GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Melissa Cammack

I had the opportunity to attend the 2021 Annual Conference of the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) in November of this year through a scholarship I received from the Grant Professionals Foundation (GPF). The GPA conference not only renewed my passion for storytelling (aka grant writing) but also opened my eyes to a network of similarly driven professionals dedicated to supporting great causes across the United States.

I have worked in the grants field for over 14 years–most of this time has been at the local and state government level. Although I have written and managed numerous grants, they have primarily been to support the programs and services I directly oversaw at the time. As a result, I was already familiar with the funding organizations including their interests, grantmaking process and application requirements. I am now almost two years into a position with a non-profit where I support the funding needs of a wide range of hospital programs and services. While I am embedded in a department, I am not directly involved in the management or day-to-day activities of the work. The conference sessions on prospect research were invaluable to me for this reason. I learned critical skills and specific resources that are now integrated into my daily and weekly routine. Sessions on writing needs assessments and developing logic models are just as critical to future success as are learning about new funding opportunities early on and building relationships.

In addition to skill building sessions, I attended several related to personal development and burnout. Anyone who has ever written a grant knows just how much work is involved. The highs of receiving a “congratulations” are so high and the lows of “thank you, but…” can be downright devastating–not just to the grant writer’s ego but to the program and staff it was written to support. Networking opportunities, sessions related to grant strategy and self-awareness, and the overall sense of belonging to a tribe for the greater good helped to re-energize my focus. I am excited to participate in future GPA offerings and learn more about the Grant Professionals Certification over the coming year.

Finally, GPA did a great job recruiting speakers and organizing the conference for both in-person and online attendance. Although I participated virtually, it was one of the rare instances where I felt like I was participating in something and not just on the side looking in. Mike Chamberlain and Jess Pettitt were witty, engaging and funny from the moment they logged onto the computer for the online kickoff to their presence on the stage at the livestreamed closing session. GPF and GPA staff checked in frequently and made sure virtual attendance was never a hindrance. I am so appreciative of GPF for this opportunity. Thank you!