2020’s Biggest “Loss”

3 Jan 2021

2020’s biggest loss for me professionally was rigorously preparing for months, finally sitting for a professional credential, only to fail it. What a personal WIN!

Grant Professional Certified

WHAT? Yes. That right. As of now, I can’t tout the letters GPC (Grant Professional Certified) as part of my professional identity; but do I ever sense victory. Perhaps I should explain what’s behind this trio of mighty letters that I seek in earnest.

GPC’s are a unique breed in the nonprofit professional world. By no means does bearing the credential imply that a GPC unquestionably knows more than others who have valuable grants knowledge. Nor does it suggest that the GPC recipient has exhausted grants as a subject matter. However, 368 individuals (as of this writing) have rigorously mastered eight generalized competencies and one writing exercise (as judged by their peers) to earn the credential.

The Journey WAS the Destination!

My journey to so-called 2020’s Biggest “Loss” began in February, shortly before the world (as we knew it) stopped turning. I hadn’t studied for an exam of this magnitude since I graduated from college in … [well, let’s just say] … in quite a while. I did all the things a Type A personality would naturally do. I tracked down and ordered some of the suggested study literature; laid out a study plan spreadsheet; engaged four colors of highlighters; purchased and filled two 3-ringed binders; sharpened six pencils; signed up for a virtual, peer-led study group; and established an exam date.

And then it all fell apart. Enter COVID-19. What was to be a 90-day study window took a turn when all Bay Area testing sites were closed indefinitely in March. First, I commiserated with my virtual buddies. Secondly, I ordered additional study literature. Once all was said and done, I had internalized three extensive study guides at least twice, daily applying what I was absorbing into my grants consulting practice. In May, the exam delay allowed me to enroll as part of a formalized on-line class and a related, virtual co-working community.

The Exam and the Aftermath

Alas the weekend arrived that I was to sit for the exam. I travelled to a plain, cavernous, mid-century office building down near SFO. I shared the exam space with one proctor and a handful of various test takers, who also donned medical masks. The multiple-choice portion filled the allowable 2.5-hour period on August 1 and likewise for the 90-minute essay portion on August 2.

As I walked back to the car on the second and final exam day, my phone began to light up. My virtual support community was already on overdrive. “How’d it go? OK, you think?” My response, “I feel OK about the portion that had me most concerned, and I feel very uncertain about the other portion.” [As part of the Grant Professional Certified Institute’s (GPCI) ethical standards, we abide by a strict code not to discuss exam specifics with each other.] At least it was complete and I would await the outcome for several months.

One week to the day following my essay exam, my 83-year old father began showing symptoms of COVID-19. My 81-year old mom quickly followed suit. All notions of the exam outcome were quickly pushed to the back of my mind. I went from full-on study mode to full-on “get my parents well as a result of COVID” mode. Following what was a very difficult recovery for my father in particular, we were talking to his home health nurse around their kitchen table in Virginia when the GPCI outcome email arrived. I had passed the portion that had concerned me most (during my study period) but had to re-take the second portion in the future. I was already interpreting this as a win.

Strong Support is a Win

Let’s quickly re-visit the aforementioned virtual support community. An outsider would look at us and deduct that since we are competing for the same grant funds at times, most certainly we are friendly competitors at best. Contrarily, this group goes far beyond friendly competitors to valued colleagues.

This force of six to nine grant professionals, all members of the Grant Professionals Association, some GPC’s and some not, hail from: three locations in Kentucky, Atlanta, the Delaware Coast, snowy Minnesota, the DC Area, and Charlotte, NC. The majority are independent consultants like myself; two are accomplished university research grant professionals; and all volunteer selflessly for hours on end to help folks like me towards professional success.

Flipping 2020’s Biggest “Loss” —> Two big wins!

I hope to hear the outcome of my December 2020 exam re-take sometime soon, substantiating the fact that 2020’s Biggest “Loss” is ultimately a win all around. Were I to reflect on this experience following my ultimate certification (whenever that comes), I would likely be more focused on the outcome than the journey. Although I am still waiting on resolution of my certification, I have succeeded twice over as a result of this journey.

Win Number One: In the future when I hear colleagues ask if studying for the GPC is worth it, I will shout a resounding “Yes!” They will be twice the professionals for it.

Win Number Two: Never in my collective 20 years from working at home independently have I felt part of such a strong community of colleagues. They have my back. They will call me out if necessary and, at the same time, will go to the end with me to see my success.  May we all be so fortunate.

Rhonda Poppen is an independent grant consultant and certified grant writer, working from San Francisco alongside Buddy, Labrador/Great Dane and office mate. She is a self-proclaimed pen, paper and word nerd who pours her heart into writing winning grant proposals.

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