2022 GPF Conference Essay, by Lucas Reed

“Providing the grandeur of the forest depths in the dim seclusion of which you may wander musingly for hours.”

— Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect, describing his design for Iroquois Park in Louisville, Kentucky, in “Louisville’s Olmstedian Legacy” written by Clark Kramer (source: Wikipedia).

          I jogged around a curve in the steep path. A small, black-furred dog let out a screeching bark and flashed its teeth at me from its cozy spot in a woman’s lap. Moments later, a guy on a dirt bike buzzed by me and zoomed around a metal gate with an attached sign that read “No Vehicles Beyond this Point.”

This was Iroquois Park at the south end of the city. It was not what I planned, pictured, or prepared for. It was something better.

Lucas Reed

          If you came to read an essay about my experience at the 2022 Grants Professionals Association Conference, you’re in the right place.

          So why am I sharing details about my attempted run at an unfamiliar place? My brief visit to that park served as a living example of what I learned during my time in Louisville.

Lesson One: Planning can sure go south in a heartbeat

          My planning for that evening’s run was minimal. I discovered the park on Louisville Running Company’s website, which suggested a 3.1 mile route that made “one loop around the bottom of the park.” It looked simple in 2D—a red line making a circle around the perimeter. But once my shoes hit the ground, the lay of the land confused me and knocked me off course.

          In contrast to my run prep, I did extensive planning in advance of the conference. I read through each session’s description and looked into the backgrounds of presenters. I must have switched up my pre-scheduled agenda a dozen times in the days leading up to my journey to Kentucky.

          When I stepped into the reality of the conference things looked different than what I’d pictured. I found myself making last-minute adjustments to my schedule. Instead of attending Surveying the Post Stimulus K-12 Federal Funding Landscape, for example, I sat in on We all Win: Tips for Grant Writer-Evaluator Collaboration. I also focused less on personal growth, as originally planned, and more on grant budgets.

          Even though my run in the park and my conference schedule did not go as planned they were both beneficial in unexpected ways.

Lesson Two: It’s okay to slowdown (a little)

          Since I usually run on flat sidewalks, when I ventured up a slope my evening jog quickly turned into a walk. It would have helped if I’d paid closer attention to Louisville Running Company’s description of Iroquois Park as “one of the hillier locations in the city.”

          My baseline goal when running is to not stop running once I’ve started. But when I began gasping for air and seeing tiny specks of light I knew it was time to switch gears and walk.

          Traveling to the conference as a scholarship recipient also gave me an excuse to slow things down. The daily swell of emails, proposal deadlines, and reports was set aside for a few days, and replaced with time to listen, absorb, and grow.

          This would often happen between scheduled sessions. Like chatting with other grant pros during a jog along the Ohio River, sharing hometown stories and business cards over coffee, or simply gazing out a wall of windows at the Omni Hotel as the sunrise turned the sky into a wild blend of peach, cotton candy pink, and gray.

          Sometimes a run becomes a walk and sometimes the busy day-to-day stuff gets put on pause. And that’s okay!

Lesson Three: The climb up the hill is always worth it

          I opened this essay describing the start of my run at Iroquois Park. The rest of the story went as follows.

          After catching my breath and deciding to walk, I made my way up a path that led to an overlook. Here, the road ended in a paved area, framed by a short, semicircle-shaped brick wall.

          Near the cliff’s edge, treetops swayed in a breeze. At the base of the hill, factories and houses and churches were woven into waves of trees. Rush hour traffic hummed away, hidden beneath green, brown, and yellow foliage. Brick buildings climbed above the lower structures and the glass skyscrapers of downtown huddled together. To the west, rolling hills seemed to blend together into a mass of shadows that met the robin egg blue sky.

          I almost chose not head to Iroquois Park that Friday evening (between you and me, I skipped a 4:15pm session). After seeing the view from the top, I was so happy I made the effort to go someplace new.

          If you’re still reading—thanks, this is getting up there in character count. I bet you can guess where I’m going next.

          Yep, attending the conference was like climbing a hill to someplace new. The vantage point I walked away with was invaluable. My climb up the foothills of the grant profession is just getting started, and being able to connect with a whole world of grant pros (this term was new to me) is a scene I deeply appreciated getting to take part in.

          In running and in grants, nobody is truly alone. The climb to the top is a team effort and the view up there makes it worth the effort.

