2022 GPA Conference Scholarship Reflection, by Christine Heft

It was both an honor and a privilege to receive a scholarship from the GPA South Florida Chapter to attend the GPA National Conference. The City of Louisville, the Omni Hotel, the GPA Staff and the incredible Vendors and Volunteers were friendly and welcoming. From the “Call to Post” Bugler who was featured on stage from the Kentucky Derby to the annual spelling bee to great rap songs about the grants profession, I enjoyed it ALL.

The GPA conference was an excellent opportunity to spend time with current vendors (including Tammy Tilzey from Foundant) while meeting new grant consultants and vendors. The event also provided a venue to network with grant professionals from across the United States and Canada who spoke my “grant” language and understood my day-to-day challenges. Each of us had great stories to share about our trials and tribulations of working in the field of grants.

At the GPCI reception at the hotel’s Speakeasy, I felt a strong sense of camaraderie and felt very fortunate to attend the event in person. I enjoyed spending time with the experienced professionals who have each given so much to the profession.  I also enjoyed participating in the GPA South Florida Chapter Dinner which also included additional friends from Canada.

I focused very heavily on professional development to support the maintenance of my GPC.  I found the following sessions to be very helpful: “Navigating the Federal Budget Maze,” “The Cost of Doing Business: Does your Budget Tell Funders the Whole Story?” “Latest Census Bureau Data and Tools for Your Grant Applications,” “Adobe Pro as an Essential Tool for Grant Professionals.” and “Become a Healthy Grant Pro: Anti Burnout Strategies for the Advanced Grant Professional.”   These sessions provided excellent information and the speakers were highly engaging and knowledgeable.

The impact of this scholarship is that I am invigorated and excited about being in the grants profession, the South Florida Chapter and the Grants Professional Association.

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.  

GPA 2022 Conference Scholarship Essay, by LaTwan Roddey

Thanks to the donors of the Dr. Bev Brown and Dr. Bernard Turner African American Professional scholarship, this was my 2nd year attending the GPA conference. I tuned into the conference virtually which was as fulfilling as I imagine being in person would have been. I applaud the GPA team for creating such a streamlined online experience with a custom conference app to coordinate sessions, sponsors, and networking. Through this experience, I gained a deeper understanding of best practices as a grant professional, as well as affirmation that I am headed in the right direction as a business owner.

Working from home as a freelancer can be incredibly isolating. Attending the GPA Conference was a reminder that although no one is in the room with me while I work, I am never alone. A friendly colleague is only one email, one GrantZone post, or one GPA Conference away, waiting to teach me new things and learn from me in return.

For a few months before attending the GPA conference, I experienced bouts of doubt and overwhelm, and I was slowly creeping toward burnout. However, because of hearing presentations from other experienced grant professionals, I ended the conference feeling more empowered to keep going. I am closing out 2022 with peace and heading into 2023 with eagerness to apply new knowledge, incorporate positive changes in my business, and continue building connections with my colleagues.

While I deeply enjoyed each session I attended, there were 3 sessions in particular that really stood out to me. The first session that stood out was “Success Starts at Square One – Leading Successful Initial Grant Meetings”. This session was great because it inspired me to be more confident when conducting meetings with clients so I can lead meetings well, get the necessary information to streamline my writing process, and set appropriate expectations with clients. Early on in my grant writing business, I struggled with asking the right questions and leading effective meetings. However, I overcame this over time and began to guide my clients through a more effective initial meeting to make our working relationship stronger. This session provided the affirmation I needed to continue leading meetings with boldness, expertise, and confidence. I also gained effective tips on how to navigate difficult conversations when they arise.

The second session that impacted me was titled “Grant Writing as Activism: Funding Movements for Social Change”. I enjoyed this session because it inspired attendees to support systemic change and address deep injustices in our society. The presenters did a great job giving practical and actionable techniques to use each grant proposal as an opportunity to challenge broken systems and call out inequitable practices, not only in the world at large but within our own profession directly. Sometimes, when people speak about creating change, the audience leaves feeling inspired and motivated, but they aren’t given steps they can truly implement. This session went beyond that. Not only did this session give practical tips on using grant writing as activism, but it also gave an honest snapshot of the challenges one could face by taking this approach. While introducing those challenges, the presenters also gave additional encouragement on how to overcome them and press forward in the fight for change. I left this session feeling introspective to consider how I can better implement their advice and use the additional resources provided.  

Lastly, the 3rd session that stood out to me during the conference was “Planning for Life: Building A Consulting Business That Stands the Test of Time”. I loved this session because the panel of presenters was very vulnerable when speaking about their real lives outside of their work as grant consultants. It can be tempting to wear a mask and ignore the hard realities of our lives when we are around our work colleagues. However, these presenters leaned into the difficulties of being a full-time self-employed consultant or freelancer when tough times hit. It led me to believe that no consulting business is the same, and no one’s progress in this profession will be the same. Listening to the presenters tell their stories encouraged me to think more deeply about how flexible I want my business to be so it can accommodate me, instead of control me, when I need more space to be present with my family, take care of my own health, and face trials in life. This session caused me to have an honest conversation with myself about why I decided to become a freelance grant writer, what I want from my career, and also decide what I do not want.

