GPA Conference Scholarship Essay, by Dan Rubins

As the executive director of a small nonprofit in its second year as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the grant application and research process can often feel isolating and solitary.  So often in this work small nonprofit leaders long for the sense of community. In the grants process, especially, nonprofit leaders are often made to feel that they are in competition with one another for the limited resources available in the sector. So it is with extraordinary gratitude and fervent optimism for the future that I reflect upon my rich and community-building experience as a scholarship recipient at the Grant Professionals Association Conference.

Hear Your Song is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the mission of empowering children and teens with serious illnesses and complex health needs to make their voices heard through collaborative songwriting. At the heart of our work, we strive to give power and choice to youth are so often experience little of either in managing their day-to-day journeys.  

One of the aspects of the Grant Professionals Association Conference of 2022 that I found to be most rewarding and distinctive from my previous experiences in fundraising-focused spaces is the diversity of nonprofit size and scope within the GPF. It can be profoundly useful both to learn from the contexts and questions surrounding nonprofits of similar size and trajectory to Hear Your Song and to glean stronger understanding of the challenges and potentialities experienced by larger nonprofits that may lie ahead for our nonprofit organization. I was particularly grateful for the warmth and geniality exhibited by all Conference presenters and attendees. How often it felt as if I was right in the room there with them!  I appreciated the levity, for example, that the co-presenters of a session exploring the grant application process through the lens of The Bachelor brought to the proceedings. Understanding that the stresses and toils of grant application apply to leaders throughout the sector made for a transformational experience of sharing a laugh with these new-found compatriots and colleagues, which allowed me to feel less alone and to find sparks of joy that will stay with me as I move forward in my grant application work.

Curiously, one of the most valuable experiences I had at the Grant Professionals Conference was when I volunteered as a session ambassador for Maureen Bonnefin’s presentation on Trends in Research Grants. Although the topic did not specifically pertain to the current grants that I am seeking in my role as executive director of Hear Your Song, having the responsibility for facilitating the chat and subsequent Q & A made me listen closely to the ways in which the leaders in this field were thinking about their approaches to grants. Conversations surrounding diversity and equity work within the grant-making space are, of course, universal, and hearing these discussions in a context that was new to me challenged me to think more deeply and critically about the implications within my own work.

However, the experience that was most meaningful and impactful for me was Kristin Raack’s session on Appreciative Inquiry. Kristin’s supportive and generous methodology for building strategy from an organization’s strengths and combating the “scarcity mentality” from which so many nonprofits timorously operate buoyed my belief in Hear Your Song’s capacity to harness our victories and assets towards more successful grant opportunities. There were pieces of this presentation that I returned to watch multiple times because the “Appreciative Inquiry” approach, and its close affiliation with Hear Your Song’s focus on youth-driven creative experiences that center the community’s needs and visions, continue to inspire me.  It is new methodologies and frameworks like these that make participation in conferences and communities such as the Grant Professionals Association so imperative for young nonprofit leaders. 

Thank you so much, on behalf of the entire Hear Your Song community, for the opportunity to learn, grow, and develop new skills as a grant professional in the early stages of my career.

As a side note, in weeks of stress, the book of word searches in the welcome box that I received brought much relaxation!