Category Archives: budget

Midterm Grant Narrative Review

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

money on a clothes line

You are well on your way to finishing your narrative for your grant application to XYZ Foundation. You now understand why the dollar amount you are requesting was a big question mark when you started this process; it needed to be revealed along the way, as part of the process. If you started your grant writing project with “We’re going to need and write for $10,000.00 you know you started from the wrong place in the process.”

A caveat is probably due from the author at this point. The processes and tips I provide are what have worked for me. I am a veteran grant writer and manager, I’ve raised millions of dollars for schools and over time, I’ve developed a rhythm of what needs to happen when. You may find a better way, one that works best for you, but some of the words of wisdom I provide will save you a great deal of time and get you off on the right foot.

The three big caveats are:

1. You are not writing a grant to get money for your school, you are creating an appeal to a foundation to join with you in a partnership that will solve a problem and help improve academic achievement in your school.

2. When you start to write the narrative, you have only a very vague idea of how much money you are requesting, that is being revealed as you go along and identify research based ways to solve your problem.

3. The relationship you develop with the foundation or corporation you have identified from your research through the Grants Database will be a long-term partnership. Once you have a grant from this organization, the door is open for future support. They will become your benefactor in many ways. You may find that corporations will want their employees to volunteer in your school to get real-world experience and become partners in the education of children in their community.

4. A bonus fourth caveat is that you may need to write several grants to different funding organizations to cover all the costs of your project. This happens all the time. You’ll get to know what each supporter will and won’t pay for. There’s always another who will step up and pay for that last little piece of the puzzle.

I’ve provided you with a budget planner spreadsheet. It is a great idea to stop now and take a closer look at it. You may want to add to it, print it out, and keep it handy so you can be sure you are not forgetting any details for providing for your needs. Please print it out right now, and let’s look at some of the line items (now you’ll know what people mean when they talk about things like line items.).

You’ll want to give every grant application a number. On the budget planner you’ll see a place for “ORG”. That’s the internal number you will use to identify the grants you pursue and keep them all organized. You will want to start creating and identifying numbering systems. A combination letter and number code has always worked for me. A state grant might begin with S1 – your first state grant might be S1 and so forth. You might want to add a date, call it S1111513 (first state grant submitted on 11/15/2013).

You’ll find lines for salaries, this will include part and full time staffs you will need to carry out your plan. Your principal might want to cover part of a teacher’s salary with funds from the grant. This amount will fall under “instructional salary.” A stipend is usually an hourly rate for staff you will hire part time. You want to keep administrative, instructional, clerical and paraprofessional salaries separate. If you’re paying for part of a teacher’s salary, you’ll want to be sure to cover their fringe benefits (how much will you need to subsidize their health insurance for example).

Contractual stands for companies or consultants you will bring in to provide services that support the project. Start thinking now about drawing up an actual contract with your service providers (more about this later in the series). Everyone is happier when things are carefully spelled out and all parties have signed an agreement. There is no such thing as a casual relationship when money is involved.

Your supply lines need to be specific. Grantors will want to know the percentages of your budget that you are setting aside for different items. You will want to work with your foundation representative to see if they have limits on lines. They may only be willing to support a salary at 10% for instance. Or computer software and supplies can only represent 15% of the total request. They will help you with the budget, take advantage of their expertise. In the beginning of my grant writing career I was intimidated by the budget, but quickly learned that the foundation was very eager to help with the details. They want you to succeed. Private grants (foundations and corporations) are competitive but that doesn’t necessarily mean “impossible to get”. If, by the time they score your application with their scoring rubric, you have been on the phone with them to work through details; they know about your needs and have a name and face to go with the application. You will be that much more ahead of the curve.

You’ll want to be sure you are supplementing not supplanting. The grant funds you seek will support the materials and supplies your city is paying for, not taking the place of, or becoming the sole source for materials that should be covered by your local budget.

Yes, it’s complicated; it’s a great deal of information to absorb all at once. That’s why this blog is crafted in a logical progression, to describe bits and pieces. It’s all intended to help you become a confident and successful grant writer.

Please feel free to comment on this blog and provide ideas and suggestions. I value your insights.

Developing the Budget from Your Narrative

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

You are well on your way to finishing your narrative for your grant application to XYZ Foundation. You’ve crafted a most persuasive argument, using data and demographics from reliable sources; your need has been thoroughly explained and documented. You’ve developed a tone and voice that is professional, but compelling.

pen writing

As you’ve moved on to the next item on the narrative section list, “Activities”, you are confronted with the dreaded methodology. OK, we get it, you need your kids to improve their reading scores, an afterschool program is missing from your repertoire of solutions to the problem. It is a demonstrated and research-based method for solving your particular problem. You just don’t have the stuff or the staff you need to pull it off.

