GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Colleen Engelbrecht

When you are a grant professional, the majority of your work life is spent crafting a winning proposal for others – not yourself. After participating in last year’s Grant Professionals Association’s virtual conference, I knew that I had to get myself to Seattle. But how? Encouraged by my fellow members of the San Diego County Chapter, I applied for a conference scholarship from the Grant Professionals Foundation and WON! I remember the morning the email announcement arrived in my inbox. It was August 17th. Knowing my application was chosen validated this encore career I chose for myself three years ago.

With more than two months to budget and plan, I decided that my visit to Seattle would focus on personal development. As a relative newcomer to grants, I wanted to learn how to work better and avoid the pitfalls of burnout that I had experienced during the first three years in this field. Once the schedule was announced, I carefully chose in-person topics that addressed my interests. One of my favorite courses was Creative Writing. As grant professionals, we often run out of time to really create a unique proposal and fall into the cut/paste trap with essential language. My intentions are always to include a vignette or “success story” in my submissions and learned that there is a greater likelihood, actually 22 times more, of remembering a fact when a story is included with the data presented.

And speaking of “success stories”, one keynote speaker challenged nonprofits to compensate former clients when they tell their personal journey of overcoming adversity. Wait, what? This was the “lightbulb” moment for me during Seattle. In order to advance the public good, we must honor those we are serving by compensating their time so that we may continue to do the work and inspire others to give. It’s the cycle of life in fundraising, but this call to action focuses on creating equity well above the requisite signed media release. I carried this compensation challenge with me throughout the conference. At networking lunches, I would survey my neighbors if their organizations pay former clients for their testimony in fundraising materials. All but one said “yes.” This challenge has already made me a better grant professional as I asked my current employer on their policy for this. I encourage each of you to do the same.

I found GPA by total accident two years ago. Upon joining this organization, I realized that this is more than just a professional group, but a real home. What business organization is so friendly? So knowledgeable about finding funders? So willing to share very personal stories about burnout and practical remedies? Coming from decades in the corporate field, joining my colleagues in Seattle felt more like a homecoming than a conference. I am part of the Executive Committee of the San Diego County Chapter of GPA, so it was the first time I met my fellow leaders in person. The conference was held during Seattle’s Restaurant Week, so our San Diego Chapter members enjoyed a scrumptious seafood dinner and spent the evening laughing and learning from each other.

The GPF conference scholarship was a lifeline for me. This year has been hard for so many people and there would have been no way I could afford this trip without the generous investment from the GPF. As a scholarship winner, we each received a gold medal with a flame torch and stars motif. You may have seen us with our green ribbons adorning our necks. I was so proud of mine that I even took a picture of me biting it like the Olympians do after a big win. As grant professionals, our work may feel like a long athletic endeavor – the hours, the words, the budgets, the attachments – and all of these exercises contribute to making our communities better. I am committed to this work and I promised myself that I would go back and visit the online topics after the conference. This is now my New Year’s Resolution as we have six months to revisit conference material – which is such a bonus resource for attendees.  Knowing the value of this conference and what to expect, I am already planning ahead to Louisville next November.