GPA 2020 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay, by Lynda Weigel-Firor

Arizona Southern Chapter Conference Scholarship

When I found out the 2020 GPA Annual Conference was going to be held virtually, I was thrilled because it would possibly give me the opportunity to participate for the first time. However, funds were an issue as I work less than part-time as an independent grant-writer and consultant to care for my special needs’ daughter. I am so grateful to GPA for selecting me to receive a conference scholarship that allowed me the opportunity to hone my skills and learn from other grant professionals.

Working as an independent contractor can be very isolating and I often feel like I am working in a vacuum. It does not allow the opportunity to easily confer with colleagues. I have three main clients who, while they have different missions and needs, are sometimes eligible for the same funding opportunity. It is a challenge at times to write creatively for each when answering the same questions three times over. I registered for the conference with the expectation that I would gain fresh perspective, renewed insight, and practical skills that I could use immediately to help my clients realize their grant goals. I also longed for an influx of energy from others who understand the challenges of being a grant professional.

However, could this all happen in a virtual conference? Could GPA, or any organization for that matter, possibly pull off an interesting, interactive conference that would keep one engaged for not one, but three days? I am a veteran of other conferences including the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the YWCA Leadership Conference, and several conferences hosted by the University of Arizona, and have come to anticipate a level of excitement, engagement, and networking that I thought could only happen on site.

Well, all I can say is congratulations to GPA for hosting an extremely well-run, interesting, thought provoking conference that provided ample opportunity for attendees to network. And if that were not enough to celebrate, attendees also received a swag bag that contained a door hanger that says “Amazing Grant Professional at Work: Please do not Disturb (cool, right?)  and the most amazing caramels I have ever had in my life. Thank you for introducing me to Bequet Caramels!

Each morning attendees were greeted by opening remarks from Jess Pettitt. If you do not know who this ball of energy is, do yourself a favor and look her up. She clearly did her homework to understand her audience and was delightful while also delivering poignant and relevant messages.

 For me, one of the most difficult conference tasks is to create a personal agenda when there are too many interesting sessions to choose from. As a seasoned professional with 25 years of experience, I was a bit apprehensive at first that the sessions would overwhelmingly be geared towards those who are new to grant writing or have just a few years under their belt. However, the conference offered an ample selection of sessions for those more advanced in their careers. I was humbled by how much I gained from these sessions. The level of expertise and excellence of the presenters was impressive, and I walked away with new strategies confident that I had learned from the best of the best.

As an added, and surprising bonus, was the selection of sessions that were for the early and mid-career professionals that caught my interest. For example, I sat in on Make it “Worth 1000 Words”: Maximizing Effectiveness of your Graphics and Tables which was geared for those early in their career. Knowing that I have a deficit in this area I added this to my agenda.

Amanda Paveglio took participants step by step through the process of creating graphics and tables that were interesting to read and relevant for the information being relayed. Many participants learned for the first time, including me, how to attach or link them to online applications and other hacks that while simple enough to execute could take some time to figure out on your own. While Amanda did an amazing job with her presentation, participants would need time to practice the techniques taught. GPA in their wisdom has allowed access to all the presentations for a full year after the conference. Thank you, GPA, for that added benefit. It is like winning the grant lottery!

Having a year of access to the presentations also alleviated some of the pressure of choosing which sessions to attend knowing that I could view what I missed later. It also allows, as I alluded to previously, the opportunity to watch some of the sessions over again.

Another excellent presentation was Marginalized Communities Need Data Too: How to Get it? What to do When You Don’t Have It? by Michelle Molina and K. Scott Nelson. I confess I am not an enthusiastic researcher, due in part to many of the challenges that Michelle and K. Scott brought up in their presentation, such as finding data that you know would support your case but is simply not available or is difficult to find. I was so impressed with this presentation that as a board member of the Southern Arizona GPA Chapter I hired them to present to our membership a month later.

When I wrote my scholarship application, I mentioned specifically that I hoped there would be a session on answering the sustainability question.  Grants4Good provided an excellent session that addressed this sticky question. Content provided a fresh perspective on how to break down this question by defining it and de-constructing it and was a great reminder about the importance of being clear and concise in your answer. To me, this provided some excellent materials that will help me with clients who have a hard time articulating a good answer to this question.

Each day there were lunch break-out sessions on different topics. This allowed the opportunity to network informally while discussing topics that were of mutual interest.

In every aspect of the conference, it was evident that GPA was meticulous in their planning and selected topics that were relevant for the times. COVID has changed the landscape of the grant world and attention was paid to this topic.

Every one of the professionals I encountered during the conference were gracious in sharing their ideas and were willing to help others. The congeniality and energy were just what was needed during these unprecedented times when we are so isolated from each other.

Thank you again for the opportunity to participate. I deeply appreciate GPA staff and board and the care they took in creating this conference.

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