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.
In my career as a grants administrator I have observed many grant writers as they navigate their way through the grant writing process. Sometimes it is somewhat painful to watch.
The writer will get a call from a teacher or community member who says, “Hey, I heard about this cool grant given by the XYZ Foundation. Our school really needs new football helmets for the kids, can you try to see if we can get one”.
So the grant writer calls the foundation and asks for the application package. These days they are almost always referred to a website where they will find the details of how the foundation provides funds for schools and non-profit organizations. The grant writer reads through the package briefly and then works furiously to come up with a flashy project that underscores the need for football helmets in the school. Concussion statistics are mined and horror stories told about injuries suffered by kids as they play sports.
You’ve been writing grant applications now for some time, and your success rate is picking up. You recently had a rejection letter from a foundation that reviewed your after school program and said they were unclear how you were going to measure the success of the project. They wanted to know how you will know your students are improving academically from your program (assuming that improvement of academic achievement was what you were promising)?
Every grant writer suffers rejection from time to time. It’s a natural part of the process and you’ll always learn something from the rejection. Grantors are becoming very sophisticated in their review process, there are so many competing applications and they must select only the very best. I don’t know this for sure, but I will guess that measuring success is the biggest sticking point for otherwise great applications. It’s not always clear how you’re going to measure your progress. For instance, if your grant application is to raise funds for a preschool playground, not only how will you measure your success (completion of the construction?) but what are you measuring? If you’ve promised that your playground will be a way for STEM subjects to be emphasized in your school, how will you be sure it does that? And why is this a good thing?
In previous blogs, I familiarized you with the School Funding Center Grants Database – to provide you with a sense of the huge number of sources they identify for school and community grants. I sent you on some field trips through the web and even in your car, drive around your community to find the branch offices that are there for big companies. They are filled with helper-bees and people who want to give back to their communities. Tap their enthusiasm, it’s still a tough economy, but not a totally dry well by any means, and it’s getting better all the time.
I also gave you some tips on turning your grant writing experiences into a try-out for becoming a school administrator if that’s what you want to do. It’s a great place to start.
In last week’s blog, I familiarized you with the School Funding Center Grants Database – to provide you with a sense of the huge number of sources they identify for school and community grants. They describe the search process very thoroughly.
At that time I said, “start your search with your location”. The database lets you filter by a number of categories, start with selecting your state. You’ll find the names of huge corporations that have offices nearby.
I started telling you about the database last time, some things bear repeating, I’ve included the information you need to get started on a fruitful search.
School Funding Center Grants Database – there is a free trial, you can get a sense of the huge number of sources they identify and they describe the search process very thoroughly.
Start your search with your location. The database lets you filter by a number of categories, start with selecting your state. You’ll find the names of huge corporations that you never knew were nearby.
I’ve been writing these blogs as if you are rock solid on who the potential grantor is going to be. For some grant seekers, the hardest part is finding a willing partner. As you go along and develop relationships with foundations, that question will become easier, you may find your source is so enamored of you and your school that they have stepped up and offered to help on a regular and scheduled basis.
If you’re just starting out though, the process of finding a source can be daunting. You’ve explored the online databases. Some have steep subscription costs. These fees may not be feasible right now, you haven’t even started to write your grant yet. Your principal may not want to give you a budget for an online database subscription. They will change their mind when they see the amount of data you can acquire from the School Funding Center site. After you’ve identified one or two possibilities, every foundation and corporation has its own philanthropy section on its website. This wasn’t always the case. I used to spend a great deal of time on the phone calling companies and asking them to send out the funding guidelines for their philanthropic division.
You’re really moving along now; you have a very good handle on the program you will be providing for your students. You’ve described the need and you have checked your eligibility for the grant you are seeking.
By now, you’ve spoken to your prospective grantor. Yes? A phone call has been made to be sure you have the most current application package from their office. You’ve cleverly woven in an introduction to your project with your requests for more information. You have started the process of developing a rich and long lasting relationship with XYZ Foundation. You’ve been to their office (or nearby university) where there was a grants conference to meet and greet grant professionals in your community. Their experience will be useful to you as you go along.