2023 GPA GrantSummit – Scholarship Reflection, by Allison Harrison

Allison Harrison and Reagan

Allison Harrison and Reagan

Being a grant professional can, at times, feel a bit lonely, especially when a lot of one’s work is done remotely, and after some tough years of pandemic distancing. My spouse is in the U.S. Army, and I have been working remotely as an in-house grant writer for an Indiana youth-serving nonprofit since 2017. We even lived overseas from 2019 – 2022 (rough time to be in Europe, honestly), so time zones also factored into my work. When my family moved back to the United States in 2022, I knew I wanted to get more involved with in-person professional development. What a delight to discover that the 2023 GrantSummit was planned for Kansas City – just a short drive from my husband’s current duty station! 


My organization covers the cost of my GPA membership each year, but I wasn’t sure a full conference was going to be in the professional development budget! Through a series of “small world” type coincidences, I was encouraged to apply for a GPF scholarship to attend GrantSummit, and I was so delighted to be a recipient! 


There truly is nothing more exhilarating than being around a group of people who truly understands what you do, some of the nuances of the profession, and shares the struggles that come along with being grant professionals. I drove down to Kansas City on November 1st and helped at the GPF table for a couple of hours, chatting with people while helping wrap up books for the blind date with a book fundraiser. 


After helping at the GPF table, I got checked in and settled into the hotel before venturing down to the Newcomer’s Reception. While I do lament at times that being a remote grant professional can be lonely at times, I am also an introvert, so part of me was worried about all of the people-ing that I was about to do over the next few days. 


The Newcomer’s Reception was a fun event with a musical icebreaker and mixer type game, and I was delighted that we all got special GrantSummit friendship bracelets. Afterward, I headed up to the Expo Hall to enjoy some bingo and learn about the vendors. I happened to see a chicken trophy at the Grant Holster table that was intriguing – and I discovered there was a typing speed contest! Well, I’m nothing if not competitive and a fast typer, so I signed myself right up to participate. I was delighted to meet people I had seen on Zoom or various webinars and from whom I had already learned so much in remote professional development. The highlight of the first day was getting to hug Mandy Day in person – we had connected in the Fundraising HayDay Facebook group and had a connection with a mutual friend. 


Thursday bright and early I headed to the GPF Scholar & Donor Breakfast where I met other Scholarship recipients as well as donors and ate incredibly well! Many business cards were exchanged and lots of networking done at the breakfast before it was time for the opening session of the conference. The ballroom was packed with grant professionals, all ready to learn and grow! 


The first breakout session I attended was “No Unsolicited Proposals: How to Get That Date to the Prom”. There are so many small foundations in my organization’s service area that do not accept unsolicited proposals, so I took copious notes on strategies to research more on these funders, plus how to build relationships and hopefully, eventually, be invited to apply for funding. In the time since GrantSummit, I have put these skills to use, finding some connections between our employees or Board members and people who are connected to local foundations – so we hope to see fruit from this at some point! 


After lunch, I was delighted to be surrounded by other data nerds in the “Latest Census Bureau Data & Tools for Grant Professionals” session. Knowing how to access the most up-to-date data is so important in working to compose compelling needs statements and in knowing what is going on in one’s service area! 


The final breakout session I attended on Thursday was “I Signed Up for What?” There have definitely been some horror stories about organizations that were not prepared for the follow up required after being awarded funding, so this was very helpful! Sometimes staff members and Board members can get enthusiastic about opportunities without thinking about the capacity for the post-award management phase, and this session helped me feel more confident in my ability to communicate with them that sometimes our capacity is not where it needs to be for certain opportunities. 


Having achieved my GPC credential earlier in 2023, I attended the GPCI Reception in the evening. It was a nice event with lots of good food and more wonderful networking opportunities! I learned a lot about the process for documenting continuing education credentials for the CMP from others sitting at my table – I know this will serve me well as a new GPC! 


Friday morning brought with it the breakout session I was most anticipating – “Work With Your Brain, Not Against It – How to Accommodate Your Neurodiversity.” Just weeks before GrantSummit, I received a later in life ADHD diagnosis that both intensely rocked my world and also made a lot of things make sense. I left the session with a sense of camaraderie with my fellow neurospicy grant professionals as well as a better understanding of my brain and some tools and tips to help overcome some hurdles faced by those of us in the neurodivergent community. 


The next session I attended was “Do I Need a Lean Agile Scrum? Find a Strategy to Improve Your Grants Process” – first, I learned what a “lean agile scrum” was, which was helpful! I had heard about scrum and lean and agile in various emails advertising courses and webinars, but it always seemed complicated and inaccessible. Turns out I was just intimidated, and it’s not actually inaccessible! I loved the ideas about making your grants process work better by finding the pain points, and brainstorming with a team to figure out what would work better. We certainly have a couple of pain points in our grants process we are actively working to smooth out, and this session helped me feel informed and empowered!


The plenary session with Beth Z (everyone’s nerdy best friend!) was so interesting! I loved seeing the real-time demonstrations of ChatGPT as well as some other AI technology and discussing its impact on the grants field. 


My organization is gearing up for a capital campaign in the next few years, so my first afternoon session was “Capital Campaigns – Grants Can Lead!” I took many notes that I am sure will come in handy once we get the ball rolling for our future education building!


The last session of the day for me was “Powered Productivity: Super Tech Tools to Get Stuff Done” with Beth Z – boy, was this one packed! I took copious notes and have utilized several of the tools Beth discussed. Right after GrantSummit ended, the Development team started interviewing our program staff leaders about their paperwork process so that we can get started with a new cloud-based case management software in 2024. Thanks to this session, I knew we could turn on Zoom’s AI assistant which took meeting notes for us so that we could really pay attention to what the staff were saying and ask good questions instead of getting lost in the weeds taking notes! 


Saturday morning I checked out of my lovely hotel room and packed up the car before attending “Voila! Transforming Services into Projects.” This session was so helpful – it can be hard to translate an organization’s services into fundable projects, and I gleaned many tips from Mark. 


The final breakout session I attended was “Top 10 Tech Tools, Tips, and Tricks That Take Away the Tension.” This session was also packed full of great ideas and tips and I have tried out several of the tech tools Melanie discussed. 


After the final session, I got a text that I had WON the Grant Holster “Hunt and Peck” typing speed competition! Needless to say, I was delighted, and the lovely chicken trophy I won is proudly displayed in my office! She’s a great conversation starter. 


Then it was time for the closing session of GrantSummit. What an incredible several days it was, learning so much and meeting other grant pros in person! The learning hasn’t stopped with the in-person conference, though. I attended mostly in-person only sessions during GrantSummit knowing that I would have a chance to catch the hybrid and online-only sessions on the online platform after GrantSummit wrapped up. I have saved all the handouts from each session and have been working my way methodically through the recordings of sessions that are of interest and relevance. GrantSummit is just the conference that keeps on educating! 


I went into GrantSummit excited but a little nervous and I left with my head full of new ideas, business card case full of new contacts, and my heart full of happiness and contentment from spending time sharing space and ideas with so many other grant pros who just “get it.” It was a wonderful reminder that while sitting in my home office with just my cats for company and the glow of my dual monitors, I am not a lonely little grant professional – I am connected to a wide variety of people who share my passion for helping others through grants. Thank you once again to the Grant Professional Foundation for providing me with the opportunity to attend GrantSummit! I know the experience will be yielding returns for years, and I hope to attend again in the future!