ICYMI: GPA Conference Snapshot

Whew! Fresh back from the GPA Conference and it did not disappoint! There were 760 attendees represented from 32 states. Kat Champigny and Jill Harlow from Gulf of Maine Research Institute traveled the furthest at 3,144 miles! For those who have not attended a GPA Conference or were not able to make it this year, I wanted to give you a quick snapshot of what you missed.

First, San Diego … honestly, Paradise Point could not have been more appropriately named. The accommodations and conference center were gorgeous, and I did not want to leave. How can you even top a setting like this? Chicago has a tough act to follow.

With several sunny days of making connections, having fun, soaking up knowledge, and enjoying some amazing food, I almost feel guilty telling my coworkers about my “work trip”. I cannot underplay the learning experience, however; I brought back so many incredible tips and best practices to improve the quality of our work, it would be impossible to dispute the value of my vacation … umm, “work trip”.

On a serious note, with over 113 speakers and 98 sessions to choose from, it would be hard not to come away with a heightened sense of awareness and improved set of skills for our work. This year, there was a recurring theme I picked up on that reinforces the basics of what we do – storytelling. Kicked off in our opening session by master storyteller and communicator, Tom Ahern, we were reminded that all decisions are (scientifically proven to be) made on emotion, and that our goal as fundraising grant professionals is to urge support by creating an image of the problem we want our foundations to help us solve.

Is there a difference in donor communication when it comes to grants? Somewhat. Yes, in that we must provide clear data and best practices to back program designs; yet when we think about who we are writing our proposals to (real people), there is really no difference at all. While they may be more knowledgeable about our respective fields, the fact remains that awarding a grant (and giving in general) is all about participating in a fight, and it is our job to convince them that ours is worthy of their alliance. So, while data, tables, and budgets are necessary components in our proposals, they should complement, not steal, the show. As Sharon Skinner said, make the sidekicks “Oscar-worthy”, or don't include them at all – they should tie your story together, not distract from it.

The importance of storytelling was upheld in the many sessions I attended. Personally, I walked away feeling validated since boosting storytelling is part of my strategy. There is a real person reading every document I submit and on the other side of every phone call I make. I am trying to develop a relationship with someone. Storytelling is the most powerful tool I can use to build the emotional connection to our organization. And if you really think about it, if we took everything else away and focused just on the SMIT (Single Most Important Thing) you have to say, what would you be left with? I doubt it would be a logic model or data table. So, dig in to your creative side and make those stories inspire!

With all this talk about emotion, I leave you with one last thought. What we, as grant professionals, experience at a GPA Conference is nothing short of memorable. There is an underlying sentiment that I share with my peers year after year – that being amongst our kind is both comforting and validating, and there is not another conference like it. I hope to see you all when we re-join “our people” next year in Chicago!    

What was one of your favorite takeaways from the 2017 GPA Annual Conference?
Jamie Healy, MS is the Senior Grant Writer of Foundation Partnerships for Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal welfare organization dedicated to bringing about a time when there are No More Homeless Pets.  She is a member of GPA, serves on the SC Chapter of the GPA, a local grant professional networking group, and the fundraising committee for the Character Restoration Initiative at Allendale Correctional Facility.

GPC Competency: Knowledge of practices and services that raise the level of professionalism of grant developers


By: JoVon
On: 11/28/2017 16:21:14
Jamie, thanks for this snapshot. I wasn't able to attend this year's conference, but I think I can make a good case for next year's conference in Chicago. In Federal grant applications, the story gets lost often. Thanks for sharing your takeaway. I'm looking forward to hearing what other attendees took from the conference.
By: Tamara
On: 12/04/2017 14:39:50
As a grantwriter who is also working to improve our organization's storytelling, I appreciate this summary! I so wish I could have attended the conference this year. My goal is to attend one day.

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