Professional Development 2:2:2 Approach to Conferences

Note from Diane: Unfortunately, Julie won’t be joining the GPA Conference in Atlanta in two weeks, but her advice and reflections on the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits conference has some great lessons learned and ideas for those of us headed to #gpaconf16!


Autumn is conference and workshop time for me. First, I always consider if I can attend the annual national Grant Professionals Association conference. As a new consultant with a team of one, I often can’t afford the time or the cost of the national conference. As I referred to in 6 Tips for Grant Writers for Professional Development on a Budget, there are many options to consider.

This fall, I’m very busy. I simply can’t take the time for travel and a multi-day conference. Also, I need to network within my home state. I launched my consultancy on a national scope, and I’m slowly building more local work. This month, I chose to stay close to home and attend the annual conference of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. Not all, but nearly every state has a council of nonprofits. Search for your state’s association in the National Council of Nonprofits website.

I agree with my friend’s approach to conferences: 2:2:2: Make 2 new contacts, gain 2 great ideas, and implement 2 new practices Monday morning.

At the conference, I wanted to develop a sense of community & relationships with my state’s NPOs; gather knowledge of NPO concerns & trends to inform my grant writing; witness leadership awards and the innovative work of my peers; and be inspired by keynote speakers.

I attended breakout sessions about topics that are relevant to my clients: evaluations; equity & justice in our organizations and in our programs; community level impact; and nonprofit innovation.

I reached out to develop understanding and/or relationships with funders who were present including corporate and foundation staff. I went to sessions presented by Fellows from our brilliant state foundations who represent leading, innovative work.

My favorite, networking, took place with potential clients and other nonprofit professionals in my state. At the vendor booths, I spoke with several accounting and auditing firms. Why? Because I help create and present budgets every day of the week. I had some burning questions about NPOs for Charities Review Council. ED, Kris Kewitsch, surprised me by offering to come and present to the nonprofits in my small city.

In a short timeframe, at low cost, near home, I had an expansive professional experience. I can happily say that I met my own 2:2:2 goals.  In my post-conference survey, I only had one suggestion for next year’s breakout session topics: offer Grant Readiness to NPOs. My mantra.


What other tips do you have about how to make the most of your time at conferences? We’d love to hear (or we’d love to know if you are attending #gpaconf16 in Atlanta!). Let us know in the comments section below, via social media or email at diane@

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