Last week, I (Whitney) had the opportunity to attend the Grant Professionals Association’s national conference in Seattle, Washington. This is my 9th national GPA conference. I’m a GPC, a GPA Approved Trainer, and I’ve presented at multiple national GPA conferences on the topic of grantsmanship...

When I was a kid, I loved Halloween. I loved dressing up and pretending to be someone else - someone that was better, stronger, and more capable than I felt I would ever be. Fast forward through the decades and I recognize there are times when I want to pretend to be someone else - someone who is better, stronger, and more capable than I sometimes feel. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized what I was feeling was imposter syndrome. During my tenure with the Grant Professionals Certification Institute board of directors, I started to see that many grant professionals feel the same way.

I am a grant professional for whom the written word is a more comfortable form of communication than face-to-face communication. Once I understood the concepts and intent of grant proposal writing, I fell in love with it. The majority of my time is spent alone in my office writing or in one-on-one conversations with program, financial, and executive leadership staff. Given that my learning style is also visual text, reading RFPs, gathering the information needed, and conducting the research is all easy for me to understand. Recently though, I have needed to be involved in meetings with program officers. These are not my favorite activity. Oh, I love hearing all the things funders have to say about their organization that help me better understand their mission. I also love to hear all the things about the program that my organizations say to the funder that I have not heard before in quite the same way. (Haven’t we all been here?) If my only task was to listen, these meetings would be easy, but these were conversations in which I was the lead for a significant portion of the conversation.

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!

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?

As we say goodbye to the year that seemed it would never end, we are looking forward to 2021 with renewed hope. In the spirit of new beginnings, our January blog series is focused on resetting. Be it working from home, adjusting offices to allow for social distancing, or changing jobs altogether, a lot of us unexpectedly found ourselves working in new spaces over the course of the last year. If you’re like some of us, your new workspace might not be what most people consider “permanent” (maybe because, also like us, you were hoping it would be a more temporary solution). Or perhaps you’ve weathered the storm that was 2020 in the same space you’ve worked for years. Either way, the start of the new year is a great excuse to reset, rethink, and reclaim your workspace so you can prepare to take on a new year of possibilities.

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 am the type of person whose brain is constantly thinking, even in my sleep. The harder the problem, the more likely I am to have several nights of sleep interrupted by fragments of thought my brain is trying to work through. Two weeks ago, this was my situation. I was preparing to submit a grant to a funder on the cutting edge of the equity discussion. As a significant funder with a large corpus, the Health Forward Foundation is leading by example and investing in organizations that otherwise might be overlooked by other foundations. My client serves a population not in Kansas City, Missouri proper, but one whose challenges mirrored those living in the middle of the city: high unemployment, low-paying jobs for those who are employed, high mobility for families struggling to pay their rent, and families in and out of homelessness when ends did not always meet. Families struggle with the trauma common to multi-generational poverty. Children struggle with adverse childhood experiences. But there are no mental health resources located in the community, and this is what my grant was trying to address. The grant had been drafted for over a week when the demonstrations against systemic racism began. As I watched, listened, read, and thought, this grant proposal started to bother me. Had I truly reflected the need of the population and the context of the situation? How had I described the population who would receive these services – as those in need or those with a need? Were we truly putting forth the best portrayal of the client organizations we serve? Were we showing the strengths of the clients they serve? Were we doing anything to push back against systemic racism?