GPA 2019 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay, by Victoria Threadgould

Susan Kemp Scholarship

I was very fortunate to be the recipient of the Susan Kemp GPA Conference Scholarship at the 2019 Grant Professionals Association (GPA) Annual Meeting. As a first time attendee, I was excited to go to the many breakout sessions – and thankful for the conference app and presentation handouts, which helped me plan in advance – as well as meet and network with other grant professionals. I wore my scholarship medal with pride and used it as a way to start conversations with other attendees, scholarship recipients, and exhibitors.

The opening performance of Hamilton was a clever and entertaining way to kick things off and it set the tone for the rest of the conference. Vu Le was the perfect keynote speaker. Everything he said was amusingly – yet shockingly – true. Amongst all the cute pictures of baby animals, his message about the power imbalance rang home: “White-led organizations have to be willing to give up some of their resources, power and comfort.” I loved his idea of moving away from “hunger-style” grantseeking and mission-driven organizations, and instead focusing on community-driven alliances. After his opening remarks, I subscribed to his blog,, and now enjoy his emails every Monday!

Below are a few key highlights that stood out for me, as well as some noteworthy snippets of information and advice:

Risky Business: Funder Risk Assessment

A key takeaway from this breakout session was realizing how your financial package tells a story. Few organizations curate this story well and it’s important to understand how a poor budget, unexplained deficits, or overly rosy income projections will raise red flags and could result in declining a grant request.

Grant Consulting Models: No One Size Fits All

It was reassuring to hear these presenters speak about how all grant professionals – working within a variety of consulting models – can be part of the same workspace. A consultant has to think of ways to develop their career and their business. I came away from this session thinking about why I do freelance grants work, where will I go in 2020, and what resources and skills I want to develop.

Grant Management – Assembling the Nuts and Bolts of Successful Grants Management

After listening to this session, I was impressed with just how much work goes into the presenters’ full grant cycle management processes. It made me realize the real work only really begins once you receive the notice of award!

This is What Mentoring Looks Like: Insider Insight on GPA’s Mentor Match Program

I was inspired to update my GPA Mentor profile after attending this session. Mentors spoke about their experiences working with grant professionals and the importance of a mentee having a goal. I saw value from both sides of this relationship and hope to be matched with a GPA mentor in 2020.

Drabble This! Using Stories in Grant Applications

I like how a story can be used to support a needs statement. I want to experiment with Drabble in my future applications, to test my ability to express interest and meaningful ideas in a confined space (100 words or less).

Writing Isn’t an Art, It’s a Skill – The Fundamentals of a Well-Written Narrative

I found this session to be very insightful and practical. I was reminded of how grant writing is about logical thinking and organized writing. The presenter shared a clear process for writing with purpose, authority, persuasion, integrity, and keeping in mind the audience – respecting a reviewer’s time and mental energy.

Power Writing for Grants: Fast and Easy Tools for Writing that Gets the Results You Want

This was another session that emphasized writing with clarity. There were many useful tips and tricks (e.g. replacing inflated words, pruning inflated phrases, liberating buried verbs), and I liked how the presenter split a grant proposal into three parts:

  • Planning – think and outline
  • Composing – draft and review
  • Polishing – edit and proof.

After attending nine breakout sessions, writing 16 pages of notes, taking 4 headshots, collecting 2 chapsticks, and eating far too many mini-chocolates, I finished off my trip by walking through the Smithsonian Zoo on Saturday afternoon. I was lucky enough to say “Bye Bye, Bei Bei” before he headed back to China, and I had to catch my plane back to Texas!

Bei Bei, the Panda
Bei Bei, the panda

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