2022 GPA Conference Scholar Essay, by Angela Smith

I am grateful to the Grant Professionals Foundation for the opportunity to attend my first GPA Conference. Having attended many online (and in person) conferences, I am always a bit leery of the quality, technology, and diversity of subjects. I was thrilled to find the conference providing me with the next level of education needed to advance my grant writing skills. Any technological issues were minor and easily addressed. It was by far the most engaging conference I have ever attended. Each speaker was thoughtful, well-prepared, and knowledgeable about their subject matter. For the courses with more than one speaker, I found the interactions between the two (or more) to be complementary and at times, entertaining.

My journey to the grant writing profession was a long one but well worth the wait. I have a master’s degree in social work and worked as a therapist for four years prior to becoming the agency’s grant writer. The person who had the position prior to me was no longer employed by the agency. Often, I found myself digging through folders and files to find what was needed to reapply for a grant or include as an attachment. The GPA course “Design Thinking: a Dynamic Grants Manual for your Team Successor,” was exactly what I needed not only to prepare for the next grant writer, but also to keep me organized.

My skills as a social worker come in handy when building relationships with grantors, working with several program directors, and telling the story of the children and families served by my organization. Several of the courses I attended touched on the importance of empathy, listening, collaboration, setting expectations, and information sharing. All of which are invaluable when it comes to writing grants.

I walked away from this conference feeling equipped and energized. My goal is to take this “mountain top experience” into my day-to-day work.

Grant Professionals Association Conference Recap, by Susie Ryks

I was honored to be chosen as a Grant Professionals Association Conference Scholar. It has made such a positive impact on myself as well as my nonprofit organization.

I work for a statewide nonprofit as the Vice President of Community Development. I oversee Resource Development and Marketing Departments, as well as our volunteer centers that are located in three regions of South Dakota.  Much of the funding for our organization’s programs comes from grants. I have been involved with grant for over 10 years. Through my work, I have written, receiving, and managed community foundations grants, private family grants, United Way grants as well as Federal grants through Americops Seniors. 

By receiving a GPA Conference Scholarship, I was able to further my knowledge, access resources and network with others in the grant field. I am always looking for ways to challenge myself and grow personally and professionally. By being able to dedicate several days to attending the GPA Conference, I was able to continue to develop myself and my organization. The conference was so refreshing and a great opportunity to become uplifted and regenerated. 

I was able to attend the conference virtually, which was a wonderful experience and I feel that GPA did a fantastic job with involving those that were virtual and allowed us to communicate and build relationships with other virtual attendees. I so appreciated being able to meet and learn from similar minded professionals who want to further themselves and their organizations.

With my busy schedule, I wasn’t sure I would be able to take the time to be there in person, but attending online was a perfect solution.  I knew there is more that I needed to know about the grant writing profession and by attending the GPA Annual Conference I feel I am on the right track to continue to help my organization grow.

I am so thankful for this amazing opportunity to learn and grow professionally and connect with other professionals with a love for office supplies. 

GPF 2022 Highlight Video

Missed the 2022 GPA Conference? Want to see a recap of all GPF’s 2022 activities? Then watch our short video that was featured during this year’s conference.

2022 GPA Conference Scholar Essay, by Gregory Stewart

It’s been about two weeks since the 2022 Annual Grant Professionals Association Conference finished. In these weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to tell my peers about my experience and to reflect upon what I learned and experienced during my few days in Louisville, Kentucky.

My biggest takeaway was that the Grants Industry is much more robust than I had ever imagined. I learned so much from all of the wonderful presenters and practitioners that were in attendance. I’m grateful for the opportunity to gather information about the realm of consulting and to connect with my peers on topics such as ethics, client relationships, proposal development, and grant management. As the Senior Manager of Programs for the Alaska Native Heritage Center I am continuously engaged with all aspects of the grant lifecycle, stewarding funds from federal, foundational, and corporate entities. The conference allowed me to expand my understanding of topics such as the federal appropriations process and the production of charts for data visualization.

The scholarship from the Grants Professional Foundation was critically important for me to attend the conference. The organization I work for does not have an allocated budget for things like this, and we can only attend if funding is available based on our social enterprise activities. The scholarship made it so that this was accessible for me, as COVID had negatively impacted our organization’s revenue streams.

