2022 GPA Conference Review, by Andrea Forsmo

“Ask and you shall receive.” The words my boss said after I took her advice about my GPF scholarship, and indeed, a theme that was central my experience at the GPA 2022 Annual Conference.

In fact, attending the Annual Conference began with an ask. My scholarship application was an ask for support to grow professionally, and in return to help promote excellence in the grant professionals’ field.

I was thrilled and honored to be awarded the New England Chapter Chuck Howard Conference Scholarship – until I saw that it was for the in-person conference. I thought I had applied for virtual. Would the award be rescinded if I asked to make the change? My boss told me not to worry and to simply explain the situation. Of course, GPF was happy to make the change, and when, relieved, I told my boss, she said, “See, ask and you shall receive.”

Relatively new to the field, I have hesitated to “bother” others with my questions. How naïve I was to think only emerging grant professionals or those not working “in-house” have questions.

Turns out, as I learned in more than one conference session, chasing down answers and information isn’t something unique to consulting; it’s industry wide. It’s exactly this type of information that one gleans from a GPA conference that makes attendance so valuable. The lessons and topic-specific education are enriched by the collective experience, connection, and organic discussions. I heard about topics and scenarios that I would never encounter otherwise at this stage in my career. The answers and insightful contributions came from experts in the field.

I continuously pursue all professional development that is free or affordable because I intend to be a grant writer for the rest of my career. This year, the scholarship allowed me to attend the conference at no cost. The GPA Annual Conference offered many sessions of live instruction that were highly beneficial to my growth as a grant professional. It increased my confidence as a writer, my well-roundness as a grant professional, and gave me up-to-date information.

Sessions I found particularly interesting and helpful were, “Design Thinking a Dynamic Grants Manual for You, Your Team, and Your Successor,” “Success Starts at Square One: Leading Successful Initial Grant Meetings,” “Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way: Leadership methods for building collaborative grants processes,” “Become a Grants Management Master…or a Master Cat Herder,” “The Cost of Doing Business: Does Your Budget Tell Funders the Whole Story?,” “Opening Pandora’s Box: 10 Phases of Grant Management,” and “Is the Form Flawed? Grant Reviewer Perceptions of Narrative vs. Form Applications.”  

So, what was the impact of the generous scholarship I received by the GPF? It was a new confidence in my work and a broader knowledge base. November was an especially busy month for me, but after the conference I felt emboldened to ask questions…of the clients I am becoming more visible to, of my colleagues, and to follow up more, expressing urgency to the clients I know well. This is a benefit to the community and the consulting firm for which I work. More competitive grants lead to an increased ability for our clients to do their important work and it advances the grant profession.

I had been told that the annual conferences are energizing. I think we all need to periodically reenergize in our profession. The workload can be intense and difficult, especially amidst the long, drawn-out pandemic and potential recession. Being in touch with our community of grant professionals, learning from each other, and reenergizing from the shared experience benefits us all. We return to work with a positive outlook and a reminder of why we love our work. I found this all to be true.

The wise words of another attendee who shared, “I’m a professional nag,” can be a reminder that everyone, from the less experienced to the most seasoned of us needs to ask questions.