encouraged by my fellow members of the San Diego County Chapter, I applied for a conference scholarship from the Grant Professionals Foundation and WON! I remember the morning the email announcement arrived in my inbox. It was August 17th. Knowing my application was chosen validated this encore career I chose for myself three years ago.

With more than two months to budget and plan, I decided that my visit to Seattle would focus on personal development. As a relative newcomer to grants, I wanted to learn how to work better and avoid the pitfalls of burnout that I had experienced during the first three years in this field. Once the schedule was announced, I carefully chose in-person topics that addressed my interests. One of my favorite courses was Creative Writing. As grant professionals, we often run out of time to really create a unique proposal and fall into the cut/paste trap with essential language. My intentions are always to include a vignette or “success story” in my submissions and learned that there is a greater likelihood, actually 22 times more, of remembering a fact when a story is included with the data presented.

And speaking of “success stories”, one keynote speaker challenged nonprofits to compensate former clients when they tell their personal journey of overcoming adversity. Wait, what? This was the “lightbulb” moment for me during Seattle. In order to advance the public good, we must honor those we are serving by compensating their time so that we may continue to do the work and inspire others to give. It’s the cycle of life in fundraising, but this call to action focuses on creating equity well above the requisite signed media release. I carried this compensation challenge with me throughout the conference. At networking lunches, I would survey my neighbors if their organizations pay former clients for their testimony in fundraising materials. All but one said “yes.” This challenge has already made me a better grant professional as I asked my current employer on their policy for this. I encourage each of you to do the same.

I found GPA by total accident two years ago. Upon joining this organization, I realized that this is more than just a professional group, but a real home. What business organization is so friendly? So knowledgeable about finding funders? So willing to share very personal stories about burnout and practical remedies? Coming from decades in the corporate field, joining my colleagues in Seattle felt more like a homecoming than a conference. I am part of the Executive Committee of the San Diego County Chapter of GPA, so it was the first time I met my fellow leaders in person. The conference was held during Seattle’s Restaurant Week, so our San Diego Chapter members enjoyed a scrumptious seafood dinner and spent the evening laughing and learning from each other.

The GPF conference scholarship was a lifeline for me. This year has been hard for so many people and there would have been no way I could afford this trip without the generous investment from the GPF. As a scholarship winner, we each received a gold medal with a flame torch and stars motif. You may have seen us with our green ribbons adorning our necks. I was so proud of mine that I even took a picture of me biting it like the Olympians do after a big win. As grant professionals, our work may feel like a long athletic endeavor – the hours, the words, the budgets, the attachments – and all of these exercises contribute to making our communities better. I am committed to this work and I promised myself that I would go back and visit the online topics after the conference. This is now my New Year’s Resolution as we have six months to revisit conference material – which is such a bonus resource for attendees.  Knowing the value of this conference and what to expect, I am already planning ahead to Louisville next November. 

GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Tricia Gopalakrishnan

As a newer grant writer to the field, I was surprised to learn that a Grant Professionals Conference took place. When I did more research and learned that I could apply for a scholarship, I jumped right on the opportunity. When I found out that I received the scholarship in order to attend my very first GPA Conference, I jumped up and down for 5 whole minutes and proceeded to call everyone in my family. To that, I want to thank the Grant Professionals Foundation again for seeing value in myself and in my professional goals and selecting for this scholarship.

Attending the GPA Conference was a huge win my book. I’ve been a grant professional for less than 2 years. I’m also a one woman department at my organization so I’ve had to learn everything grant related all by myself. It’s been quite a journey. Attending this conference had such an impact on me because I was able to network and learn from other seasoned grant writers. To be honest, I didn’t ask a lot of questions. I did a lot of listening. I was immersed with men and women talking about how their organizations and departments worked. It was very eye opening to hear how everyone worked and/or what was expected of them compared to myself and my job responsibilities. I heard a lot of frustration when it came to the day to day work but I also heard everyone’s passion and dedication to their job and the organization they serve. It was very inspiring.

