Professional Development That Never Disappoints!

By Marissa Cassellius, Grants Manager for Youth on Their Own

Susan Kemp Memorial Scholar


It’s been a month since I prepared myself for the 17th Annual GPA Conference. Packing those cold weather clothes that have been stuffed in the back of my closest for years (I hail from Wisconsin, but have become a winter wimp since moving to Tucson). Sorting through the conference workshop schedule with multiple highlighters on hand, color coding my top picks. Preparing myself for three full days of learning, networking, more learning, and more networking.


This is both my third year in the grants profession and the third GPA conference I have attended. Let me tell you, the conference NEVER disappoints! Despite the ever growing attendance each year, it’s remarkable how many familiar faces I saw strolling through the halls of the Hyatt Regency. But for every recognized face, there are dozens of new faces eager to meet you— to learn about your organization, to comprehend the needs of your clients, to hear why you do what you do, to just say hello.


That’s the thing about GPA—everyone is so warm and welcoming. Whether you are brand new to the field or have been a part of the GPA family for years, there is a place for you. There were no “silly questions” in any of the presentations I attended. In fact, I found that many of the questions I had brewing in my mind happened to have been asked by someone else before I got my hand up!


One key takeaway for me this year was the well-known notion that success in grants is based on relationships, relationships, relationships. This entails developing relationships with funders prior to proposal submission, as well as after, even if you don’t get the grant that time around. However, what really stuck with me at this year’s conference is how this also pertains to relationships among potential partners for collaboration.


Being a young grant writer for a medium-sized nonprofit exploring the possibility of applying for federal funds, I have come to understand how important this truly is. In conversations with other conference attendees on the topic of relationships, we discussed how funders can tell when collaboration seems rushed on paper. While this seems obvious, endless deadlines often get in the middle of imperative (and ongoing) tasks such as this. It is important to begin building those relationships now, before the RFP is out, to avoid this common pitfall.


It’s the little tips and tricks such this, heard during workshops, at the lunch table, or among the halls between sessions, that reinforce why I am a part of GPA and attend the annual conferences. How often do you get to immerse yourself for three days among passionate professionals from a variety of tenures and career tracks? The conference scholarship was such a blessing and I am grateful for being able to attend yet again!