The Value of Professional Convenings

I'll be attending the Emerging Practitioners In Philanthropy (EPIP) conference this week, an event I've been involved with planning since February, which I'm thrilled to be a part of! It's not often that I find myself excited to head to a conference, but in the last year I've come across a few conferences, meetings, and continuing education opportunities that are super appealing to me. I've attended many a conference, meeting, convening, workshop, seminar, and PD session on everything from fundraising to program implementation throughout my nonprofit/public service career, and, let's face it--not all of them are amazing. So, I have some thoughts on how to make the most of PD opportunities for yourself, your long-range career plans, and your organizations. 

  1. Research your conference ahead of time. It's the internet age...there's no excuse to not spend a few minutes googling the presenting organization, speakers, topics, or even the sponsors. Get a sense of what types of sessions will be offered, what you might get out of it, and whom you may be able to connect with as a result of attending. Register early & get the best rates, and book travel early as well. 
  2. Set some goals for yourself. Are there specific content- or subject-specific areas you wish to delve into? Are there specific experts you'd like to meet? Are you looking to network? Are you seeking to improve skills or increase your knowledge? Evaluating these things can help you decide whether a specific conference or event will be worth the expense. 
  3. Speaking of expenses...know your budget (whether your organization will be sending you out of PD funds, or you'll be attending on your own dime). 
  4. Get creative. Those of us familiar with the shoestring reality of many nonprofit organizations have come across some ingenious solutions to limited resources. Explore lodging options outside of the recommended hotel, look at ways to rideshare to/from the event location, etc. 

There's a lot of value in attending professional convenings beyond the simplistic "hear some great speakers, learn a few new things, network until you run out of business cards" model. As I'm a mid-career professional, I'm finding I have lots more to learn from convenings that are slightly outside my wheelhouse of expertise (not that I have anything against fundraising-specific PD opportunities...I've been to a LOT of them and gotten a lot out of them over the years!) In addition to the EPIP conference, I'll also be attending Upswell in Los Angeles in mid-November, which is shaping up to be a truly memorable and new type of nonprofit conference experience. 

On that note, I'll leave below a few links of great advice that already exists out there (see thought #1 above!) on attending conferences and making the most of your experience: 

A Conference Junkie's Guide to Attending (and Enjoying) Conferences

Tips from introverts for introverts on how to survive a conference

How to Survive Attending a Big Conference

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Grant Professionals are matchmakers

Grant professionals occupy an interesting place in the nonprofit ecosystem. In an ideal world, the grant professional in any organization is responsible for the full spectrum of activities involved in a complete grant lifecycle, which range from deeply understanding the work and programs of the organization; identifying and researching prospective funding sources; developing relationships with funders; preparing, submitting and monitoring grant proposals; managing compliance for existing grants; maintaining grant records; collaborating with colleagues on organization and program development, fundraising, and other institution-wide activities; and much more.

 The grant professional in any organization should be a go-between, understanding their own organization and translating its’ needs to match those of prospective funding sources, ensuring that the mission, vision, and goals of the funder are met through investments of general and program support of their organization. The grant professional needs to thoroughly understand their organization’s mission and programs, opportunities for expansion and innovation, plus the ‘wish list’ of needs for future program and organizational development. Likewise, the grant professional needs to research, understand, and filter potential funding prospects with a similar focus. Grant professionals are constantly seeking the perfect match between their organizations and the current and prospective funders that are eager to effect change in the world through their investments.

Grant matchmaking requires several things to be most effective: the time and ability to thoroughly research prospective funders, commitment to extensively understanding your organization’s services and programs, the ability to effectively communicate internally with colleagues from various disciplines to obtain the information you need, the ability to communicate externally with current & prospective funders to tell effective stories and convey critical information, the discipline to synthesize a large volume of information, the ability to manage confidential information with discretion, a high level of sophistication in communication (in all forms), willingness and ability to build relationships with funders over time, and the skills of strategic planning, critical analysis, tactful communication, and high-volume multitasking.

Grant writing and management is a skilled, professional craft. An ability to write well is a prerequisite for becoming a grant professional, but it is only one component of the role. All of the areas of responsibility for grants professionals require a commitment of time and significant expertise to be done well. A specialized, skilled grants professional is a vitally important team member, one that many organizations mistakenly conflate with general resource development work or one of many duties assigned to an ED, top leader, or volunteer. Grants work is time- and effort-intensive, and producing high-quality, competitive grant applications and growing relationships with grant funders demands investment by organizations.

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