Circles of an Inbetweener by Maryam Gilmore, JD

I recently attended my first-ever Grant Professionals Association (GPA) national conference – virtually, at that (because, you know, the pandemic). It was three days of absorbing information, dialoguing with colleagues, and notating my personal takeaways. I’m what I’d call, an inbetweener in the grant profession; I’m on the cusp of entering the mid-career mark but not quite there yet years-wise. I went into this conference with excitement and hope and left with certain unanticipated lessons learned. During the opening session, our emcee (Jess Pettitt) encouraged conference attendees to record our ‘circles.’ Although she gave a definition, I took this to basically mean, review our session notes and reflect on lessons learned at the end of each day, and circle the ones that personally resonated the most. I made countless observations and learned a ton, but here’s a snippet of what spoke loudest to me.

Budgets should be used to capture the ‘total value’ of everything it takes to do the program/project work. Ah budgets. At times, they have been the bane of my existence. Mostly because they haven’t always been my comfort zone. I didn’t start my grant career with a lot of budget-making experience, so I’ve worked hard to increase my comfort level with them. As I was sitting in on a budget session (entitled, The “Total Value” Proposal Budget: Why It Matters – and How to Build One, from the Inside Up!), the presenter began drawing a comparison between budgets and making chocolate chip cookies. Now making chocolate chip cookies, I know a lot about! Needless to say, I was all ears. By viewing the line-items as ingredients, we can easily ascertain what exactly is needed for the recipe (budget), show what all goes into doing our work, and build an accurate picture of the power of our oven (or in the grant-sense, the economic power of our sector). Receiving the gift of this perspective helped me feel a bit more confident and prepared.

There is something for everyone to learn. Apparently, even experienced grant professionals can always learn more. This concept seems so simple and obvious to me now but before I didn’t see it this way. I attended classes alongside presenters of other sessions. They were just as eager to learn as I was, and many had thoughtful, conversation-provoking questions for the other presenters. As an inbetweener, I often feel like I don’t know enough about certain aspects of the grant profession. I know I still have lots to learn, but I often think I’m miles behind my more experienced colleagues. But at conference, the playing field is somewhat leveled. There are sessions to meet the needs of early, mid-, and advanced-career grant professionals. This gave me some much-needed reassurance that even advanced-career grant professionals have more to learn, just like the rest of us.

Grace under pressure. Amidst occasional audio issues or other tech-related moments, the presenters did an incredible job of overcoming anything that came their way. When this happened, presenters had to shift gears in real-time. But all of them did so smoothly and with great professionalism. While this was probably no biggie to some, it was huge in my eyes; mainly because I’m a recovering perfectionist. It’s so easy to inadvertently slip into the abyss of constantly striving for perfection – something which in my experience at least, is not a realistic goal. No one can be perfect at all times, and sometimes we need to be reminded that even the most experienced members of our field have had to shift gears unexpectedly, while the rest of us watched. This particular light bulb moment helped me to see that no matter what unforeseen event ends up at your doorstep, you can still breathe, reset, and push through it. Just like we do every day as grant professionals in our writing, those same guidelines can be utilized in our presentations.

GPC Competency #7: Knowledge of practices and services that raise the level of professionalism of grant developers. Skill 1: Identify advantages of participating in continuing education and various grant review processes.

Skill 2: Identify advantages of participating in professional organizations that offer grant developers growth opportunities and advance the profession. Skill 3: Identify strategies that grant developers use in building social capital to benefit their communities and society at large.