GPA: I Finally Found My People

By Elaine Finn, GPC – Owner of Elain Finn Consulting

Grant Professionals Foundation Scholar


For me, it’s all about the instant gratification.


Being chosen as a GPF scholar to attend the Grant Professional’s Association Annual Conference last November in St. Louis provided me with immediate opportunities for professional and business growth. All those industry experts, all in one place…. grant writer’s heaven!


Within two hours of landing in St. Louis, I had a hot lead on a prospective business opportunity. “You’re a consultant from New Jersey? I’ve been looking for someone who can….” I practically cut off my new best friend in mid-sentence at the Welcome Reception to run back up and grab the forgotten business cards from my hotel room.


The next day was social butterfly boot camp for my introverted self, who needed to take a deep, focusing breath before introducing myself to tablemates in each new conference room. But the effort was well worth the brief moments of anxiety as I made connections with other attendees who gave me ideas on new industry niches to pursue, marketing strategies, and just a sense of belonging to a community of like-minded people serving the nonprofit world. And the access to conference presenters is priceless. Where else can you sidle up to a representative of one of the biggest philanthropy service organizations in the country and get detailed, constructive advice on that application question that’s been giving you fits for the past three weeks?


A highlight, by far, was the Human Library, advertised as an opportunity to “check out” experts in the field for a 15-minute, one-on-one session. It’s a back stage pass to the rock stars of our grant writing world, and it was a popular session. I scored a slot with Micki Vandeloo of Lakeview Consulting who so generously, and genuinely, answered my specific questions on how to improve the “back office” business side of my consulting work. If anyone’s tracking success measures (grant writer’s inside joke, right?) I’ll be ready to quantify for you next year in Atlanta how much money those 15 minutes saved me in more efficient business practices and how much it earned me in focusing on where my best clients are likely to be. 🙂


And back to the networking, oh the networking! Every session, every break, every meal was an opportunity to connect with others in the business. Sometimes to commiserate, sometimes to toss out ideas for future collaboration with the promise to connect on Linked In, social media, or email. I came home from the annual conference with a better team behind me. If a client should come calling who’s just a bit outside my area of expertise, I can now say yes knowing I’ve got back-up from other grant writers I’ve connected with across the country. Whether through collaboration, or being able to pass the work along to another grant writer, it adds value to what I can offer prospective clients.


The consistent theme of the conference, and in fact all my experience with GPA members both nationwide and within my local chapter, is one of generosity. I have yet to meet a single member who wasn’t willing to share advice, encouragement, grant opportunities and even workload to advance the profession, support personal success and, of course, win some grants for highly deserving causes.


At the conference, GPA unveiled a great new tagline that in a nutshell captures the essence of GPA and its value to the industry. But from my insider perspective, GPA’s unofficial slogan is “GPA… I Finally Found My People.” A hearty thank you to the Grant Professionals Foundation and its supporters who provided the scholarship that allowed me to attend. In the spirit of GPA, GPCI, and GPF, I absolutely plan to pay it forward as my business grows.