The GPA conference is such an important professional development opportunity for those who engage in the craft of grants. This conference is so valuable because it helps individuals grow through the improvement of skills and deepening of knowledge surrounding the field. By the end of the conference, I had made several new connections, found someone from my local community who I aim to collaborate with, and so many documents, presentations, and hand outs that will advance my ability to fundraise for my organization.

I found it particularly interesting to see how individuals responded to my contributions in conversations. I work for an Indigenous institution that focuses on the advancement and preservation of culture, and part of our mission is focused on advocacy. Wearing the advocate hat is a part of my everyday job, so when I was able to participate in conversations by contributing information about cultural responsiveness, awareness of backgrounds and identities, and the systemic inequities which are a part of the systems of government and philanthropy, it was received very positively. This was heartening, as many individuals in the field are not very aware of the unique circumstances which may impact individuals who do not fit comfortably into the American cultural landscape.

I can’t wait for next year, and I’m hopeful to remain engaged with the Grants Professional Association throughout the next twelve months to learn from this incredible group of peers.

2022 GPA Conference Scholarship Essay, by Nataly Routledge

I am a fairly busy person. There is always either a major deadline on the horizon or the spirit of a deadline haunting my calendar, ready to materialize at any moment. That is what I love about the world of grants: the fast-paced, deadline-driven atmosphere that offers challenge and keeps me typing. It’s also sometimes what stands as a barrier to the amount of time I can carve out for learning and professional growth.

The primary reason that I wanted to attend the GPA Conference so badly is that it offered an opportunity to block out entire business days and dedicate them to learning and professional development. This isn’t to say that I totally escaped my inbox during the conference, but thinking about the generosity that allowed me to have a scholarship in the first place as well as my desire to learn from others encouraged me to work ahead and preserve those November days for education. And, in terms of playing the long game, it was worth investing those precious business days into education since learning early makes future work better.

I attended virtually and saw a mixture of online-only and hybrid sessions. I hope to be able to attend in person in the future, but the conference platform was easy to use as a virtual attendee and I liked that the virtual sessions had lively chats. The moderators for the hybrid sessions did a great job of including the online attendees in discussions that weren’t always easy to hear. I also liked having the option to change sessions if the session I was in didn’t completely align with what I wanted to get accomplished (although honestly it was hard to break away from a session once I had joined because everyone did such a great job of presenting).

I tried to prioritize attending sessions that touched on leadership and methods for communicating with difficult-to-manage project teams. As a young professional, I have found that writing the grant is often the easy part; getting everyone on the same page and enforcing internal deadlines is usually the really difficult part for me. I took a lot of notes during a variety of sessions about communication methods and ways to lead better meetings. One of my favorite points brought up at the conference—this was during the Leadership Methods for Building Collaborative Grants Processes session—was that grant professionals should build resiliency skills and that they often have a strong base for these skills already as they consistently show up to push a project forward even when there is resistance or uncertainty. I liked thinking about that phrase, resilience skills, and it is something I want to share with my team in the future to praise them for the resiliency they show already when a project gets off track.  

I learned some tips for writing grant applications that I have implemented already in the days and weeks following the conference. There was one session in particular, Scaling Evaluation Plans for Federal Grants, that made me rethink the ways that I support drafting an evaluation plan for a team new to federal grants. The conference also invited me to think about topics or questions that resulted in active discussions during the presentations that would be good to revisit with my department to encourage the same professional excitement and exchange of ideas at work.

Receiving a conference scholarship through the Grants Professional Foundation enabled me to attend the GPA Conference for the first time and soak up knowledge from others who have been in the industry for longer. It gave me an opportunity to focus on myself and how I want to grow as a grant professional. This in turn made me feel reinvigorated at work as I applied the skills and concepts I learned about to the projects I had ongoing. With Thanksgiving only a week away as I write this, I am thankful for the scholarship I received and the hard work of those who put the conference together. It’s a great event for young professionals and I saw immediate benefits in my day-to-day work as a result of being able to attend.

Happy holidays all!

A Reflection on Attending the 2022 GPA Conference as an Online Participant, by Chellee Unruh

This year was my first time attending the Grant Professional Association Conference. I attended virtually participating in all available online options including attending session and the exhibitor booths.  The online platform used for the conference was very user-friendly allowing me to easily navigate all aspects of the conference.

