We’re all looking for funds to improve our technology picture in schools. With the advent of blended learning (see my article last time), we find we will need equipment and software to fulfill the promises of this model.
It used to be that we would write grants for “computer labs”. We’d create projects that required the use of big desktop computers that took up four big library tables in the media center. I’m a former Library Media Specialist so I know how this bandwagon evolved. I was a contrarian at the time, and thought we were spending too much time and money on big mechanical boxes at the expense of our book budgets.
We all grow up eventually (me included). Now we’re looking at other ways of doing things. New tablet computers are taking the place of the boxes (thank goodness). There is still a place for big powerful computers, but portable laptop labs are filling these needs.
I’ve talked about templates for writing grants before, to make things easier and to help you reuse the narratives you already have. I use a template for my grant applications.
Here is (again) Neva’s template for grant writing (some things bear repeating):
- Abstract (consider writing your abstract last; it will allow for more concise, project-specific information)
- Problem Statement or Significance of Project
- Project Purpose (overall goal and specific objectives)
- Research Design or work plan (activities and timelines)
- Applicant qualifications and capabilities, demographics
- Evaluation Plan – assessments
- Budget (summary and justifications – refer back to the design/work plan)
- Sustainability (how will you pay for the program when the grant is gone?)
- Appendix (everything else)
I was working on some research the other day for a grant narrative. I am amazed that people are getting away with using meaningless jargon on their websites and in other writings. I’d give you a sample, but
- You know what I mean.
- The offender might be annoyed with using their pearls of wisdom as examples.
When you are writing a narrative, it’s important to be clear. You must assume the reader is not an educator and doesn’t hear the buzzwords and jargon you are using in your narrative. You don’t sound smarter if you know and use these words, the effect is the opposite.
I have a tendency to get down into the weeds of grant writing before I’ve covered all the basics. This blog began with a purpose; it is here to guide you to sources of grant funding for your school. The how of it is explored thoroughly in my blogs, but sometimes I neglect to reveal the where.
Many writers attempt to locate grants on the Internet by using search engines or by subscribing to grant newsletters. Those methods are alright but they tend to be inefficient and take too much time. The best way to locate potential grants is to use a comprehensive grant database. The more comprehensive and up-to-date the database, the better it will serve your needs.
The most comprehensive grant database available to educators is the School Funding Center Grant Database. It contains federal, state, foundation, and corporate grants available to schools in the United States. Old grants are removed and new grants are posted on a daily basis. The database comes in four levels, the free source and several subscription levels that open up many more details about the grants you may want to pursue. The database, as a subscription, pays for itself in no time at all.
Last time I talked about the possibilities that appear when you form a committee to pursue a grant. Such an arrangement can be useful. However, designing a good committee can be difficult. There is the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.
Committee members can help:
- provide data analysis,
- focus on major problems,
- perform in-depth searches to find appropriate grants, and
- find grant writers who will work hard to produce quality grant applications.
Here is a website devoted to forming successful committees.
Bad eggs can infiltrate your happy little group.
The beginning of a school year is a good time to survey your funding landscape and make an honest assessment of your time management skills. Be ruthless, you know you are stretched to the limit, can you rally your troops and form a functioning committee that is helpful to your efforts? You need to be careful, you don’t want to recruit prima donnas, or people who will ride your coattails and then take all the credit. You will get a sense of who the real worker bees are very early in committee formation. If this sounds belittling, that’s not my intent, worker bees are worth their weight in gold.
Fortunately, the fiscal climate for schools is improving, tax revenues are up, but grants will still play a big role in your planning for the near future. One of the only ways many districts will be able to increase expenditures next year or even keep their budgets level will be through an infusion of grant money. If you are in one of those districts and anticipate that you will need money on a district or even a classroom level, you need to be making plans now in order to win the grant money you need.
There has been much talk lately about backward design in education and curriculum development. It is a method of designing curriculum by setting goals before choosing programs and instructional methods. Backward design of curriculum typically involves three stages:
- identifying the results desired
- determining acceptable levels of evidence to show that desired results have occurred
- designing activities that will make desired results unfold
If you’re a grant writer now is the time to think about programs that can improve the educational experience of your students. It’s important to picture successful programs in your mind. Michelangelo said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
At the risk of repeating myself (again and again), grantsmanship is about establishing relationships. Last time I talked about the relatively new phenomenon of social media in fund raising. Corporations and foundations have lined up with their own Facebook and Twitter pages to provide information about the grants they offer for schools and non-profits.
Relationships are two-way.
Does your school have a Facebook page?
If not, just know that the benefits of creating one extend far beyond grant seeking. The simplicity and ease of creating a social media presence has created a tidal wave of new web pages for schools. I’ll provide resources for developing your presence but it’s important to know that the design of your page is extremely important. The very simplicity of the media creates challenges for web site creators. You need to craft a page(s) that is arresting and clear, what will you want to communicate to visitors? How will you want visitors to communicate with you? Then stand back and be prepared for people “liking” you.
Behind my back (actually in my face), while I am being traditional, organized, and old school, a revolution in fund raising is taking place. Companies are taking the lead and using their social media exposure to provide grants for non-profits. So get ready, does your school have a Facebook page?
The question for this blog is, are these real grants and do they require your hard won grant writing skills? Yes and no. The grants are real, the money is worth fighting for, but because of the nature of social media, it won’t require weeks of study, narrative development and relationship building to score an award. For the most part, these are highly competitive mini-grants, but don’t sneer at that, mini-grants have an important role to play in your overall fund raising plan. How many times have you had a project that went over budget? In those cases, you would probably tap into your city budget to fill the gaps. Don’t ignore the power of social media to help you dig for gold in the corporate grant environment, and these opportunities are proliferating all over the web.
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.