The Politics of Grant Writing

I guess it’s because we’re one year away from a Presidential election. The candidates are polishing their resumes (such as they are) and Donald Trump is holding court with the American people. All of these things have inspired me to write about the politics of grant writing.

First, the obvious, when you’re looking at Federal and pass-through State grants, it matters who’s in the White House. In general, when Democrats are in the WH, there is more money for grant programs like Title I, Educator Quality, and Special Education allocations. When Republicans are in charge, wheels spin in a frantic effort to curtail or eliminate the federal government’s role in funding public education. Lately, the democratic environment has positioned the government to increase these grant programs, trying to level the playing field for the poorest and most fragile of our children to succeed.

Foundation and Corporate grants are a little different; they rely on the general economy to extend their philanthropic reach. Private grantors, as ruled by federal law, must devote a percentage of their profits to giving programs of many kinds, the most important through grant programs.

From a political point of view, it is in your best interest to know who is in leadership roles in your town, county, state, and federal legislative bodies. State and Local Government on the Net does a nice job of outlining these parts of government for you.

Even if you’re only applying for funds from private sources, it’s good to be on a first name basis with movers and shakers in your local and state governments. This is a good time to do that, these folks are all over town shaking hands and doing meet-and-greet events for their respective political parties. Get a calendar and fill it up with these event dates and times. On the state and local governments’ site mentioned above, you can link to your respective areas to learn when and where these conversations will take place.

I call them conversations because I’m urging you to become conversant on subjects that make a difference to educators. Probably the best way to stay abreast of these issues is by getting a subscription to your local newspapers, in print and online. My most coveted subscription is to the Wall Street Journal. It’s all right there, and you’ll learn important investment skills too. I access it online, but a paper copy of the WSJ lands on my doorstep with my local paper every day. I value the paper copies even as they are disappearing.

For instance, your interest in the environment will help you learn local politicians’ voting patterns on relevant key issues. You can go to events, engage people in conversations that matter, and find out where the money is going.

I remember the book and movie All the President’s Men, where Deep Throat’s mantra was “follow the money.” Collect business cards; people still carry them, and keep a rolodex with names and addresses on your desk. Make it a habit to flip through your contacts every day to see if you need to call someone to keep them up to date on your school’s new grant projects.

I have mixed feelings about support letters for grant applications from political leaders. Many foundations and corporations now exclude them from the page counts they require in their application packages. Be sure you know the rules for applying to your foundation, some applications demand paper copies; others are now completed exclusively online.

Politics is a huge topic; I’ve skimmed the surface here. Take a moment to click through these resources and polish your political acumen. It will pay off big time:

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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