2022 GPA Conference Scholar Reflection, by Christine Senavsky

“Um, I want to make sure the money I gave you to fight this fire is paying for the water, and not the hose. What is your hose-to-water ratio?”

The first time I heard Vu Le’s clever metaphor, delivered in a Feeding America conference opener, I laughed out loud. My full-time position is at a Food Bank, and others on our Development team were chuckling at other relatable nonprofit quandaries, but the restricted grants joke belonged to us in the thick of writing and managing grants. The phrase echoed like a mantra throughout the GPA Conference, from the start of the keynote: As grants professionals we speak the same language. And it seemed too good to be true that every person I shook hands with knew the nature of my professional existence, the triumphs and roadblocks so particular to our profession.

At our GPA Greater Bay Area November meeting we shared conference takeaways and the consensus was that while the knowledge aspect of the conference was incredible, it wasn’t what we learned, but who. The sessions I attended provided a gold mine of tips and insights that were grant-specific. For someone like me who’s early in their career, this was invaluable, adding nuance and depth to my understanding of different topics.

  • In the Understanding Federal Funding session I learned about the appropriations process and how to determine funding levels each year at different agencies.
  • In The Power of Sustainability session I considered how the sustainability question we see frequently on applications could be re-framed not just around money but around in-kind, capacity building, and collaboration activities.
  • I laughed through the whole Become a Master Cat Herder presentation alongside my colleagues, taking away some helpful tips on how to maintain good working relationships with colleagues in other departments (who you’re constantly chasing down for information).  
  • The Vulnerability in Grants Work session, through anecdotes the panelists collected along with their personal accounts and audience share-outs, explored the importance of empathy and connection in our competitive deadline-driven profession
  • How to Create Employee Evaluations got me thinking about the design of performance reviews, how I want to be evaluated, and how to translate company values into expected job responsibilities
  • The Hey, Nice Chart! session provided a much-needed refresher on how to effectively insert charts into a dense narrative to strengthen the argument

The above takeaways justified my attendance at the conference in themselves—but the networking aspect of the conference was even more valuable to me. Underlying this knowledge was the generous character of the GPA network: everyone present is great at what they do and willing to go the extra mile to share what they’ve learned from experience. I left the conference inspired, energized, grounded, and more confident in the full-time and freelancing roles I hold as a grants professional. I am so grateful for the GPF Foundation for making it possible for me to attend, and excited to continue engaging with the robust GPA network as I keep tinkering with that hose-to-water response.