Last time, we talked about some of the fine points of approaching private foundations for grant support. The main idea was that you need to know what the foundation wants. They have a focus, a guiding principle, some reason (usually passionately presented) for providing grant funds to schools and non-profits.
Likewise, corporations can be approached as you seek support for school projects that have been identified as necessary to solve local problems.
A great place to start, to maximize the possibility of success, is to join your local Chamber of Commerce. They periodically have events that bring merchants and business people together to showcase local success stories of businesses in the community. Another organization for business associations is SCORE, Service Corps of Retired Executives. These fine folks provide fledgling businesses with free advice and technical support as they set up shop in cities and towns. At the events you will be surprised at the big name companies represented among the participants. You’ll find yourself saying “I didn’t know xyz corporation had an office in town”. The company may have just a small office downtown that is lost inside a big building, but it is their way of multiplying their influence everywhere.
Like foundations (and there is often a link between the two), a corporate grants office is set up to take a stand on an issue of importance for company owners. There is often a private philanthropic wing of the company that is set up to do the same. You’ll hear people say “they’re just trying to avoid paying taxes”, but in truth, what’s the difference? The company can pay taxes and support community needs that way, or set up a foundation and have more control over the issues they support. Corporate grant funds are set aside tax free, but they are required to distribute a certain percentage of them each year. So, get in line, there’s no reason your school can’t be part of that distribution. Be patient, it may take a couple of years to put all the pieces in place, but it’s worth it.
Be sure your project is aligned to the company’s goals, and don’t try to morph your project into something they might fund. They will spot your attempts at being a pretzel, and the relationship will be soured for grant seasons to come. I used to set up a binder in my office with sections for the projects that were on our school radar, chapters set aside for needs we had identified from test scores for improvement. Then as I studied grants databases, I’d list the companies and foundations that had a local presence and had shown an interest in funding projects to address the needs represented by each chapter.
At risk of repeating earlier blogs, get to know the individuals in the companies that are responsible for running their philanthropic arm. Your Chamber of Commerce will help you here, knowing the president of the chamber, on a first name basis, was the single most valuable connection I had in my town (for fund raising purposes at least). A monthly lunch, on you, will go a long way to staying in touch with emerging events in the land of philanthropy.
Align yourself with nearby cities and towns. Some of the best grant programs we launched were in partnership with a local big city school district. Our local schools became “satellites” for some of the most robust and effective projects we had initiated.
Read the Wall Street Journal and get to know reporters on your town newspaper. The reporters are relentlessly tuned in to what’s going on in local board rooms. Find out which reporter covers business news and invite her to your school to show off good works. This has the added benefit of allowing you to toot your own horn, it’s important to do, no matter how distasteful that might seem. Your school deserves good press, if you don’t want your name involved, turn the spotlight on your principal or teacher who is organizing the program, then step back with a satisfied smile, you are orchestrating something really good here, good for you.
Show this blog to your principal and others on planning committees in your district. Use it as a springboard for having an “event” or open house, where community members can come to your school and see what’s going on.
Let us know about lessons you learn as you venture out into the world of grants.