Grants Managers Network Fifth Annual Conference Draws Unprecedented Participation, Offers Innovative Sessions
More than 400 grants management professionals gathered this past March in Baltimore, Maryland to learn, discuss, and collaborate at the Grants Managers Network’s Fifth Annual Conference, “Streamlining Grantmaking: Charting a Course for Change.” Attendance far exceeded expectations despite many strained travel budgets. Participants came from most of the 50 states (including Alaska and Hawaii), Canada, and many other parts of the globe. Each year, conference attendance has grown as grants managers and other professionals in philanthropy discover the treasure trove of information and dialogue available at this conference.
The Grants Managers Network (GMN) Annual Conference is not your average professional development opportunity. Sessions are planned and designed by grants managers who know first-hand the most valuable ideas and best practices to be shared with their colleagues. Attendees, both new and seasoned in the field, are encouraged to participate and share knowledge in the rich discussions. Forty-plus sessions covered topics ranging from basic and advanced grants management skills, best practices, technology advancements, professional development, and emerging trends. Some participants found it difficult to make a selection from the many offerings – a welcome dilemma when attending a conference. Sessions were designed to respond to the needs of grantmaking and grantseeking organizations, with an eye toward improving the quality and efficiency of the work we do. Networking opportunities and roundtable sessions were also available to facilitate learning from each other.
The Sessions and the Speakers
This year, six concurrent sessions were offered during each block, including the addition of a vendor session at the request of our membership. This also provided a revenue stream for GMN to keep the conference costs down for participants. Members who wanted to learn more about the products offered by the many vendors exhibiting at the conference had the opportunity to attend a vendor session, but for those who preferred not to attend the vendor exhibits, five knowledge-building sessions without vendor influence were offered during each block.
Bradford Smith, President of the Foundation Center, opened the conference, sharing his perspective on the current and future state of philanthropy and the importance of streamlining from the grantseeker perspective. He demonstrated the Foundation Center’s new data visualization platform, Philanthropy In/Sight, an interactive mapping tool designed for grantmakers, policymakers, researchers, and academics. Philanthropy In/Sight combines grantmaking data with Google maps to tell a visual story of global grantmaking. Choosing from a wide range of customization options, he demonstrated how you can quickly create maps that reveal patterns of giving and funding.
Craig Valentine became an instant GMN celebrity with his hit presentation, How to Present with Impact and Persuade with Ease. Project Streamline sessions successfully provided information on how to implement best practices to increase efficiencies. Financial sessions were offered to help grants managers read and understand audited financial statements and the IRS Form 990, manage payout in a difficult economy, and do fiscal sponsorship and intermediary grantmaking right.
Most surprising was the closing speaker, Lois G. Lerner, Director of the Exempt Organizations Division (and rock star) of the Internal Revenue Service. Although many expected to learn a lot from Ms. Lerner, they have also anticipated rather dry content. Much to everyone’s surprise, Ms. Lerner was anything but dry. She provided a wonderful summary of the role the IRS plays in private sector philanthropy and shared her insights on key issues under discussion at the Exempt Organizations Division, as well as ways philanthropy and government can work together.
Behind the Scenes
Conference and Host Committees outdid themselves this year, designing sessions to be of interest to all grants managers, organizing pre- and post-conference activities, and identifying and planning the famous “dine-arounds.” KPMG, LLP generously hosted a fun-filled reception on the opening day. Successful promotion of the conference by the (former) Marketing and Communications Committee resulted in attendance surpassing expectations by 100 people. GMN Executive Director Michelle Greanias orchestrated the conference with perfection; Catherine Downs synchronized all of the activities and kept us all on task, and as usual, Marva Lewis and her team handled all of the logistics from early morning to late at night, addressing technical issues as they arose and answering our endless questions.
GMN’s post-conference survey bears out the success of the event. Ninety-nine percent of respondents agreed the conference sessions were relevant to the issues they currently face at work and that they learned concrete tools and resources to apply to their work. Ninety-five percent reported learning new ideas about grants management to apply to their work.
For many grants managers the weakened economy and shrinking endowments have made their positions both more difficult and more valuable as they have been asked to do more with less and find new approaches to grantmaking and grants management. Many of the sessions offered resources, new ideas, and best practices to help guide grants managers as they take on these new responsibilities. At this important juncture, grants managers have never been more uniquely qualified to affect positive change at their organizations, to break away from “business as usual,” and lead their organizations in implementing streamlined processes to be more efficient grantmakers.
To learn more about the conference and/or to obtain conference materials, including many of the speaker’s PowerPoint presentations, go to GMN's Online Community.
We hope you can join us next year in Seattle, Washington (March 21-23) at the sixth GMN Annual Conference!
The GMN Examiner Editorial Team
The GMN Examiner is published three times a year through the dedicated efforts of GMN members and volunteers.
Ericka Novotny – Editor
Allison Gister – Associate Editor