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.
Most grants are competitive. To be able to submit grant applications that will be successful, your school must understand its academic shortfalls by analyzing test data. Gather statistical information to prove you have problems, develop solutions to these problems, and develop budgets to fix them. It doesn’t matter if your problem is an increasing gap in test scores between at-risk students and those who are not, an alarming decline in your reading scores, or increasing truancy numbers. You must identify and finance solutions for your specific issues. Don’t try to reverse the order of things. Often it’s tempting to jump on a bandwagon like a glitzy new software package for reading improvement, without knowing if reading is really the area that needs the most attention. Do your due diligence in the form of data analysis.
Good grant committees can do all of these things and much more. A grant committee can help define a school’s problems and mine a good grant database to match grantors with those problems. Committees can find outside grant writing help for big competitive grant applications, fund the training of district personnel in the fine points of grant writing, or even have individuals or teams of committee members write narratives for grant applications.
It is true that poor grant committees can ruin the entire process and become bogged down with internal political maneuvering. Be on the lookout for saboteurs, they lurk in the most unlikely places. Some people seem to love to make things more complicated than is necessary.
Good grant committees can quickly:
- provide data analysis,
- focus on major problems,
- do intensive searches to find appropriate grants, and
- find grant writers who will work hard to produce quality grant applications on deadline.
No more than 10-15% of all school districts in the United States have full-time grant writers. If your district is big enough you may have a grants manager as opposed to a grant writer. This person manages the funds; it’s more of an accounting job and is sometimes an arm of the district business office. If you don’t have a full time grant writer (and maybe even if you do), you need a grant committee to assess needs, find appropriate grants, and to assign someone to apply for those grants.
As successful applications are generated, you’ll find ways to automate some of the pieces of the narrative. Grant money will become more and more important to your district and your committee will be key to your success.
I have a confession to make; I am not the best committee person. I have an inner control freak that tries to get out and I end up managing the entire process. If you find this happening, there is no shame in it, but it will help you see that your committee needs to be analyzed. Your principal will be helpful here; she can hire and fire committee members without being bogged down in committee and personal politics.
It’s early in the school year; get ahead of the game and ahead of the competition by forming your grant committee this week or this month. Meet often at first. Assess your problems, Find grants that will fund your solutions. Get those grant applications in the mail throughout October and the rest of this school year.
There’s even a website devoted to forming successful committees.
Do you have committees that work in your school? Can you identify the factors that make the committee work well within the larger school community? I’d love to hear your ideas.