The Experienced Grant Writer

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.

It’s time to take some field trips. Go to your state’s department of education website, and look at the school districts it represents. You’ll find a map of their federal grants resources page. Start with the title I lists, zoom to the top after you’ve sorted by allocation, and take a look at these largest districts. Pick two or three within a day’s drive of your school. Go to those district websites and look for “Grants Manager” or “Business Manager”. You’ll find email addresses for both. Check with your principal to see if you can take a professional day, and make appointments to see one or both of these professionals in a selected district.

At these meetings, bring along a list of questions you may have about grant writing and successful funding strategies for school districts. You must have a binder full of questions by now, these folks will be flattered that you wanted their opinion and advice. Your goal is to network, develop some friendships in other districts; who knows, some day you may want to join these districts in a really big grant initiative. Your relationships will already be set.

They will also be willing to share their applications (if they are really nice – this is tricky, some will not share their narratives even on pain of death.) They will also have virtual contact lists in their email accounts to state foundations and corporations that make awards to school districts. This may take a little more doing, maybe an invitation to your district and a lunch or dinner invitation. Be transparent, you are not being manipulative, you’re being an active professional, and mining every possible resource for helpful information.

Ask the Grants Manager for a list of his corporate and private foundation successes. You want to know which of your overtures will be met with a smile, and which ones are cluttered with sharks and potholes.

Next field trip, a regional grants conference. These conferences provide grant writers with a dizzying array of great stuff for finding sources of funds, opportunities for training, free webinar brochures, calendars of grant deadlines, the list goes on.

The New Jersey chapter of the Mid-Atlantic Grant Professionals Association has a great website extolling the virtues of their upcoming conference for October 15, 2014 in Portland, Oregon. For real exposure, check out how they are looking for presenters, people who will come to the conference and speak to groups. Develop some speaking skills, become known as a leader in the field of writing grants for schools, find a niche within the niche, become the go-to person. Your principal or superintendent might even sponsor your trip if you are a presenter.

The American Grant Writers Association has its own conference also. It is not being a traitor to belong to more than one of these organizations, and the proliferation of online groups for net-worker’s promises to grow even bigger. Their 2013 conference is in November, in Arlington, VA. If you are reading this after that, their site will post the venue for 2014 soon after the 2013 is over.

All of these field trips fall under the category of “schmoozing”, it’s an art but it can be learned. You really don’t need any special talent unless you are a total hermit and never go anywhere, you can benefit from walking around at these events. The great business leader, Tom Peters, in 1982 wrote about MBWA (management by walking around). The lessons in that series of classic business books is still valid today. If you aspire to being a school administrator, or just want to learn more about grant writing, this is a great way to start. You can find a bibliography here, scroll down to “references”. The concept refers to building management, but my field trip ideas will provide opportunities to practice this time honored schmoozing tradition.

Comment on this blog, do you have questions for me? What would you like me to write about?

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About Neva Fenno

Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS, has been a special education teacher, school library media specialist, curriculum specialist and grants manager for several urban school districts in New York and Massachusetts for 30 years. As grants manager for 7 years, she managed up to $28,000,000 a year in federal, state, foundation and corporate grants from application through fiscal administration. She has hundreds of stories to tell, not all successes, but from each story there is a lesson to be learned.

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