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          2023 Chapter Conference


Join us for a full day of learning! Whether you are new to the grants profession or an old pro, this conference will provide valuable skills development and networking opportunities. Information on the conference is included below:

Date: June 20, 2023

Time: 8:00am - 4:00pm (check-in begins at 7:30am)

Location: Blank Park Zoo, 7401 SW 9th Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50315

Conference Registration Pricing:
$75 Standard Registration
$65 For GPA Members, Students, and AmeriCorps Members*

*If you are a student or AmeriCorps Member, please reach out to centraliowagpa@gmail.com to confirm status and receive a special registration code!



This conference has been approved for up to 4 continuing education units (CEUs) for both CFRE and GPCI! A tracker sheet can be found in Conference Materials


 Hyatt Place Des Moines Downtown - Reserve by May 19, 2023
 Holiday Inn Des Moines Airport - Reserve by May 29, 2023
 418 6th Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50309
Rate: $139 + tax

View Hotel Link
 611 Fleur Drive
Des Moines, IA 50321
Rate: $119 + tax
View Hotel Link


Keynote & Breakout Session Speaker -  Diane Leonard, GPC, RST:

Diane H. Leonard, GPC, RST is a Grant Professional Certified (GPC) and Approved Trainer of the Grant Professionals Association. Diane is also a Registered Scrum Trainer, Scrum Master, and Scrum Product Owner by Scrum inc. Diane began her career as a Program Officer, a full-time staff member of a state-wide grantmaking organization and she continues to serve as a reviewer for a variety of grantmaking organizations. Since 2006, when she formed DH Leonard Consulting, Diane and her team have secured more than $113.4 million dollars in competitive grant awards for their clients. She is an active member of the Grant Professionals Association. When not working with her team on grant applications for clients, Diane can be found in the 1000 Islands, out for a run, or drinking a strong cup of coffee.

Diane will be providing our conference keynote: Being an Agile Leader Regardless of Your Title. Being an Agile Leader in Your Team focuses on empowering YOU, an amazing nonprofit professional, regardless of your title, to embrace the role you can play as a leader within your team. An Agile leader is a person who helps the team focus on responding to change, increasing team happiness, and delivering the highest value work for their stakeholders. Whether a special event team, grant team, or entire fundraising department, every team member has the potential to serve as an Agile leader and increase your impact as well as improve your team’s efficiency and happiness.

Diane will also provide three breakout sessions, focusing on the following topics: 

Your Blueprint for Grant Writing: Each grant application is unique since each grantmaker has its own purpose and goal for their funding. That means that having a narrative template is not the way to approach applications as you will risk not customizing your application appropriately for a specific grantmaker. That is why we want you to create a “blueprint” for your grant applications. Your “blueprint” is a logic model - an overview of your program’s needed resources, activities, anticipated outputs, and expected outcomes. Whether a required part of a grant application or not, the narrative questions are often asking for the sections of the logic model in narrative format. In this session we will make facilitating a conversation with your colleagues to agree on your “blueprint” a fruitful one so that you can use it to write your upcoming applications from.

Identifying Funders to Expand Your Grant Seeking Strategy (While Still Being Sustainable): Are you feeling like you don’t know where to look for new grant opportunities? Or do you feel the pressure to write more applications each year? Yet with the same capacity for yourself and your team? In this session we will look at a variety of research tools you will want to have in your grant research toolbox so that you don’t face Grant FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). We will also address tactics to expand your grant seeking strategy in an organization while keeping your individual and team capacity front and center to ensure your work pace is sustainable.

Effective Pre-Planning in Your Organization: Pre-planning for large grants, whether foundation, state, or federal, is a way to increase your overall competitiveness in the process. Yet it is a process that not all of your colleagues in the organization feel comfortable or familiar with. In this session we will address how to identify the best type of grant application to conduct pre-planning activities. We will also walk through how to facilitate pre-planning for a future large grant application that does not yet have the pressure (or urgency associated with it) of a firm deadline.