In focus groups with stakeholders, you’ve determined that there are some really great supplementary materials, software and Internet resources that are available with your reading curriculum from ABC Reading Company. You need more books, some have become torn or have gotten lost, you want to add a couple of lower and higher level readers to what you have. There are workbooks available in e-book and paper formats that would help fill out what you already own. You want to add some supporting fiction to your library media center, online resources, videos and audio support perhaps. Your district only purchased the bare bones set for all the classrooms it serves. All of your teachers have been trained to use this curriculum so you don’t necessarily want to throw out the baby with the bath water.

You’ve reached the point in your narrative that begins to justify your budget request. At this stage you really don’t know how much you will be asking for. The dollar amount will emerge as you go along. Don’t worry about whether or not the foundation will provide all the money you need. If necessary, your appeal can be spread among several funding resources. Right now, you just want to be sure you analyze your needs carefully and that you include every possible item needed in your budget.

Here is a “budget planning sheet” you may find useful. It has been my guide for years. It is a list of all the funding categories you might possibly need to be sure you include all required items for your project. It forces you to think of everything. It is an Excel spreadsheet and it automatically adds everything up so you can keep track of what your budget request will be when you finally submit your application.

This document differs from the budget document the foundation will want you to use when you submit. It is your internal guide. You can write all over it, add and take away lines, and print it out for others to review. Someone else in your group may think of something you’ve left out. There’s nothing worse than finishing your application and having someone point out that you forgot the software that links the curriculum to smart board exercises for phonics (for instance).

If you started your grant-writing exercises with a firm dollar amount in mind, you will be surprised by how much it has changed now that you’ve really taken the program apart. Your activities section might be structured as a timeline, you have a twenty-week afterschool program planned, and you have lesson plans sketched out for how you want each of those twenty week sessions to build on the last. There are visits to the library, a field trip or two, and oh yes, don’t forget stipends for your teachers. Unless you have a very unusual climate and culture in your district, these folks will expect to be paid. You may need an administrator on hand to be sure you stick to the script. You’ll need office supplies, do you want to have a clerk available in the office to meet and greet parents at the end of each afterschool session? Do you need an assessment specialist to help you build out your measurement instruments for the program? Your grantor is going to want to know if your program meets their expectations (and yours) for success.

Don’t forget to add one or two post-program sessions for staff to have everyone meet and decide how the program succeeded, failed, or should be repeated next year. So much to think about, but your budget planning sheet will help you with all of it.

I know, I know, you started reading this blog because you want to write a grant. You don’t want to be a number cruncher or a technology nerd. And you’re a teacher, not Ernest Hemingway. Welcome to the wonderful world of grant writing and grants management. At the end of the day, no one else will do it for you. It’s definitely a “be careful what you wish for” proposition. However, I am alive and here to tell you, it’s all worthwhile. You will be stretched and all the accumulated skills and talents of a lifetime will be called into play.

Please feel free to comment on this blog and provide ideas and suggestions. I learn from teachers each and every day.

The Second Step: Developing a Solution

If you want to secure grant money for your school, the first step is to understand in detail the problems your school faces. Once you have clearly identified those hurdles to student achievement or school-wide success, the second step is to develop a plan/solution that has the greatest likelihood of achieving your goals.

When I first became a middle school principal, our test scores indicated that we had a reading problem. Overall, our students read about 1.5 grade levels below the national average. We already had a Title I reading program, but we weren’t getting very good results. We did our research and found that:

1) Although we had a serious school-wide reading problem, only our very poorest readers attended reading classes.

2) Although we knew that reading was a skill, we did not provide enough time during the school day for our students to practice that skill.

3) Monitoring large amounts of independent reading is difficult without enough computers and specialized software.

With that knowledge, we were able to put together a comprehensive plan in which:
• all students, regardless of their reading levels, would attend a reading class.

• each student would spend one hour each day in reading practice on appropriate-level materials.

• we would use the STAR reading test to determine the beginning reading levels of students and to measure growth.

• we would use Accelerated Reader software to monitor students’ daily reading.

In addition, we would initiate “structural” changes in order to meet the needs of our new program:
• In order to make time in the school day for students to receive an hour of reading practice, we had to change from a 7-period to an 8-period schedule.

• All of our teachers became reading monitors in order to monitor 30 minutes of reading practice time. The regular reading teachers monitored the other 30 minutes and taught mini-lessons on skills.

• We had to purchase STAR and Accelerated Reader.

• We had to purchase thousands of library books to match the reading levels, interests, and reading volume of our students.

• We had to purchase dozens of computers to monitor the program.

We developed a special budget in order to put our plan into place. While our solution was relatively expensive, we did not consider costs when we developed the plan. We only considered the results we would likely achieve. To get the money we needed to fund our plan, we tapped into the regular budget, Title I, and special education funds. But that wasn’t enough. We wrote grants and we entered into a partnership with the software company to do detailed research as we measured our students’ reading growth.