I decided to sit in a lot early-career sessions such as, “Using Creative Writing Techniques to Space Up Your Grant Narrative!,”Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match: All On-Board in Pursuit (or Not) of Funding,” and “Grant Writers as Tour Guides,” just to name a few. These were all so useful to me and I learned quite a lot. I was also quite happy to learn that I was on the right track with some the things these professionals were teaching. I was sitting there thinking, “Oh! I know that!” It gave me a sense of comfort knowing that I was learning and on-track with other early grant writing professionals.

I also decided to sit in a freelance session called, “Taking the Plunge – Transitioning from Grant Writer to Consultant.” This was an extremely useful session for me. Before I entered into the NPO world, I always dreamed of being my own boss. I wanted the flexibility to make my own schedule, worked when I wanted (I’m more of a night owl) and to be charge of my financial success. When I began grant writing in the summer of 2020, I knew I eventually wanted to open up my own business. After years of searching, I finally felt like I found the right career path for me. With that being said, it is my pleasure to let the Grant Professionals Foundation know that in 2022, I will be doing just that! I plan to open up my own grant writing consultancy firm in 2022! I plan to take some classes from grant professionals that I truly look up such as Dr. Bev Browning and Holly Rustik. From there, I will start taking clients on part time basis with the hopes of fully transitioning to working full time as a freelance grant consultant in late 2022 or early 2023. I also plan to watch all freelance grant consultancy sessions that the GPA provided in 2021. In short, this conference was EXTREMELY useful to me and it is such an honor to have had the opportunity to attend. I look forward to attending in years to come and can’t wait to continue to learn from my fellow grant professionals. Thank you again for all you do!

GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Melissa Cammack

I had the opportunity to attend the 2021 Annual Conference of the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) in November of this year through a scholarship I received from the Grant Professionals Foundation (GPF). The GPA conference not only renewed my passion for storytelling (aka grant writing) but also opened my eyes to a network of similarly driven professionals dedicated to supporting great causes across the United States.

I have worked in the grants field for over 14 years–most of this time has been at the local and state government level. Although I have written and managed numerous grants, they have primarily been to support the programs and services I directly oversaw at the time. As a result, I was already familiar with the funding organizations including their interests, grantmaking process and application requirements. I am now almost two years into a position with a non-profit where I support the funding needs of a wide range of hospital programs and services. While I am embedded in a department, I am not directly involved in the management or day-to-day activities of the work. The conference sessions on prospect research were invaluable to me for this reason. I learned critical skills and specific resources that are now integrated into my daily and weekly routine. Sessions on writing needs assessments and developing logic models are just as critical to future success as are learning about new funding opportunities early on and building relationships.

In addition to skill building sessions, I attended several related to personal development and burnout. Anyone who has ever written a grant knows just how much work is involved. The highs of receiving a “congratulations” are so high and the lows of “thank you, but…” can be downright devastating–not just to the grant writer’s ego but to the program and staff it was written to support. Networking opportunities, sessions related to grant strategy and self-awareness, and the overall sense of belonging to a tribe for the greater good helped to re-energize my focus. I am excited to participate in future GPA offerings and learn more about the Grant Professionals Certification over the coming year.

Finally, GPA did a great job recruiting speakers and organizing the conference for both in-person and online attendance. Although I participated virtually, it was one of the rare instances where I felt like I was participating in something and not just on the side looking in. Mike Chamberlain and Jess Pettitt were witty, engaging and funny from the moment they logged onto the computer for the online kickoff to their presence on the stage at the livestreamed closing session. GPF and GPA staff checked in frequently and made sure virtual attendance was never a hindrance. I am so appreciative of GPF for this opportunity. Thank you!

GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Miranda Herbert Morris

This was my first GPA conference and the first public conference I attended in over two years thanks to COVID. Initially, I was a little nervous to join the convention in person due to the pandemic, but GPA (and the Hyatt Hotel) took all the right precautions to ensure everyone’s safety. These safety protocols eased my anxiety greatly and I honestly didn’t fret about COVID once while at the convention.  