Breakout Session Speaker - Deb Koua

Deb Koua has been part of the grants world for over 30 years, working a variety of roles with a federal agency, a four year institution of higher education, and currently at Des Moines Area Community College as the Director of Grants and Contracts.   She loves seeing the results of her work, even though understanding and following all the rules can be a challenge!  Outside of the office, she volunteers as an advocate for children in the child welfare system.  She also loves to travel and read. Deb will be presenting the following topic:

The Ins and Outs of Federal BudgetsBudgets for proposals to federal agencies can be complicated. This session will discuss some basic rules to follow; some common pitfalls; the unique expectations from certain agencies; and how best to make your budget align with your proposal.

Breakout Session Speaker - Valerie Van Kooten, GPC

Valerie Van Kooten, GPC, is a grant consultant from Pella, Iowa.  Formerly, she taught technical writing at Central College in Pella and worked as the college’s Grant Writer; for the past seven years, she has been Executive Director for Pella Historical Museums (and grant writer!). In the past 12 years, Valerie has written proposals that have brought in $7.3 million to those organizations. Valerie is especially passionate about helping small non-profits that are new to the process understand how grants work and how to make their organization ready to receive grants. She is married with three grown sons and four grandchildren. 
Valerie will be presenting the following topic:

Get Ready for Inflation Reduction Act Funds!  The Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law in 2022, has appropriated $500 billion to boost economic development and community resilience and has designated 40% of its benefit for underserved rural communities. Participants will learn about the amount and type of IRA funds that will flow through several departments, including the DOT, EPA, USDA, FEMA, IRS, IEC, Blue-Green Alliance Iowa Solar Trade Association, Center for Rural Affairs, and others, in preparation for helping organizations access this money.

Breakout Session Speaker - Trace Hoekstra, GPC and Chris Koepplen, CEO of Ellipsis

Trace Hoekstra, GPC, and the team at Kitchen Sink Communications deliver grant strategy and proposal development for nonprofits with budgets ranging from $250,000 to more than $25 million. Since 2020, they have secured $60 million in grant funding for community development and human services projects. Like many grant professionals, Trace didn't enter the field by design. She earned the opportunity to write her first proposal in the early 2000s because she had the single required credential - being willing to try. Over the years, she added to that skill set through a combination of formal training, experience, and failures, earning her Grant Professional Certified credential from the Grant Professionals Certification Institute in 2019. Today, Trace guides diverse clients focused on broad community issues including food assistance, affordable housing, refugee services, beginning farmers, children's mental health, juvenile justice, workforce development, conservation, and more. Each year, she and her colleagues write hundreds of requests for general operating, programming, capacity-building, and capital projects to foundation, corporate, and government funders. 

Chris Koepplin, MSW, LMSW is the chief executive officer of Ellipsis, a youth and family services nonprofit. She started her career in 1996 as a youth care worker in a girls group home at Youth Homes of Mid-America. Over time, she gained experience as an in-home, family-centered counselor, a cottage coordinator, a residential program director, a quality and compliance director, and the associate executive director. Under Chris’ leadership, Youth Homes of Mid-America and Youth Emergency Services & Shelter merged to become Ellipsis in 2021. Chris, and her team, united staff, introduced a new brand to supporters and stakeholders, and — above all else — continues to ensure that Ellipsis is moving the needle toward a complete continuum of care for the nearly 600 kids and families served daily. In addition to decades of experience working with youth in central Iowa, Chris is a leader in the community, developing partnerships to better serve kids and families in need.

Trace will facilitate a conversation with Chris focusing on the following topic:

DEIA Assessment and Implementation in Action: A Case Study: Ellipsis CEO, Chris Koepplin, will share the frustrations, celebrations, and surprises that came with blending diversity, equity, inclusion, and access into organizational culture during the merger of two Iowa non-profits, Youth Emergency Shelter & Services (YESS) and Youth Homes of Mid-America. Learn how Ellipsis is using DEIA data to inform their work today and to create more equitable, long-term outcomes for the kids and families they serve, and how those efforts impact and are impacted by organizational fundraising. Session participants will discuss the operational and development implications for the organizations they support. 

