GPA 2020 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay, by Jenna Trisko

Grant Professionals Foundation Scholarship

I was one of the very fortunate recipients of a scholarship to attend the 2020 virtual Grant Professionals Association Conference. This was my first experience taking part in this conference and actually my first ever experience attending a conference completely dedicated to all things grants.

I have been in the grants world for the past 14 years and have worked in all aspects of the process from project development and proposal submission to post-award administration. What has kept me completely immersed in this world is that every day is different- every application, and project or program funded, is so unique from the one before it. Compliance issues change, programs are modified to make a greater impact, and new RFPs are launched to address pressing current societal needs and issues. Plus, let’s face it- grants change lives, communities, and systems. Grants are powerful catalysts for change and this idea motivates me everyday to act. Us grant professionals can be a part of changing the world for the better- what an exceptional field we work in!

The opportunity to participate in last year’s conference allowed me to see where my strengths and weaknesses are in the field and how I need to invest in my professional development efforts to continue to improve my job performance. I attended several sessions that addressed the importance of serving as a proposal reviewer. I have already reached out to several foundations as well as state and federal agencies to request to participate in the next grant proposal review panel. Many of the agencies were quick to welcome me to the task, and I look forward to learning a lot as I begin the review process. I also want to mention that I think it is important to review proposals in fields that you may be less familiar with. I have written grants in areas such as health; animal welfare; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and education. I found that my state’s department of revenue was seeking reviewers for some of their tax preparation grants and this is both an agency I have not submitted to in the past or a program area I am skilled in- the perfect opportunity for a rapid learning curve.

Additionally, one of the conference sessions highlighted strategies to promote efficiency in grants offices. This session spoke to me, as the post-secondary institution I am currently working for, has a small grant team that is in the process of formalizing some internal processes to help the office run more proficiently. A few of the suggestions from the session I implemented in our office right away. We now have a general email account set up so my colleague and I can receive updates from funders simultaneously, and it also helps us stay on top of important emails when one of us is out of the office. We also created a grant log spreadsheet that allows us to track each application and secured grant from the start of the proposal process to the closeout of the grant project. Finally, we are in process of fine-tuning some of our grant policies and protocols and creating succession planning documents for a smoother transition when staff are added or leave the institution. These simple changes have led our little grants office to begin the strategic planning process to progressively expand into a full-fledged sponsored programs office in the years to come.

Another session that really stuck out to me was on seeking out publication opportunities through the Grant Professionals Association. As with many of us grant nerds, I love to write and fancy empirical research that helps to support our profession. I already have several articles I would like to submit this year for publication. It is an excellent professional development opportunity no matter where you are in your grants career, and you are able to share insight and expertise on a particular topic with your colleagues. It is often thought that those in the grants world should not or do not communicate with each other- we are all fighting for the same funding sources so we should keep to ourselves and not share any secrets. This is such a silly suggestion, as we need to bolster the great people and work taking place in our profession. We need to continue to share knowledge, ideas, and simply serve as a support and mentor to each other. I look forward to submitting an article or two in the coming months and hope this submission process will serve as a networking tool to connect with other grant professionals.

Beyond the sessions, I really appreciated the vast diversity of vendors and exhibitors that were available to review. With the advent of the pandemic, my passion as a lifelong learner has taken a dramatic upswing. I just want to engross myself in educational opportunities whenever possible, and I really focused on those vendors that offered trainings in federal compliance, procurement, audits, etc. My current position is focused more on the pre-award side, and many of the post-award compliance and reporting requirements I have less exposure to. I am really hoping to further my education in these areas with the assistance of several of the exhibitors that I learned about through the conference.

I do also want to say that I so appreciated the diversity of attendees. I was amazed by the number of attendees from all over the country and the breadth of knowledge and experience from a variety of different fields. It was really humbling to hear the positive comments in each session. I felt like the GPA attendees are a team of like-minded, passionate individuals who want to move the profession forward. I just felt truly welcomed and not an outsider. The entire conference was an energizing experience that I look forward to participating in again.

Overall, the conference in this new virtual world was well-executed, and although there were a few technical issues along the way, it was a great space for learning. In fact, I really hope the virtual component continues to be offered for both the conference and the Grant Professionals Certification. Outside of the pandemic, these remote opportunities create accessibility for those with mobility issues or other disabilities, those who have financial barriers, or those who simply prefer to take part in activities from the comfort of their homes. The only downside that I struggled with from a virtual standpoint, is it is not as easy to generate conversation with those around you and so the opportunity to network requires more skill and creativity to achieve. I am not sure if this is possible but I wonder if in this year’s conference attendees can list their areas of expertise (e.g., compliance, procurement, proposal development, post-award, etc.), fields in which they have experience (e.g., arts, mental health, K-12, higher education, medical, etc.), and maybe their geographic region. If there was a page on the site where this information is posted and a link to connect with various attendees, it may make it easier for other attendees to comfortably reach out and converse with one another. I am not sure what is feasible, but I would love to see some strategies in future conferences (if virtual) to assist in attendees making connections with other attendees.

My hope for future conferences is to have the opportunity to present on a unique and engaging topic. I have already been letting the creative juices flow, making notes on various ideas. I hope to be able to pitch a compelling presentation proposal for the 2022 conference.

This experience has also fueled an interest in completing my GPA certification and possibly starting a chapter in my area. Through this chapter development, I look forward to meeting other grant professionals in my region and learning from and supporting each other. This conference also provided me with the little nudge I needed to explore launching my own part-time grant consulting business. I have always wanted to share my knowledge and passion in a consulting capacity, but I will admit that I am scared to take the leap. I want to be a supportive and guiding resource for non-profits, but I simply don’t know where to begin. Attending a few of the sessions on grant consulting, helped me realize that I am certainly not alone in my hesitations about moving forward with this business venture, but I also appreciated that the presenters were willing to provide support to newcomer consultants even after the conference ended. I feel like I have some resources to help me along once I am ready to take on my own business. Even saying the words, “my own business” feels uplifting and empowering. 

My sincerest appreciation to all those who were part of helping me to secure this scholarship to attend the 2020 Grant Professionals Association conference. It was an absolute pleasure that has fueled my energy and passion to do more in this field and participate more actively with GPA going forward.

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