Tracey Diefenbach, GPC

Hello April! I am greeting this month with big, open arms – ready for sunshine, warmer temperatures, open windows, and a good, deep spring cleaning (who doesn’t love washing windows and scrubbing baseboards?). If those are not enough reasons to love April, here’s one more: it’s National Volunteer Month – a time to celebrate and promote volunteerism and helping hands. As a grant professional in the field for over 16 years, I have come to understand and deeply appreciate the value of a helping hand. One of the most valuable helping hands I have seen is proposal reviews, particularly for federal proposals (perfect timing as spring is often a federal grant season!). I have been fortunate enough to experience both internal and external reviews from those who are unfamiliar with my proposal’s program or the agency. BONUS: I have also served as an external reviewer for federal grant programs. The benefits of these extra eyes and hands are invaluable especially in an ever growing, highly competitive environment.

As we look ahead to International Grant Professionals Day, I cannot help but wonder – what does it really mean to be a grant professional? When I was a kid, I used to go to the beauty parlor (am I dating myself yet?). The beautician (yep, I definitely just dated myself now) had a sign hanging by her chair that said something like - “I am a hairdresser, a therapist, a coach, a cheerleader, and a magician.” Today, I wish I had this sign to hang in my office. As a grant professional, on any given day, I have conducted a therapy session with the development director who is in a sheer state of panic trying to juggle numerous grant deadlines; coached a CEO through what seemed like a never-ending conversation of should we apply or should we not; and magically transformed some bulleted notes into a program design. Whew…and that was all before noon!

February is the month of so-called love. While I am all about spreading love to people and relationships, what about those connections you don’t love? As grant professionals, we deal with all different kinds of people – you know those people:
  • The program director who says, “I don’t even have the staff to carry out these program goals, but I need the money. So, just write whatever goals you think will get us the grant.”
  • The executive director who tells you “we don’t have a policy on diversity, equity, and inclusion; can’t you just write one for us?”
  • The new client who, when asked to share about their organization’s leadership team and strategies, says “you can find that on our website.”
Yep, I did not love navigating these relationships or at the very least, I do not love these conversations that seem to leave me feeling stuck and frustrated. So how do you learn how to accept and move these relationships and conversations along?

It’s January. Are you ready for a reset? Better yet, is your grant strategy ready for a reset? I am just hunching here but with a year like 2020, I think the answer may be “yes” (and probably in many more ways than just grants)!  There are many different tools and tactics to reset your grant strategy.

This time of year naturally leads people to reflect back and start looking forward, generating new goals and resolutions. Respectfully, I ask, “How is that even possible with a year like 2020?” It’s been a year filled with fear, sadness, uncertainty, confusion, and constant change, to say the least. Even our everyday language has taken on a whole new plethora of words like COVID-19, pandemic, social distance, quarantine, contact tracing, essential businesses, and flattening the curve. By the way, if you are looking for that blog that says better days are ahead, here is my warning: STOP! This blog is about realness – real thoughts, real feelings, real struggles. I wish I could say that I thought of writing this myself, but I am not that bold. I owe it to a great colleague of mine who challenged me to bring out the realness and ugly truths that may help me (and possibly even others) sort this out in my head.

I always think of the last quarter of the year as the “learning season” when I attend the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) National Conference and begin thinking about the year past and ahead. This is not an easy process for me. As a grants professional, it is so easy to get bogged down in the daily grind, but this season really forces me and gives me permission to think about my own learning and goals. It reminds me of the Dr. Suess book Oh, The Places You’ll Go. A friend gave me this to me when I graduated college with my bachelor’s degree. At the young age of 20, I could not even begin to imagine where I would go. Some 20 years later, after working as an in-house grant professional and now working in a consultant role, I am using this learning season in 2020 to really reflect on where I have been and where I will still go. There are so many different paths in the grant professional’s work. This just one example – my journey.

As a grant professional and GPC holder who has spent the majority of my career in youth development, I cannot help but consider how earning my GPC has shaped my ability to impact this sector. Sure, having a GPC raises ethical standards and increases knowledge and skill sets in key areas like research, project design, and writing to improve quality and efficiency, but what about a deeper level of impact? I truly believe having a GPC can significantly advance a grant professional’s ability to drive meaningful change, not only within their organizations but also within their broader sector. I have experienced this firsthand in my work with youth-serving organizations.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about relationships. Perhaps it is all the talk of social distancing, self-quarantine, and isolation. As a seasoned grant professional working at my home office for more than ten years, I can honestly say this is the first time I have ever felt “alone.” One might wonder how I could feel lonely with my new “co-workers”; my once-quiet office is now interrupted by two kids, markers, paint, notepads, and maybe even yesterday’s fruit snacks stuck to my desk (don’t judge)! But I desperately miss face-to-face meetings with clients, board and committee meetings, and live trainings that provide valuable in-person adult time to connect and build or strengthen relationships.

With summer in full swing, vacation planning is or has been on everyone’s mind, including mine! As I booked reservations for a family road trip with my husband and three kids along with five other families, it got me thinking – this vacation planning is a lot like grants management planning. There are some key strategies used in vacation planning that can and should be used in grants management to answer the dreadful question, “Are we there yet?” with a confident “yes.”   Whether you are a grants professional working with a university managing lots of complex federal grants or a small nonprofit agency managing several foundation grants, there are some simple strategies we all can employ to alleviate bumps in the road.

You are knee deep in a large government grant proposal and… The executive director calls you on the way to another meeting and quickly ambles off a new strategy the agency will be embarking on that must be included in the proposal. The finance person sends you an email with three new expenses to include in the budget. As you are leaving a meeting with the evaluation team, you are told about a new assessment tool the agency will be implementing…