These are just three sessions that I found invaluable, but there are many more which I do not have the space to write about here.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to sit, although virtually, among my colleagues and glean from the expertise of others in this industry.

Thank you, GPF and donors, for this kind contribution to my development as a grant professional. Your investment in my career will definitely pay off and produce lasting results in the years to come!

2022 GPA Conference Reflection, by Dana Frye

As I start my day with intention thinking about my plan, controlling what I can, and creating a do and don’t list, I am compelled to think about the magnitude of learning I experienced at the Grant Professionals Annual Conference in Louisville, KY.  The conference was my first for grants and I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend through the scholarship program and join as a member. The conversations were uplifting, refreshing, and encouraging from all aspects of my career. I am the Administrative Support Specialist AND the Grant Coordinator for the Office of the Provost at Augustana University. Filtering my tasks and finding time to allocate to grants has been challenging. The professional development received at the conference has given me a foundation to build my grantsmanship career along with paving the way to help and teach others. I appreciated the stellar technology associated with the conference; the applications, technology, recordings, and resources for easy access contributed to an experience like no other! I still go back and view the recordings and resources provided. 

GPA Conference 2022 Scholar Essay by Terry Beigie

“Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences.”–Sylvia Plath

I don’t think there’s a better quote that sums up my entire career—first in print journalism and now as a grants professional for a local government. I have deeply loved words and I have cursed words (using real curse words, ironically). After 25 years in community print journalism, I knew I needed a “Second Act,” and the locality where I worked and lived approved a grant writing professional in its fiscal year 2022 budget. I leapt for the opportunity to remain in the community where I had raised and educated my children and fought—sometimes with blood, sweat, and tears—to bring about positive change.

I started this journey in December 2021 and joining Grant Professionals Association almost immediately was one of the smartest things I did. I also joined my local chapter in Central Virginia, and while meetings have been virtual to date, I have learned so much. It was through that group that I learned about the GPA Conference Scholarship, which was perfect because we hadn’t planned for conference expenses during the previous budget season. I spent the 2022 conference attending the educational seminars virtually and even after three years of virtual meetings I still had a little trepidation about it. I’m still very new and there is so much to know regarding grants that I worried whether I would select the correct seminars and if information could translate well virtually. I’m thrilled to say I need not have worried. Every course I attended was incredibly beneficial and in the past two months I’ve utilized them often.

This is the first time this locality has utilized a full-time grants professional and we’re all learning together. While I’m a department of one, I know I’m not a team of one. I have received support from every department and Constitutional office in my locality. I gained greater understanding how to harness that participation through “Lead, Follow, Or Get Out of the Way” and “How to Manage a One-Person Grant Office.” Prior to the conference, I was not as forthcoming with what I needed from people and would not always ask until I received it. Some of that is a newbie way of thinking, and as I gain more experience that is changing.

As a local government, we apply mainly for Federal and State grant funds, so I learned the most from the courses that highlighted that. However, I do work with community nonprofits, the school system, volunteer fire departments, and others in search of grant funding to make a difference in our community. I already focused a lot on First Responder grant opportunities, but the course on public safety funding was invaluable. Congressional Appropriation funding is something that this locality has never worked toward and I found that information game-changing us.

I already knew that we would never receive every grant we applied for but hearing from other participants at the conference that it happens to them, too, helps heal any confidence bruising. Learning how to better develop grant proposals and evaluation plans will benefit every opportunity we seek. I want to thank the committee for honoring me with this scholarship opportunity. I cannot wait to learn more as I grow in this profession.

2022 GPA Conference Scholar Essay, by Andres de los Santos

As I was thinking on attending the GPA Conference in Louisville, Kentucky in person, I was informed of this wonderful scholarship opportunity. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be awarded. What an honor it was to not only be a member of GPA but be chosen to attend this highly regarded conference as a GPA Scholarship recipient.

I began my journey as a grant writer several years ago when I interned at Miami Dade College’s Resource Development Department. At the time, I was the manager of the library and had a very peripheral understanding of grants. In fact, one of my tasks was organizing and keeping tabs on all the grants the Library department either went for or was awarded.  My curiosity was piqued and so I researched MDC’s Resource Development and learned of an annual internship opportunity the department/college offered and enrolled (and was chosen). 

One of the goals at the end of the internship is to research, find, and write a grant for your department. And lo and behold, I not only found one… I was awarded!  My very first grant, I was now a winner and a Project Director. Fast forward a couple of years, and I am now working at Resource Development as a grant writer. My supervisor recommended that, for my first trip as a grant writer, should be the GPA Conference.

GPA, its staff, and all GPA members I met, not only met my expectations, they exceeded them.

The grant writing industry is ultra-competitive, though I’ve never seen, in such a competitive atmosphere, such camaraderie. Every single person I met was friendly and supportive of each other.  Helping out with personal “Tips & Tricks” of the trade, comparing horror stories, battle scars, and triumphs alike.