It was an absolute JOY to be around so many like-minded professionals and I felt welcomed and included from the minute I arrived. As someone who sometimes struggles with social anxiety, I really enjoyed the casualness of the entire conference. I didn’t feel pressured to be “on” all the time; it allowed me to relax and absorb the information presented. I had some lovely chats during the luncheon meet-n-greets, so I hope GPA continues that format next year.  I found the workshops to be very helpful and the selection of workshops was extensive, with offerings from beginners to advanced. It was challenging to decide which sessions to attend each day, which is a great problem to have! I was very grateful to learn that all sessions were being recorded and that we could access them for up to one year after the event.  GPA hosted a hybrid workshop this year, which gave more people the chance to participate in the conference; another format I hope they continue in years to come.

Overall, I gained new and valuable skills from the workshops, but it was the opportunity to talk with others in my field (in person) that was truly the most rewarding take-away from the convention. I brought back a ton of new information to share with my team, as well as new friends to reach out to for grant-related support. I absolutely would not have had this opportunity without support from the Grant Professionals Foundation Conference Scholarship.

Value of attending and what it meant to me:

My story is probably like most that apply for the scholarship. I decided to apply, because I really wanted to attend the convention and my organization wasn’t budgeting for in-person conferences this year due to COVID. However, after receiving the scholarship, my organization chose to match the award by covering the rest of my travel expenses. I was overjoyed! That gift was a true surprise and only happened because supervisors saw my personal effort to advance my professional development by applying to the scholarship. Receiving the scholarship meant that my organization saw my determination to further my career and understood how important conference attendance meant to me. For the first time, I felt like a true grant professional and not a novice working in the field. The value I gained from conference attendance cannot be measured. The scholarship, the conference, my organization seeing me as an “expert” in my field, have all boosted my professional and personal confidence. This is the true gift. I am eager to continue this journey for many years to come.  

Impact of scholarship:

The impact of this experience has been huge. Receiving the scholarship meant I now had the opportunity to learn from like-minded professionals and form relationships with new mentors for future support. The experience gave opportunity to reflect on what I truly wanted out of my grant career. I found it exhilarating and encouraging to be part of a cohort of professionals, all driven by the same goal and objectives. Being able to join that cohort, confirmed my passion make a difference in my community through grantsmanship. I’ve recently increased participation in my local GPA chapter by taking on the position of Scholarship Committee Chair; a position they offered me after being awarded the GPF Conference Scholarship. It’s an honor to be asked to sit on the board for our local chapter and I’m eager to help others apply for this opportunity next year.

I am forever grateful to GPA, GPF, and our Southeast Texas GPA Chapter for walking alongside me as a new grant professional. I am entering the next phase of my professional life and it all began with the GPF Conference Scholarship.

GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Elizabeth Wilkinson

I was delighted to receive the Arizona Founding Chapter Jerry Dillehay Conference Scholarship. Thank you to the Grant Professionals Foundation and my beloved Arizona Founding Chapter! I have been a GPA member for nearly 15 years, and I have attended many GPA conferences. The 2021 Seattle conference was especially sweet after the long isolation of the pandemic.

During the pandemic, I transitioned into consulting, and while it is gratifying, working alone can be isolating. Getting together with like-minded grant professionals was a wonderful treat. My focus in attending this conference was to learn about consulting best practices and build a personal network of independent consultants to draw upon for advice when issues arise. I also wanted to learn about consulting services other than grant writing to broaden my service to the community.

Here is a sampling of the workshops I attended:

  •  Mindset, Hiring and Mentorship – Insights and Tools for Scaling Your Consulting Business

This panel of presenters discussed their experiences scaling up their businesses.  They talked about the importance of focusing on a niche that highlights your expertise and passion. This focus will help you to find your ideal client and focus on the exact kind of work you’re most interested in doing.

  • Taking the Plunge ~ Transitioning from Grant Writer to Consultant

This session spoke to me as a new consultant. Scot Scala, GPC, discussed his experience starting a consulting business and offered tips to new consultants. He suggested that we each think about our strengths and only do what we love. The idea of only taking on projects and clients that resonate with you was eye-opening for me. We don’t have to chase the money; we need to be clear about our values and stay true to them.

