To establish best practices for your own grant writing experience, you need to develop good habits. For example, one habit I have when I go to conduct a search for funds is to canvass my community for existing projects that are aligned with district goals. Sometimes, a public school is not eligible for a private foundation grant because it is not a 501(c)3 non-profit organization as designated by the IRS. Many school districts create their own “friends of…” organizations just so they can have an arm that is designated in this way. But, that’s a subject for another day, and an enormous undertaking.
There is no harm, however, in joining with another non-profit in a grant endeavor that can forge a partnership for years to come. After school programs are ideal for this, if your local YMCA is writing a grant to set up an after school recreation program, why not work with them to develop an academic wing of the program, to solve some low test score problems you’ve uncovered.
The question is not whether you should write grants for your school this year. The question is can you write and receive enough grant funds to offset budget shortfalls without supplanting district responsibilities? It would be wonderful if one big gigantic grant could pick up the tab for whatever your teachers will need. Wonderful but unlikely. What can you do about it?
I suggest you do three things to help with this challenge:
First, if you are not already using the School Funding Center database, you need to begin using it now. With full disclosure – this blog is tied to the database. The valuable data you will find here will allow you to spend your time filling out grant applications and less time looking for grants that are a fit for your school.
Summertime is busy. At least it is in my world of grant writing. It’s a time to reflect and adjust priorities for the years to come. The only surefire way to do this right is to let the data be your guide.
I’ve put together a couple of scenarios to illustrate my point.
We’ve created a focus group to decide what we need for our school next year. The leadership team includes stakeholders from many parts of our school community, grants administrators, department heads, teachers and some parents. One of the members of the group, a parent, is very aggressive and insists we need new reading books for the early grades. The old ones are “musty and torn”. The administrators in our group have been criticized in the past for never taking parents’ advice or suggestions. He is inclined to take the path of least resistance and fix the complaints all in one fell swoop. He appoints a reading teacher to a team to review and select a new reading series.
This year, you have profited from the School Funding Center Database, and unbelievably, it is the end of the year. I’m always brought up short when that realization hits. Bam! OMG how am I going to close out this year with some dignity?
One thing that often happens to grant managers, they end up with extra money at the end of the year. You may have over budgeted for supplies, one of your paid workers dropped out; you didn’t need as much equipment as you thought… extra cash. How do you prepare for this possibility?
Each year, at the beginning of the school year, I ask certain key people to make wish lists of things they need for their classroom. Obviously your principal will have such a list, but don’t forget your Library Media Specialist, the fine arts people, the physical education staff. They are often the last to receive money in a budget, and the ones with the greatest needs. Isn’t it always the way?
You’ve visited the School Funding Center Database, and finally, after much thought and hard work, you have written a narrative for a grant from a foundation you have identified. You really want to start a relationship with this organization, and you know you must WOW them with your first effort. Even if this attempt doesn’t light their fire, you want to make a great first impression.
You’ve worked with your stakeholders in school to identify a STEM project for after school enrichment to attack those pesky math scores you’ve been trying to raise. You have skillfully woven math instruction into a project based science experiment you know the students will love to pursue. They’ll learn in spite of themselves.
So, you’re ready to pull your budget together. I’ve given you a budget template to help you organize your thoughts as you prepare for the program. Nevertheless, there are five things you are liable to forget.
Life is never perfect. Despite your most rigorous efforts, sometimes the magic just does not work. You applied for a sizable grant from a foundation to help your school develop a better professional development strategy. You thought this was a slam dunk, everyone is interested in school improvement, and PD is a big part of it. Your school needs to train its teachers to try new things, integrate the curriculum with new standards, develop better classroom tests, and implement a new reading series.
Your budget was realistic. You need to have stipends for teachers who will stay late for training. You included travel items for that PD conference in Chicago. The conference was not a fun thing, it was specifically targeted to the professional development plan your teachers have begun. You included materials for the teacher’s corner in the Library Media Center all aligned with new standards. Even with all these bases covered, you received a “no” letter. What do we do now?
What more could you have done?
Flash back to 2008 (if you dare). The country (the world) was an economic nightmare, banks and brokerage firms were dissolving into thin air, and people were scared. We’ve crept back step by step, but during those dark days, if you were engaged in work in public education, and cared about struggling schools, you were very concerned about sources of survival funds. Cities and towns, dependent on tax revenues, were preparing to slash jobs and cut programs just to keep doors open.
Enter a democratic president whose number one goal and mission was to expand educational opportunity for everyone. Enter ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funds to fill the gaps we would have faced. I remember the management tasks attached to those funds, see these gray hairs? Our district was audited, people with clipboards and attitudes were in evidence, but somehow, I didn’t mind. There was something comforting about knowing that the dollars were being scrutinized. Our district had followed the rules to the letter and the penny, so the clipboards went away and we carried on. Blessedly they didn’t return. It was a great lesson in “get it right the first time”.
You’ve received the call (letter) that congratulates you for your successful application for a grant. You are elated, and you should be very proud of this accomplishment. Remember you were in competition for the award, other applications were vetoed. Grantors are very careful about awarding grants. They know the project they have chosen will reflect on them. Their political or social agenda will be furthered or hampered by the project you will launch.
The first thing you must do is handle the check properly. When it comes in, it will probably be sent to your attention unless other arrangements have been made (large awards may have bank transfer arrangements so you will never actually see the check). Your school district business manager will help you develop procedures for this step; the check must be deposited in an account that can be accessed as you work through your project.
There are several different kinds of government grants; federal entitlement grants, federal competitive grants, state grants, and federal pass-through grants administered at the state level. The most difficult of these is the competitive federal grant and a separate blog will be devoted to this thorny issue, they are so tempting to go for, but you need to know exactly what you’re doing before spending time on them.
Federal entitlement grants, like Title I and Teacher Quality (IIA) always come to your district in a package, compiled with a unified application and a set of specific allocations. This is money your district will receive, it has already been earmarked based on complex formulas that are reached by looking at demographic information at the highest levels of government. To apply for these, be sure you are working with your district leaders and your principal knows what you are doing – it may be the deed is already well in hand and that your input will be more of a problem than an asset. This unified application will have a set due date, usually sometime in the spring or summer for distribution of funds in the fall. In large districts these allocations can be quite large and consist of funds your schools rely on for assisting students in poverty and in special education.
Last time, we talked about some of the fine points of approaching private foundations for grant support. The main idea was that you need to know what the foundation wants. They have a focus, a guiding principle, some reason (usually passionately presented) for providing grant funds to schools and non-profits.
Likewise, corporations can be approached as you seek support for school projects that have been identified as necessary to solve local problems.