GPA 2019 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay, by Michael Hertlein

OR/SW Washington Chapter Michael Wells Scholarship

Not just another cup of coffee.

This was my first GPA annual conference. I had both high expectations for the conference, and at the same time no idea what to expect. Would the lectures really teach me something? Would the networking times really produce anything? Would this be “just another conference” or would I walk away with real-world skills and connections I didn’t have before?

The conference started off positively with Vu-Le giving the opening Keynote Presentation. He managed to summarize many aspects of what it’s like to be a non-profit professional, while challenging us in the non-profit sector to pursue even more collaboration, rather than see other non-profit entities as your competitors. He did so with a dash of humor which kept everyone smiling throughout his presentation.

Then the breakout sessions started. Three days of teaching on a wide variety of topics. Since I am a grant writer by profession I mostly attended classes that would improve my everyday writing, with one or two on career advancement to help me plan for the future. Thus far in my career I have only written grants to private foundations, and as of yet have never written a federal proposal. I of course have heard about federal proposals, how they can be much bigger to write, but also how your clients can potentially receive a lot more money from a federal proposal. Naturally I was interested in an opportunity to win my clients much larger checks, however had very little real knowledge what it takes to write a winning federal grant.

Over the course of these three days I was able to gain incredible insight into the writing and review process of preparing a federal grant, as well as the grant management necessary after a federal grant has been won. This came in the form of formal lectures on federal grant writing and management, as well as sitting down with grant writers who write exclusively federal grants for their city or university.  

Next, I focused on preparing for the GPC exam since receiving the GPC credential is one of my career goals. I had a very similar experience of following formal lectures on reasons to consider the GPC, exam requirements, etc. I also had the opportunity to sit down with a number of GPC’s and hear why they pursued that credential as well as how that credential has affected their career as a non-profit professional. I was also somewhat worried about the logistics of actually taking the exam, however the friendly people of the Grant Professional Certification Institute (GPCI) helped me problem solve a solution that would work for my specific situation.

Finally, I followed a number of sessions specifically on grant writing. During these sessions, I received many simple yet powerful tips and tricks to make the whole grant writing process easier. One powerful example was the importance of clarity. The goal is not to “dumb down” your writing, but make it simple and easy to read. The presenter likened it to trying to open the packaging of a new product. You can eventually get it open, but with difficult packaging you will struggle, possibly even become frustrated. When you make your writing simple and easy to understand you have a better chance the reader will understand it right away, perhaps even enjoy reading your grant. Which will ultimately improve your grant’s chances of being funded.

Throughout the conference there was time to sit down with private and federal grant writers, grant managers, non-profit management software development professionals, and even funders who attended the conference to talk about issues, gain understanding of the other person’s “side of the coin”, and ultimately build connections that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. I have attended a number of online grant writing workshops via my computer in my office, and I intend to do so again in the future. However, the opportunities to network and learn from other professionals with a totally different experience of the non-profit landscape was very enlightening and educational for me. I plan to use all I have learned during this conference and very much look forward to the next conference in Denver, Colorado. Hope to see you there!  

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