My favorite part, of which I was “pleasantly warned”, was that GPA also doesn’t take itself too seriously. As a fellow grant writer I met in the conference said, “The work can be serious… but let’s have fun while doing it.”  Seeing GPA staff dressed in Kentucky Derby attire and the skits performed needed to be seen to be believed.  It was a riot something out of Saturday Night Live!

I genuinely enjoyed my time and learned so much not only from the conference and workshops, but just talking with fellow grant writers or consultants by the popcorn table, over breakfast and coffee, or on a leisure stroll among the beautiful foliage in the Louisville streets (I’m from Miami, so let’s just say MOST of my camera roll is filled with trees!).

I appreciate so much that I was able to be a part of it and look forward to next year!

Thank you,

Andres de los Santos

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.

2022 GPA Scholarship Essay by Dabney Brand

There seemed to be many first-time attendees at the 2022 GPA Conference, including myself. That in
itself, is telling as to the necessity for conferences such as this, training, and new grant professionals.

Like others, I found myself involved in grants not as a career path. However, we can all agree we have
found our places here among amazing colleagues. I received a scholarship for 2022 GPA membership
through Grants Professional Foundation. I have utilized this year to familiarize myself with GPA, and the
many learning opportunities provided with this membership. In fact, I feel like there is so much learning
offered, I am barely able to keep up. The annual conference was one of those times. There were many
lectures at each time frame that I wanted to attend. The ones I was able to attend were very helpful and
bursting with information. It was a bit confusing as a first-time attendee with schedules and class
locations, but once I got the hang of it, I was able to navigate through the lectures, questions, and
discussions. There were some things I feel like I missed so I am hoping to attend next year’s conference
in person. I did enjoy the federal grant discussions the most since that is what pertains to my position. I
would have liked to have seen more of this. My favorite lecture was the OMB Update with Gil Tran. He
had a wonderful way to explain things with a jovial and kind attitude. I was very sad to learn this would
be his last time attending. I feel the conference was well rounded with lectures and would be beneficial
to anyone working in the grant professional field.

As I make it through my first year of membership, I can say without a doubt, that GPA and GPF have
helped me grow to a professional level that was not expected. I look forward to being a member for the
years to come and learning all there is to offer.

2022 GPA Conference Scholar Essay, by Mike Weinrauch

Thank you, thank you, thank you to GPF, and all the grant professionals who contribute to allow for conference scholarships. I was the grateful beneficiary this year, and I loved every minute of being at the GPA annual conference in Louisville. This was my 2nd GPA conference, having previously attended in Chicago in 2018 when I was younger and, presumably, dumber. This year, I was resolved to engage in the opportunity every way I could, and to grow from the experience – and I’m happy to report only positive results. This one involved a good amount of traveling to get there, as I reside in Fredericton, New Brunswick these days, and there are no flights requiring less than 2 connections. So to make it happen, you really have to want to go, and the help along the way from GPF made the journey possible.

It was a special homecoming personally; as one of a handful of Canadian grant pros in attendance, and as a former Louisvillian, it was so terrific to connect with colleagues both familiar and new, including faces or names I knew from trainings or online who I have never actually met. I was fortunate to learn about all manner of post-award grants management especially; and how to master technology to write/organize better, more competitive proposals – including federal appropriations earmarks. I came for the information on technical aspects of the craft, but in between all that was something else: the professional pride associated with being part of a larger community. And in one sense I do mean geographic and being a member of the chapter that hosted the conference, but in the bigger picture what I am referring to is the comfort in the knowledge that you all are out there – all the grant pros who do what you do every day.

I have been a member for a few years, and I am so grateful to each of you for a thousand different things – the mentoring, the friendly advice, the modelling of how to be a consultant and a pro. I learn something new every day from the interactions on Grant Zone and the exposure to you all in-person and in real life was absolutely invaluable. I bring back with me not only sharper skills and a sense of purpose from having participated, and am left with the promise that I can and will return the favour to the profession any way I can. Thank you for providing the inspiration. Season’s greetings to all and a happy 2023.

2022 GPA Conference – Scholar Essay, by Kalea Pauole

I have been the Senior Grants Program Administrator for the City of Topeka for 10 months. My job is two-fold. I find, write, and do the post-award reporting on grants for the City and I oversee the grants the City gives to organizations.

I love that my job allows me to work with a variety of stakeholders with different interests and one common goal to make the City of Topeka better. My ability to do my job depends on my skills as a grants administrator. I walked away from the GPA conference with more confidence, a better support network, and more skills to help the community I love.

This was my first year at the GPA Conference. I learned the importance of reading, how to avoid burnout, how to comply with post-award reporting, how to lead meetings with a variety of stakeholders, and so much more.

I was impressed with how easy it was to talk to other grant professionals. As I toured and explored Louisville, I was always with a new group of grant professionals and enjoyed listening to them talk about the grant world and enjoy blowing off steam.