2023 GPA GrantSummit – Scholarship Reflection, by Liz Forster

I was honored to receive a scholarship to attend GrantSummit in Kansas City this past November. 2023 was a big year for me professionally, and attending GrantSummit was the pinnacle. It was my first GPA conference! 

I was originally hesitant to commit to the conference, so I decided to apply for a scholarship. As a solo grant consultant, I wasn’t sure it would be worth the cost. And I wasn’t sure how my toddler would handle the separation! I ended up winning a partial scholarship and it was just the push I needed to make the trip happen. 

Knowing that other grant pros donated their hard-earned income to this scholarship was SO meaningful. I felt like each dollar they donated was their way of saying; “Yes, you are one of us and you belong at this conference!” 

From the moment I stepped on the bus from the airport, I knew immediately that this was my place: two other grant pros were already on the bus (Emily Blue and Robin Simpson). They took one look at me and said “GrantSummit?” I guess I just had that grant writer ‘look’ – and I felt immediately welcome! 

Some highlights from my favorite sessions: 

  • My first session, with Annie Kurowski on the “Politics of Grants” made my jaw drop! As one of 15+ people sitting on the floor, I quickly realized why it was so packed. She was a brilliant cognitive ultramarathoner sharing decades of knowledge freely and openly, eager to answer our rapid-fire questions. I realized from this very first session that GrantSummit presenters are on another level. 
  • Laura Cochran’s session about Neurodiversity in the grants profession was an eye-opener. I had no idea that so many incredible, accomplished professionals considered themselves “neurodiverse” – but clearly our unique brains are part of the reason we are successful in this work. 
  • Tonia Brown’s session on Winning Congressional Earmarks was dynamite. I was blown away by her level of knowledge, her persona, and her gracious sharing of “insider” information. Here was this woman who was clearly one of the most knowledgeable on this topic, willingly sharing valuable secrets with us! She was bada**!
  • Kimberly Hayes de Muga, Amanda Day, and Allison Boyd reassured me in “Consulting Metamorphosis” that I don’t need to know all the answers right now – that my business might take different forms throughout my time with it and that’s okay and keeps it interesting! 
  • Ellen Gugel’s session on Capital Campaigns was so relevant to the type of work I do. She is so honest, authentic, ethical, and approachable. I want to be just like Ellen one day.  
  • Julie Boll and Dana Patterson brought out our deep emotions in “Vision Casting”– our table of three all cried as we connected so authentically over one of their prompts.  

The best part of GrantSummit was the networking, which ended up being easy even though there were almost 900 people there! 

  • The Consultants Dinner, organized by Carol Bornstein, was an absolute highlight. I asked for advice… I gave advice…. I ate a piece of pizza the size of my laptop! It’s the #1 thing I’m looking forward to at GrantSummit next year.   
  • I loved attending the GPF scholarship/donor breakfast. I knew ahead of time that all of the superstar grant pros would be there and was thrilled to have the chance to meet them. I can’t wait to return to the breakfast as a donor!  
  • Volunteering was a fantastic networking tool. I helped at the GPF table during the welcome session and served as a facilitator for several sessions. This helped me connect with some amazing grant pros and even get a little exercise (by running around to pass the mic!). 
  • I even found a fellow full-time RV/digital nomad grant consultant, Erin Tatum, and we shared BBQ and swapped travel stories and consulting tips.  
  • I accosted Keri McDonald like paparazzi in the airport as I waited for my flight home. I hadn’t been able to attend her session but still wanted to talk to her. She was probably exhausted like all of us, but graciously shared her knowledge about working with subcontractors. I felt warm and fuzzy all over as I sat on the plane ride home.  

I left the conference with so many new friends and colleagues I know I can call on when I need help. In fact, only two days after I got home, I asked Fiona Matthew (a fellow New York State grant consultant) for advice on a DOT grant, and she quickly responded with the reassurance and knowledge I needed! 

It’s impossible to place an accurate value on what I gained at GrantSummit, but I can say for certain that it far exceeds the cost of attendance.

Thanks to GPF and my conference scholarship, I know that this was the start of decades of attendance at GrantSummit. I saved my name badge from the conference and told myself, “One day when I’m at GPA’s 50th anniversary and decked out in sparkles like Johna Rodgers, I’ll whip out this badge and say “Look, I was there at the 25th anniversary!”