Getting Around Obstacles to Grant Success

Last time I talked about ethical standards for grant writers and carefully obeying rules. This time I’m going to travel to my dark side and talk about rules that can be broken and how to break them.

My favorite rule to break is:

“Grants must be written in committee”

Principals need to form committees so they can assign tasks to people who are becoming pests.  I have found in my experience that committees become unwieldy and stand in their own way. The key to writing in committee is having clear leadership. When someone tries to challenge the leader, it’s important to be sure that everyone has a task to match his or her talents. There are even good roles for complainers; these folks are good researchers. When they object to an issue, and they begin to complain, the leader reminds them of their “librarian” role and asks them to get the facts so everyone can make good decisions. After all, sometimes they’re right and you don’t want to push them away and antagonize, give them tools to prove their positions, and then be sure their research fits in to your overall narrative. This is how you publicly recognize their contributions.

In general though, I work best when I work alone.

Another rule I like to break is:

“Grants are for extra stuff, we need new computers, so we’ll write a grant for them”

The way to develop a sound overall grants strategy is to make sure all grant projects are addressing curriculum goals that are central to your mission, and align with the data you’ve mined that points out weaknesses in your academic achievement picture. There is nothing “extra” about computers if a lab is pivotal to the after school program you are launching to address your weak reading scores in Grade 3. Once you define the need for a new computer lab, you can use the narrative and data for your successful grant proposal again with different funding goals and agencies. In fact, this key mission is the foundation for all of your school’s budget needs, even at government (city and state) levels. Let the mission statement become a mantra.

The truth is, there are no “extras” in education.

Rule number 3 to ignore:

“You can never get another grant from the same source.”

This one’s not so much a rule as it is a myth. There’s a rumor out there that says a foundation will never come back to your school with a second grant award. Phooey…. nonsense. In fact, it is a neglect of duty to think of your first project with a foundation as a closed loop. The job is to begin a fruitful relationship. Most foundations and corporate giving entities relish the idea of setting off on a journey of one success after another with a school system. It’s in their best interest to create a theme; they are branding themselves, just as you are defining the grand mission of your school. Keep those company contact numbers handy, even in speed dial, and call them when a new idea strikes. You’ll find receptive ears, as long as you don’t cross the line into pest territory. Recipe sharing is in pest territory.

I don’t think it’s fair to say, “Rules are meant to be broken”. They’ve developed over time for a reason. I think the point of this article to remind you that when you hit a wall, and think you can’t proceed with a grant project because there’s some artificial rule involved, step back to think about it. See if you can be creative and come up with a workaround. I have done this many times with successful projects that can be extended, reinvented and replicated in many different ways.

Another look at rules:

Ten Simple Rules for Getting Grants
Rules for Writing in Grantsmanship
Tips From Successful Grant Writers
Grant Writing Rules to Live By
How to Formally and Correctly Change the Rules

Let me know how you’re doing. You may network with me by leaving a comment below.


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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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