When your school faces a hurdle to student achievement, the key is to build a plan that directly addresses the problem and has the greatest likelihood of success. When you are developing your plan, don’t worry about costs. That will come later. If you can, find schools with similar demographics that have faced similar problems and made major improvements. Duplicate the best parts of their plans if it’s feasible for you to do so — without consideration to money.

When your plan is complete — and you’re sure it is comprehensive and has an excellent chance of success — then comes the time to start worrying about the budget and finding the money to fund your program. Which brings us to the topic we will cover in my next post: finding grant money to fund your program.

It’s Time to Plan for the New Year

I like New Year’s resolutions. Though most people don’t have a great track record for keeping these yearly commitments, I believe in them for two reasons. First, I am an optimist and think that people should always strive to do more and be better each day, each month, each year. Second, New Year’s resolutions are the beginning of a plan. If we make a plan, there is a chance that something wonderful may happen. It might not, but it could. Without a plan, nothing will happen. I can guarantee that.

I encourage you again this year to make New Year’s resolutions as they relate to your school’s grant program. I am going to suggest three such resolutions, and I hope you will decide to adopt one or more of them as you attempt to help your school gain grant money during 2013.

My first suggestion for a New Year’s grant resolution is to write your first grant if you’ve never written one. It doesn’t matter what the purpose of the grant is or how much money you receive. The first grant you ever write is the most difficult, and you have to get it written before you can write your second, third, and fourth grants. Make a resolution to find a grant and apply for it in January. Once you get that first one out of the way, you can then decide on other grants to write later in the year.

If you are a more experienced grant writer, I suggest your New Year’s grant resolution be a little more specific. I suggest you determine the greatest problem your school, campus, or classroom is having and determine how you can remedy or at least alleviate that problem by winning grant money for your school. You might be able to overcome the problem by writing just one grant during 2013, or you may have to write several to have the impact you desire. Make a commitment to seek out that main problem and begin writing grants by the end of January or the beginning of February to solve that problem.

My third suggestion for a New Year’s resolution is also for more experienced grant writers. I recommend that you make a resolution to develop an overall plan for writing grants for your school. You might not end up writing all of the grants that this plan entails, but every school should have a plan that coordinates the manner in which a school determines its largest problems, develops plans to correct those problems, and then goes after grant money to fund those programs. If you don’t have a plan in place, most grant efforts become a scattered affair that have little impact on the problems a school faces.

These are my main three recommendations for 2013 New Year’s resolutions. You may adopt them. You may not. Please at least consider them as you head into this promising New Year. And if those above do not suit you, you might want to consider some of the following resolutions:

  • To develop a grant committee at your district or campus.
  • To set a dollar amount that you want to receive in grants.
  • To set the number of grants you want your school to receive.
  • To hire a part-time or full-time grant writer for your school.
  • To find a granting entity in your community for a multi-year relationship.
  • To attend grant-writing training.
  • To find a grant-writing partner.

Yes, each of these ideas is the beginning of a plan. Each of them will eventually help you bring in more grant money to your school. Each of them is forward-looking and optimistic. But that’s okay, because we are all educators in one way or another, and I don’t see how you can be an educator and not be forward-looking and optimistic.

Okay, We’re Back in School

It’s a rare school that is not “back at it” by now.

It definitely is a busy time for anyone involved in the school business. Most fall deliveries of supplies, materials, and equipment have been made, and the money is either gone from the budget or earmarked to take care of the bills that are starting to arrive.

Once you’ve been in school for a month, it is a good time to assess your budget. That budget might be for a district, campus, or classroom, but very shortly you should be able to tell if you have the money left to fund the things you need for the rest of the year. If you’re pretty sure you’re going to be running short of money, it’s time to start searching for grants that will help you bridge the gap.

If you are in charge of a campus budget, you now may be well aware of some surprise expenses that you weren’t expecting. More students may have arrived at your campus than you were expecting.  Maybe your population is a rapidly changing one, and you have a whole group of students now who have very limited English skills. You may realize that you are getting more and more students who are obese, and you feel like you are going to have to address the issue immediately, but you didn’t budget for it.

School life is often just like regular life. You have more needs and expenses than you have money coming in.Since we are not allowed for our campuses to go into debt, the solution may be fundraising or finding grants to cover the costs of these unexpected expenses. The amounts you can raise doing fundraisers is typically limited which leaves grants as your most promising solution for budget shortfalls.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll mention it again. When I was a middle school principal for a small Northeast Texas campus of 500 students, we stayed broke almost all the time. We had a host of things we wanted to do for our students, and we knew we weren’t getting any more money from the district.

