GPA 2020 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay, by Anna Bilyeu

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Grant Professionals Foundation Scholarship

When I realized that the Grant Professionals Association Annual Conference scheduled for November 2020 was going to be virtual instead of in beautiful Denver, CO, I was disappointed. Like so many other events of the year, it was something to look forward to, a highlight for me professionally. This was to be my first GPA conference. As someone who has worked as a grant writer for less than three years, I value learning from those who have more experience. A national conference with other professionals who are drawn to and enjoy this work was just what I needed, at the right time, and I was understandably bummed it would be on my computer screen instead of in-person.

I shouldn’t have worried about the event being virtual, however, because GPA knocked it out of the park! The conference was entertaining, engaging, and informative, and I was grateful for the chance to attend as a Grant Professionals Foundation Conference Scholar. I challenged myself and re-framed how I felt about the online format; Added flexibility, the ability to keep my camera off if needed, and the sessions being recorded and accessible for a full year were all part of the positives for me.

The conference website was easy to navigate and opened early enough to leave plenty of time for making my personal agenda for each day. With so many great presentations to choose from, I needed that extra time to decide! The ability to see who else was registered and poke around at sponsor exhibits was also very helpful and made the conference time go smoothly. I really appreciated being able to network with colleagues and plan meetings on my own schedule.

Jess Pettitt, Keynote Speaker & Master of Ceremonies, was hilarious and did a great job kicking things off and injecting humor into the start of every day. Her advice regarding how to get the most of out the conference was essential, and her comedy stylings were much needed during what could have otherwise been a very stressful week.

My favorite sessions:

  • One of the first sessions I spotted and immediately registered for was “Marginalized Communities Need Data Too: How to Get it? What to do When You Don’t Have It?” with K. Scott Nelson, GPC and Michelle Molina. Several of my clients work with marginalized communities and lack of data has always been an issue. I appreciated the engaging presentation and both presenters’ thoughtful replies to questions, I left the session with several helpful resources and ideas.
  • “All You Need to Know About the GPC and More!” with Julie Assel, GPC, and David Lindeman, GPC, CFRE was perfectly timed for me, as I will be eligible for the GPC exam in 2021. Many of my questions were answered, I was relieved that the process isn’t nearly as intimidating as I expected!
  • I also appreciated “A MUST Do: Be a Grant Reviewer!” with Dr. Ericka Harney, GPC, CFRE, CAE, CVA. This is a topic I had been considering but didn’t know much about until the session. 
  • “You are Not Alone. Burnout is Real, Relevant, and Recoverable” with Trish Bachman, GPC, Bethany Planton, GPC, and Johna Rodgers, GPC was so well done, I am sure I am not the only attendee who felt it was a highlight! This topic is important, especially as we continue to experience new stressors in our daily lives. Recognizing when burnout is happening and finding a good balance is essential. It’s nice to know that there are grant writers studying this phenomenon.

Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make this conference run smoothly, your time and effort did not go unnoticed. We all know it’s not easy to make virtual conferences work, or feel like an in-person gathering, but GPA, you did an amazing job in 2020! I look forward to the day that we are able to gather in person again, but I know that no matter how future GPA events are held, they will always be a great experience.


More information about Conference Scholarships, including application dates and eligibility criteria, is available here.

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