GPA 2019 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay, by Bethany Fields

SE Texas Chapter Becki Shawver Conference Scholarship

The “Grantalorian”

For my fellow GPA members who are also sci-fi fans, many of you know that Disney + released its new Star Wars series “The Mandalorian” the week following the 2019 GPA National Conference.  The series follows the journey of a bounty hunter called a “Mandalorian” as he navigates life post the return of the Jedi in Star Wars Episode 6.

As I have reflected on the epic time I had at my first GPA National Conference and devoured my new favorite addiction thanks to Disney +, I was struck by the similarities between the Mandalorian’s story and our profession. Grant writing, like bounty hunting, is often a solitary endeavor where you tirelessly work to use your expert skills to track down valuable assets for your organization.  The process can often leave an individual exhausted, disillusioned and feeling like a scruffy “nerf herder”.

Most Mandalorians work independently but are members of a guild that offers guidance, resources and support.  In one episode of Disney’s series, the Mandalorian gets into a sticky bind when a difficult job becomes complicated. As enemies surround the weary warrior, his situation appears hopeless and dire when suddenly he is rescued and reinvigorated by the arrival of his guild brethren.

I have been a grant writer/manager for over ten years and a GPA member since 2013. While I love my work, I can attest first hand that non-profit compassion fatigue is real. Like the Mandalorian, I was facing some challenges in my professional life and needed some help.

Enter the 2019 GPA National Conference and my guild, the Grant Professionals Association, to my rescue.  First, let me say, if you have never been to a GPA National Conference, you need to put it at the top of your task list ASAP. As a first-time attendee, I was blown away by both the breadth and depth of information and opportunities offered by this event – it was the shot in the arm that I needed.  I spent the whole week feeling like I was at a health spa hooked up to a vitamin IV – except I was being pumped with information and resources that I could use to transform and improve my work as a grant writer and manager.   

To carry the health spa analogy one step further, here are few of my favorite “treatments” from this year’s national conference:

  1. Getting to hear Vu Ley speak at the conference opening plenary – OMG! I am not one to typically fan girl out, but my whole office reads Vu’s blog religiously every week. It was such a treat to hear him in person and be lulled by images of baby animals as he laid down some hard truths. I firmly believe he is our industry’s sarcastic spirit animal.
  • All of the breakout sessions – Seriously, it’s like an episode of Oprah’s Favorite Things during breakout session time.  There are sessions galore to meet any grant writers need – from those working to secure start-up funding for a grassroots organization to scientific research at the top-secret university level – there is something for everyone. 
  • The opportunity to network – I met so many kind grant professionals from all over the country. Everyone was earnest and eager to help problem-solve or suggest resources. It truly felt like a supportive, collaborative environment.  I also had the chance to get to know my local GPA chapter members better. We shared an adventurous and humorous evening at the historic “Martin’s Tavern”, where JFK proposed to Jackie O.
  • Gaining tools to become a better grant professional – I walked away from the conference with at least three new techniques/ideas that I was desperate to try when I got back to the office. I’m looking forward the most to incorporating “drabbles” into my narratives.
  • The GPA Foundation and its support of grant professionals – As a GPA Conference scholar, I was able to attend the GPA Conference for the first time through the extreme generosity of the GPA Foundation and its donors. I am eternally grateful to the GPA Foundation for giving me this opportunity and turning me into a national conference convert.  See you in Denver in 2020!

Scholarship applications for the GPA 2020 Annual Conference will open soon. More information is available here.