  • Lead or Follow: The Delicate Dance Between Consultant and Client

Lisa McAloney and Lisa Stofan, GPC, discussed the importance of ensuring that you are a good match with your client. The fit could be based on mission, organizational structure, personality, skill, or goals—this idea built upon my previous learnings about doing what you love. If your skillset or personality fits the client, you will likely be more successful.

The theme of abundance – that there is enough work for everyone – was apparent in many of the workshops I attended. It was a wonderful message for me to hear since I am new to consulting. I am more determined than ever to follow this advice and only work with clients that are a good fit for me.

It was nice to see so many grant professionals in person again. I loved the option of having both virtual and in-person workshops. It never fails; there are always two workshops that I want to attend scheduled simultaneously, so it’s nice to be able to access the recordings at home.

Thank you to everyone that made this scholarship available to me!

GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Jacqui Ragin

First I would like to thank my local Nevada chapter for allowing me to attend the GPA conference, through their scholarship program. This was my first time attending a GPA conference and I was extremely excited as I mentally prepared to attend this event in person. I had never been to Seattle and the conference agenda and location made it very appealing.  Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to travel to Seattle. I say that to say, I did have to mentally regroup and adjust my expectations for online attendance and participation. I had momentary flashbacks to my days as a college student taking classes online, which by the way I hated and did when absolutely necessary. I am definitely more of an in person attendee for events in general.

As many of you know, attending sessions for hours online has its pros and cons.  So I will start with the cons and will end with the good stuff. The biggest hurdle was technology, some issues were in my control and others not so much. All scholars were required to assist with the auction, however due to some tech problems we were unable to do so. We did get to meet to take a virtual photo of the group. One session that I wanted to watch after the conference ended jumped from slide 15 to 75, cutting out a significant chunk of the presentation. Additionally during the presentation we could not hear the question/s being asked, the presenter forgot people were online at times. The other downside of my experience was just not being a part of the group’s shared experience. Attending online for me is a solo event and there are certain things you miss by not being there live

Overall, I must say my experience was mostly positive. On the upside, I received my care pack, which was a great surprise. I was able to listen to sessions in the comfort of my home and truly focus on what was being presented. There were sessions that had some fantastic speakers, shout out to the mom and son duo Karen Cassidy and Andrew Goewert. Their Saturday presentation was packed with useful and practical information.  I really enjoyed their session. Another great feature of online and recordings is that you can go back and watch what you missed. I am still making my way through and catching up, but I hope to get to all the presentations I wanted to see but I missed.

Happy holidays!


GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Cynthia Wasco

Receiving The Dr. Bev Browning/Dr. Bernard Turner African American Conference Scholarship from the Grant Professional Association Foundation to attend the 2021 Annual Conference (virtual), was an amazing experience! Without this scholarship, I would have not been able to attend due to cost. I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow with my fellow grant professionals. Thank you for a seamless virtual conference experience. 

I recently received my CFRE in October and was ready to attend a national conference to absorb even more from my sector. There were so many inciteful workshops that I either attended in real-time or saved to watch later. One of the workshops I truly appreciated was the, How’d You Find That Funder? workshop. Excellent tricks to thinking outside the box in search of new grant opportunities. Although the information was not new to me, The Perfect Marriage: Grants & Marketing, is a workshop that should be offered year over year. Social media is still a newer form of marketing for many professionals yet has been around now for quite some time. I have always been fascinated by how to make social media work to the nonprofit’s advantage, especially in advocacy work, and feel our nonprofit field, does not put enough time to truly understand its power. This was an excellent workshop of beginner information on how to get set up on social media and I would love to see a follow-up on now that you are set up, how to make it work for you! 

One of my favorite workshops was the personal development workshop called, Women in Leadership: Using Your Innate Abilities & Tendencies to Influence Change. I found this workshop to be perfect timing! It spoke about “Be Leader vs. Do Leader” and how some people are a leader by title and others are the “go-to” person by staff and are natural leaders by example.  This workshop resonated the most with me because, throughout my career, I have always felt like a “behind the scenes” leader; someone other staff members came to for advice or direction, without an official leadership title. It was inspiring and left me with tips and tricks to take into my day-to-day work.