Click to View the Conference Brochure and Agenda


Get inside the heads of decision-makers from several funders across the state. Learn how these individuals make strategic funding decisions and determine desired grant oucomes, what they really want from grand-funded partners, and how you can more successfully position your organization to obtain successful funding.  Current panel participants include:

Nicole Brua-Behrens
Executive Director, 
Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation


Ellie Burns
Director of Nonprofit Relations, Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines

Michelle Raymer
Senior Volunteer Engagement Officer, Iowa Commision on Volunteer Service (Volunteer Iowa)


Paul Thelen, JD
Director, Larned A. Waterman Iowa Nonprofit
Resource Center, 
University of Iowa College of Law

Nicole Brua-Behrens has been engaged in the nonprofit sector since 1994, currently serving as the Executive Director of Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation in Grinnell, Iowa.  Prior to that, Nicole served as the director of an early childhood literacy program, a program coordinator at Des Moines Area Community College scheduling college credit courses for high school students and as a grant writer for Kirkwood Community College and Iowa Central Community College, and finally as a planner for regional planning agency in northwestern Iowa.  In her role at Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation, Nicole serves and connects with donors and nonprofit program partners and helps support many community projects through grant making, charitable fund development and convening groups around important community issues.  Nicole lives in Grinnell, Iowa with her husband, two children, and a dog.  

Ellie Burns is the Director of Nonprofit Relations with the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. In this role, Ellie serves as the key staff member to connect nonprofits to valuable resources within the Community Foundation as well as other community resources. She creates opportunities for connection and learning among nonprofit leaders through training programs and works closely with nonprofit board and staff members, grantmaker colleagues and community partners to support the overall health and wellbeing of the nonprofit sector in Greater Des Moines. Prior to joining the Community Foundation, Ellie wrote and managed federal TRIO grants as the Director of Pre-College TRIO Programs at Central College. She has a background in education with a doctoral degree from Drake in Higher Education Leadership. Ellie lives in Des Moines with her husband, Scott and her teenage daughter, Sophia.

Michelle Raymer is the Senior Program Officer for Engagement and Infrastructure at Volunteer Iowa, where she supports communities in utilizing volunteerism to meet local needs. Michelle leads the Volunteer Generation Fund activities, including overseeing the grant application and review process. With over 15 years of national service, nonprofit program development, federal grant, and volunteer engagement experience, she provides training and technical assistance to Iowa nonprofits and government agencies on volunteer engagement best practices and grant management. She is a graduate of Central College, holds her Master of Public Administration from Drake University, and is the current Board President of the national Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE).

Paul is the director of the Larned A. Waterman Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center at the University of Iowa where he leads a team dedicated to strengthening Iowa’s nonprofit sector through education, engagement, and research. He teaches a series of popular graduate-level courses at the College of Law focused on the internal and external operations of nonprofit organizations. In 2020, he launched the Summer Research Associate Program to bring outstanding undergraduate and graduate students to the Center to advance their knowledge and skills in the areas of nonprofit management, leadership, and law. Paul is most proud of contributing to dozens of local, county, and statewide collaborative efforts—such as the new Iowa Nonprofit Alliance where he serves on the Board of Directors and as Vice President—for the purpose of creating a community of nonprofit professionals with the capacity to lead their organization in making Iowa healthier, cleaner, livelier, smarter, safer, faith-filled, and prosperous. Paul was raised on a family farm in western Iowa and graduated from Kuemper Catholic High School. He taught theatre at Northwestern University as a doctoral student, as well as served as a two-year fellow at the Center for Leadership. Paul graduated with a B.A. and B.F.A. from Creighton University and a J.D. from the Iowa College of Law.


If you are staying in town after the conference, join us for GPCI happy hour. The GPCI administers the nationally recognized Grant Professional Certified (GPC) credential to grant professionals who meet eligibility requirements and successfully demonstrate proficiency in the required competencies. The GPC certification is based on rigorous standards and ongoing research to meet real-world demands of grant professionals. GPC-credentialed grant professionals demonstrate excellence in the grants profession and, on average, report higher earnings than those without the credential. Our Chapter's GPCI Ambassador will provide information on GPCI and how to pursue your Grant Professionals Certification (GPC). Information on this event is still in the planning stages. We will post more informtion here and on an updated agenda once plans have been finalized.  

Please direct any questions to centraliowagpa@gmail.com

Copyright © Central Iowa Chapter GPA, All Rights Reserved.

Amy Sue Alesch

President, Central Iowa Chapter

Grant Professionals Association

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