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.
The question is not whether you should write grants for your school this year. The question is can you write and receive enough grant funds to offset budget shortfalls without supplanting district responsibilities? It would be wonderful if one big gigantic grant could pick up the tab for whatever your teachers will need. Wonderful but unlikely. What can you do about it?
I suggest you do three things to help with this challenge:
First, if you are not already using the School Funding Center database, you need to begin using it now. With full disclosure – this blog is tied to the database. The valuable data you will find here will allow you to spend your time filling out grant applications and less time looking for grants that are a fit for your school.
Summertime is busy. At least it is in my world of grant writing. It’s a time to reflect and adjust priorities for the years to come. The only surefire way to do this right is to let the data be your guide.
I’ve put together a couple of scenarios to illustrate my point.
We’ve created a focus group to decide what we need for our school next year. The leadership team includes stakeholders from many parts of our school community, grants administrators, department heads, teachers and some parents. One of the members of the group, a parent, is very aggressive and insists we need new reading books for the early grades. The old ones are “musty and torn”. The administrators in our group have been criticized in the past for never taking parents’ advice or suggestions. He is inclined to take the path of least resistance and fix the complaints all in one fell swoop. He appoints a reading teacher to a team to review and select a new reading series.
This year, you have profited from the School Funding Center Database, and unbelievably, it is the end of the year. I’m always brought up short when that realization hits. Bam! OMG how am I going to close out this year with some dignity?
One thing that often happens to grant managers, they end up with extra money at the end of the year. You may have over budgeted for supplies, one of your paid workers dropped out; you didn’t need as much equipment as you thought… extra cash. How do you prepare for this possibility?
Each year, at the beginning of the school year, I ask certain key people to make wish lists of things they need for their classroom. Obviously your principal will have such a list, but don’t forget your Library Media Specialist, the fine arts people, the physical education staff. They are often the last to receive money in a budget, and the ones with the greatest needs. Isn’t it always the way?
You’ve visited the School Funding Center Database, and finally, after much thought and hard work, you have written a narrative for a grant from a foundation you have identified. You really want to start a relationship with this organization, and you know you must WOW them with your first effort. Even if this attempt doesn’t light their fire, you want to make a great first impression.
You’ve worked with your stakeholders in school to identify a STEM project for after school enrichment to attack those pesky math scores you’ve been trying to raise. You have skillfully woven math instruction into a project based science experiment you know the students will love to pursue. They’ll learn in spite of themselves.
So, you’re ready to pull your budget together. I’ve given you a budget template to help you organize your thoughts as you prepare for the program. Nevertheless, there are five things you are liable to forget.
Life is never perfect. Despite your most rigorous efforts, sometimes the magic just does not work. You applied for a sizable grant from a foundation to help your school develop a better professional development strategy. You thought this was a slam dunk, everyone is interested in school improvement, and PD is a big part of it. Your school needs to train its teachers to try new things, integrate the curriculum with new standards, develop better classroom tests, and implement a new reading series.
Your budget was realistic. You need to have stipends for teachers who will stay late for training. You included travel items for that PD conference in Chicago. The conference was not a fun thing, it was specifically targeted to the professional development plan your teachers have begun. You included materials for the teacher’s corner in the Library Media Center all aligned with new standards. Even with all these bases covered, you received a “no” letter. What do we do now?
What more could you have done?