We turned to grants and business partnerships to fund the projects we needed.In a three year period, we raised more than $300,000 to use on our campus. We built a 100-foot greenhouse for our science classes to use, put in a piano lab so that 110 of our students took piano every day, bought thousands of books for our library, bought computers for every classroom throughout the building, and made very sure that teachers never, ever spent their own money for the supplies and materials they needed.

 

I encourage you to look at grants as a way to fund the programs or the solutions to the problems that may have arrived along with your students at the beginning of the school year. Grants will not be the solution to every problem you have. Money is never the solution to all of our problems. But from my experience as an educator for 20 years, writing grants is the best solution to a school’s money problems much of the time.

Yes, applying for grants can be a hassle. No, they’re not fun to write, but the money they provide can help when you find problems and expenses that you weren’t expecting at the beginning of school.  Don’t delay. If you need money, grants may very well be your solution.

Let’s Get Back to School

If I were to choose the best times to write grants each year, I’d have to say September-October and January-February. More grants are available then, and most grant writers are working steadily during that time. At those times, you have information from yearly assessments for the fall grants you write, and you have the assessments from first semester for writing your winter grants.

If there are times you shouldn’t be writing grants, it would probably be when you are trying to get school started and when you are very close to the close of the school year.

Right now you should be focused on getting the school year off to a good start, both for you and the students for which you are responsible. Regardless of your position, the first weeks of school each year often determine how the remainder of the year will go and how much success you have throughout the year. It is much more important for you to focus on a good start than it is to write a grant.

But even as you focus on making that good start, you should also begin looking for changes that need to be made to your school, campus, or classroom. Every school has problems. With most budgets cut to the bare bones these days, anything above and beyond the normal curricula will probably have to come from grant money.

If you can pinpoint one or two areas that do not start well this year, you will soon have the beginning of school behind you, and you will be into the September-October prime grant-writing period. You might find that you need to provide extra after-school tutoring this year so that at-risk students can keep up. Or possibly you don’t have the computers and the software that you need to be most effective in your teaching.

Believe me, in most schools it shouldn’t take you long to find a list of problems that need correcting or a new program or two that you need to initiate. Unfortunately in most schools the problem is not in finding trouble areas, it’s having the money to fix those problem areas once we find them.

So, as you start school in the next few weeks, remember to concentrate on that good beginning. If you deal directly with students, you want to make sure that every day is a good one for them and that they accomplish as much as possible. If you don’t deal directly with students, you want to support those teachers who do in such a way that their job is as easy as you can make it.

We are fortunate in the school business that we get a new beginning each fall. It doesn’t matter how badly last year went, you have a chance each year to get the train back on the track and move it forward once again. Just remember, while you’re getting off to that great beginning, don’t forget to look for those problem areas that need mending. Once you find one or two of those, it won’t be long until you’ll want to start looking for grant money to support those positive changes.

Have a good year. Put a smile on your face and greet those students every day. Remember, if it weren’t for those students, we wouldn’t have school at all. Sometimes, I think we let that basic concept elude us for a while. The beginning of the school year is certainly the time to reaffirm it.

Consistency Is the Key

It is not unusual for schools to want or need grant money. Unfortunately, there’s a huge difference between wanting and actually receiving grants. The key to getting grant money — and to keeping it coming — is consistency. In the paragraphs that follow, I will identify three key areas where consistency counts when it comes to grants and grant writing.

First, to earn grants you must consistently assess school programs to identify weak or problem areas. You can’t do that just once a year or several times in one year and then stop. Assessment must be regular and ongoing. Some programs garner poor results from the start. Others may be successful for a while and then falter. It goes without saying that every program you use, whether it relates to reading, math, science, after-school, service learning, music… must be regularly assessed to ensure you’re reaching the goals you set. If you don’t do that, you won’t know you have problems and you won’t have the statistical documentation you need to successfully apply for grants.

Second, to win grants you must consistently search for the grants that align with your school’s needs. Grants are not all announced at the first of the year or the start of the school year. New and updated grant information is announced on a daily basis. If you are not routinely (and consistently) monitoring grant sources, you’re going to miss some of the very best grant opportunities. You should look for grants on a weekly basis, or at the very least once a month, because many grants have fairly short deadlines.

Third, you must consistently apply for grants. Winning grant money is a numbers game. The more quality grant applications you put in the mail or send via the Internet, the greater your chances of winning grant money. Send in just one application and you may or may not be awarded grant money. Send in five applications and your chances have improved dramatically. Apply for ten grants and you’re almost assured of getting at least some grant money.

There has never been more grant money available. Consequently, there has never been a better time to apply for grants. And the best way to ensure that your school gets its share of this grant money is to be consistent.

  • Consistently assess the needs of your school.
  • Consistently search for grants that match closely with your school’s needs.
  • Consistently apply for those grants over the coming weeks and months.

Then, and only then, will you consistently win the grant money your school needs to correct its problems, build achievement, and ensure success.