Attending the opening sessions on Thursday set the tone for the remainder of the conference. I found the opening session to be engaging and inspiring setting me up for a two-day immersive learning experience.

I chose sessions that were relevant to my current role as both a Grant Administrator and manager of a team of grant writing professionals. The first session I planned to attend was 7 Methods for Grant Professionals to Prioritize Proposals for A Grant Team. I was excited about this session, but due to technical difficulties, I had to leave the session. The session I attended instead Grants Management 101 was very informative and relevant to the current discussion amongst our team. The key takeaway from this session was engaging third parties. We work a lot with subawards and the process to determine the difference between a contract and a subaward is something we encounter on a regular basis. The guidance Scott Scheffler shared from a federal compliance perspective reinforced the way we evaluate these relationships to determine the correct classification, subaward vs contractor.

The next session I attended was Grants QSMO Will Improve the Grant Experience. While there was no practical application for my current work, it was interesting to learn how the QSMO is operating at the federal level to support federal agencies in managing and deploying grant management systems. My impression is that like all of us they are charged with an uphill battle in terms of organization size and funding, yet their scope of work includes addressing multiple stakeholders with significant barriers to conforming to common principles and grant technology platforms. Despite their limited funding, size, and time on the project they have made significant progress given the multidimensional federal agencies they work with. I will be following the work of the Grants QSMO to see how it will impact the federal grant application process in the future and their ability to migrate agencies to uniform platforms for grant applications and management.

I then attended the Donor/Scholarship Recognition online event. This is the first time I have ever attended a virtual recognition event.  I thought it was very well done and positioned within the conference. I had already attended some great sessions, so I came into the recognition event grateful for receiving the conference scholarship and a deeper appreciation for the Grant Professionals Association.

In the next session, How Numbers Tell A Story, I served as a moderator. Having never volunteered in this capacity before, I enjoyed my experience. It allowed me to support the presenter by monitoring the chat and sharing resources, such as the link to the OMB uniform grant guidance. I re-typed the links shared on slides so that participants could check out the links live while she was presenting. This session reinforced the need to pay attention to detail and ensure that the narrative coincides with the proposed budget. She shared real case studies that demonstrated how easily details can be missed.

Attending the Friday morning session was a great start to my day and the second day of online learning. Growing up in the 90s and being a fan of Salt N Pepper, hearing the event emcees do a parody of “What a Grant, What a Grant, What a Mighty Good Grant” was an absolute treat. I have never been more entertained at a conference and appreciate how they incorporate fun and humor to prepare you for another day of learning. Conferences can get long when it is solely focused on education, and I appreciate that this conference recognizes that and incorporated ways to keep the event fun and engaging yet full of resources, tools, and information.

Following the Friday morning kick-off, I moderated the OMB update. Gil Tran weaved in elements of humor with the OMB informative OMB updates which kept the session engaging. Everyone attending this session left with a better understanding of the impact of COVID funding and the changes under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. I am sure most of the participants are now using the expression Gil taught everyone “Same, Same but Different”! The video from this session is one that everyone should go back and watch. As a moderator, I served in the same capacity as I did before, posting links in the chat and monitoring questions. This session was easily my favorite session I attended.

The next session I attended was the Latest Census Bureau Data and Tools for Your Grant Applications. It was a great overview of the different census data surveys that are collected. What I found most helpful was the demonstration of how to extract data from the website. I have already put this into practice for a grant that I am working on. I could have wasted a lot of time looking for the data had I not attended this session.

The last two sessions I attended Is the Form Flawed? Grant Reviewer Perception of Narrative vs Form Applications and Two Bachelor Fanatics: A Case Study in What the Franchise Will Teach You About the Grant Profession were interesting but didn’t produce information or inspiration that I could apply to my daily work. There were also technical issues in both sessions making it challenging for the online participant. I think these two sessions were probably better suited for in-person only rather than being offered online.

I would summarize my first-time attending the Grant Professionals Association National Conference as impactful and educational. I left with tools and resources that I can use in my work and share with the team of Grant Administrators that I manage. I would attend again online but would like to attend in person someday. The vibe that I got from this conference is one where you can build a strong network of support in a matter of days. This isn’t easy to achieve online, but they did their best to ensure the conference was meaningful for everyone whether in person or online.