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.