When I wrote my first grant, I was a Library Media Specialist, happily ensconced in my tower of learning and my developing collection of books. I love teaching kids to become lifelong learners. If you had told me I was going to become a school administrator in the Central Office, with responsibility for all district grants, I would have told you “No Way”.
The first effort was a small Verizon mini-grant, to buy some much-needed technology for the Library. I was able to come up with a compelling argument for the materials; I linked the supplies to test scores and district achievement data. I used this formula again, and again, and was successful in ramping up the dollar amounts each time. My Principal was very happy, so was I.
During lunch and after school I found myself researching grant sources and talking to teachers about what they needed to improve academic achievement in their classrooms. I lurked on sites like LinkedIn and sections for professional grant writers and global philanthropists. All of my grant-related activities were attracting attention, and eventually I was offered a job. The rest is history.
“Could Do” not “Would Do”
In 2010, the Newark Public Schools were given a unique opportunity to try to answer that question. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), in a moment of great largesse, provided the failing school system with funds to turn it around. He hoped he could set the stage for replicable, systemic change. He also hoped that his dollars would be matched with other funds. Like other billionaires (Bill and Melinda Gates come to mind), he knew he was in a unique position to step in to help. Kudos to all who try.
My favorite (and most successful) example of this is the $800,000 gift from Stephen Colbert to the teachers of South Carolina (his home state). He auctioned off pieces from the set of his show “The Colbert Report” (last episode was December 18, 2014) to raise the funds. I believe the success came from the vehicle he used for distribution. In full disclosure, he’s on the Board of the crowdfunding site “Donorschoose.org”, and this was the conduit for his generosity. He promised to fund all South Carolina teacher requests for mini-grants. Teachers log in to the site and briefly describe a project they would love to implement if money could be found. An average project costs $689.00. iPads, band instruments, art supplies, and other modest wishes came true for hard working teachers; elegant, simple, and effective philanthropy.