- Foundation Grants from the MAXIMUS Charitable Foundation
- Museums, Libraries, and Cultural Organizations: Planning Grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities
- Educational Grants from the JM Foundation
- Green Education Program Grants from the Alternative Fuel Foundation
- USGA Alliance Grants from the National Alliance for Accessible Golf
- Educational Grants from the Chichester duPont Foundation, Inc.
- Educational Grants from the Bridgestone Americas Trust Fund
- Educational Grants from the Mockingbird Foundation
- Baseball Tomorrow Fund Grant from the Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association
- Special Education Research Grants from the Institute of Education Sciences
It’s exciting to take on a grant application that will solve challenges in our schools. It’s always a learning process to get down into the weeds of an application and analyze data that points to weaknesses in your academic achievement (who knew?).
However, the devil in the details can obscure your vision. Minutiae creates myopia and we can lose track of what we want to do; the big picture. One way to keep your hand on the success throttle is to look up occasionally and think like a grantor.
Ask yourself these questions:
I usually approach my articles with titles like “How Your Grant Can Succeed”. This time, I’m going to highlight a couple of reasons why a proposal might fail. There are many reasons, the biggest is your application is about the things you need, instead of how the funds can be used to solve a problem. There are a couple of reasons that many grant writers overlook when they submit their proposals.
1. The Proposal Deviates from the Formatting Requirements.
This one comes from personal experience. I was writing a big federal application for funds for the libraries in our district. If I do say so myself, it was an elegant appeal. It was related to reading scores, the objectives were clear and achievable, and the narrative was readable. At the time the proposal was submitted, it was required to be mailed by a certain time, be less than a certain number of words, and formatted double spaced.
It’s really hard to write grants in a vacuum. Someone has asked you to write a grant to pay for XYZ project in your school. But, if you don’t have any background information, you don’t know the why of the appeal for funds. Here are five big factors to consider before you start to write. They will help you sharpen your vision and show you’ve done your homework.
- You need to know what your potential funding partner is paying for these days. The error in thinking comes when an applicant clones a good proposal and sends it out to multiple funders. This implies that the applicant has not done their homework to research potential grantors to determine funding priorities. Every foundation or corporate funding entity has a reason for his or her largesse. Lately, it’s been all about improvement in academic achievement. It is in everyone’s best interest to work together to bring our kids out of academic doldrums and excel in school. Find out what the funder values, is it STEM projects? Technology? Do your homework using the Grants Database to find funding partners who are in alignment with what you are trying to do.
When you’re a grant writer for your school or district, you need all the help you can get. We’ve talked about working in committee within your school to develop and manage a project, but what about the wider community? Every town or city has a business community that stands ready to do “good works” as part of their marketing plans. You may have a local chapter of the Chamber of Commerce, or in very small towns, an Elks Club or other fraternal organization where business leaders meet, if only to have a beer together on a Saturday night. Don’t knock it, many a grant comes from conversations over a great bottle of beer.
These people, no matter how loosely organized share one thing; they’re trying to improve their own business in town by mingling and networking with other business leaders. You’ll learn in grant writing that there is some altruism in the job, but it’s mostly about finding a sweet spot, what is this person’s agenda for helping? In an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” world, you can develop relationships with your town business leaders that benefit both parties.
One way to get the ball rolling is to hold an open house for the community. Work with your school leadership team to come up with a hook, maybe raising funds for the school library, a music event, or art gallery opening along the halls of the school. Make sure you put on your tie, or pearls and pumps and be active in the planning of the event. At some point, you want everyone in the auditorium (or gym) for speechifying. Your speech is short, but pithy. Explain who you are, why you are there, and what you need from the assembled throng.
- Educational Grants from the Toyota USA Foundation
- Urban Education Grants from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
- Lowe’s Community Partners Grants from the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation
- Verizon-PLTW Introduction to Computer Science Middle School Grant Competition from Project Lead the Way
- Foundation Grants from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation
- Using Music to Teach Mathematics Grants for Grades PreK-2 Teachers from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)
- I Love My Librarian Awards from the Carnegie Corporation of New York & The New York Times
- President’s Prizes for Outstanding Achievement in Primary and Secondary Education from the Entomological Society of America
- Reading Grants from National Book Fund
- Teacher Art Grants from the P. Buckley Moss Foundation for Children’s Education
Early in your grant writing adventures, you should establish some habits. It will save time later if, for your budgets and narratives, you have some background information on hand. Every grant application has certain qualities shared with all the others. The grantor needs to know who you are before he can buy into your project. Demographic research about your state, town and school should be collected and saved in a central location so it can be accessed again and again. Update your narrative paragraphs containing statistics often. I get demographic information from several standard places.
- Your State Department of Education – each state has its own DOE. I’ve put together an interactive map that links you to your state and federal grants site.
- NCES – National Center of Education Statistics
You can rely on these sources for information about residents in your town. They include information on local families, their income, home ownership, etc. A grantor needs to know your town has needs. Even “high end” communities have needs. If you are in a school in a wealthy town, find out where low-income families live. You can target many of your grant narrative appeals to those members of the larger community.
This is not an article about politics, but it helps to know a bit about politics when you are seeking a grant. When George W. Bush was president, his wife Laura took on school libraries as a project while she was in the White House. In like fashion, Michelle Obama has been working with military families and has worked diligently in the area of nutrition for children to put a spotlight on obesity in American children. First ladies generally get what they want, and in these cases, they secured funding for their areas of concern.
From 2002 to 2010 there was a federal grant called “Improving Literacy Through School Libraries“. Laura Bush worked with many people and groups to create a grant opportunity that provided support for schools that wanted to elevate library programs in their schools and a way to improve academic achievement. I applied for it unsuccessfully for three years. I learned a great deal about writing government sponsored grants in the process so it was not a complete loss. For instance, many grant writers spend time collecting letters of support from their government representatives. In general, this is not a great way to spend your time, but in this case, it should have been an important part of any application; this grant was highly political. I only focus on this grant because it instilled a winning formula for approaching grant projects:
Align projects to Common Core Standards and academic achievement in your school.
- Educational Grants from the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation
- Foundation Grants from the Frances R. Dewing Foundation
- Foundation Grants from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation
- Innovation Generation (STEM) Grants in North America from the Motorola Solutions Foundation
- Family Service Community Grants from Autism Speaks
- CAP (Civil Air Patrol) Grants for Educators from the Air Force Association
- The Ron Mardigian Biotechnology Teaching Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers
- Education Grants from the Braitmayer Foundation
- Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools from the Whole Kids Foundation
- Serves Grants from the United States Tennis Association (USTA)
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.