Category Archives: choosing grants

Am I Spinning My Wheels?

money backpack briefcase

After you have a few grant applications under your belt, and you still don’t have a grant in hand, it’s easy to become discouraged. Be brave, there are hundreds (probably thousands) of grant opportunities out there just waiting for the right program idea to attract and woo grant makers. I hear teachers ask, “What am I doing wrong?” My response is always, “You’re not doing anything wrong, just excercise patience and persistence.” There are some key tips to improving your chances of success, but mostly it’s believing in your school, your programs and your idea that will bring home the bacon. Grant writing is also about building relationships. When you identify a potential grantor, don’t be shy, get to know the people in the organization.

The two main types of competitive grants that we are interested in:

1)    Foundation grants

2)    Corporate grants

These are the grant opportunities you will find in the Grants Database on the Discount School Supply® website.

“Competitive” means that you have an equal opportunity to secure the funds available from the grantor, assuming you meet eligibility requirements, and you have a program that meets the grantor’s agenda. Corporations and foundations set up their funding arms to solve problems they feel are important in their communities. Get to know what these issues are, the Grants Database provides links to the organization’s website, you will find plenty of information there for learning what they have set out to accomplish with their charity.

Most of the thousands of foundations that give grant money to schools will continue to do so year after year. They are required to give a certain amount of grant money each year in order to keep their tax-exempt status. While it is true that some foundations may give less money than they have in the past, due to economic downturns, they will still be sponsoring grants. Good news is, as we approach fall of 2013, corporate profits are up, a piece of those profits must go out to the community. Unfortunately, foundations do not typically advertise their grant programs. You have to search for opportunities in a grant database or find them on the Internet. That’s where the Grants Database comes in—it will become a valuable tool as you move forward to snag those dollars.

Schools that write good, strong, competitive grant proposals well before the deadline will get their share. And schools that consistently and persistently apply for grants year after year, will reap benefits. Don’t get discouraged, you can make sure your school gets its share of available grants.

  • Keep your program ideas aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
  • Be data driven
  • Use your test scores to illustrate your needs.

For instance, if you need a new reading program, include graphs and charts about reading scores. Much of this data can be found right in your own district office, or your state education department will no doubt supply the information you need on their websites.  Funding for supplies can often be found as an “in-kind” donation. If you have a technology company in your town, they might step up and give your school some new computers. Or if you already have a grant for an after school program, approach another foundation for a “matching grant”. This foundation’s job will be to provide that last piece of support you need to make your program a success. Make sure their contribution is not treated like an “extra”; the funder needs the acclaim and advertising that comes with any community gift.

With persistence and patience, the brass ring will get closer all the time!

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How Do You Research Grant Opportunities?

Most grants are competitive. When you approach most grant possibilities, there are many others seeking the same funds. An essential way to make sure you get your grant funded is to do research on both the grant itself and the grantor involved.

Whether you get your initial information about a grant from a grant database like the one provided for you by Discount School Supply®, a newsletter, or a blog such as this one, you never get complete information about the grant in the synopsis provided;  you have to do some research. The better your research, the better your chance of getting grant money.

Your very best source of information about an individual grant is the grantor’s website. Almost all of the organizations that give grants these days have a website. Most of them are very good about giving pertinent information about their organization and the individual grant or grants they give. There are clues in those sites that transcend the information provided about their giving habits. What industry are they in? Who sits on their Board of Trustees? Does the grantor have a meet-and-greet conference each year? (These are often worth a plane fare to attend). You will learn so much at these events and meet some key people.

Your research should focus on a few key points. You can develop a checklist of the points you wish to cover in your study. First, you must make absolutely sure that your school or organization is eligible for the grant you’re researching. You might not be in the right region, state, area, or city to qualify for the grant. Some grants are very restrictive. Being a public school might disqualify you. Being a private school might disqualify you. You might need to be a 501(c)(3) organization to qualify for the grant, call or email the grantor to be sure. 501(c)(3) is an IRS designation that basically means “non-profit organization”. Many school districts create their own “Friends of the XYZ Schools” 501(c)(3) non-profit just so they can be eligible for the millions of dollars provided in these restricted grant opportunities. This process is not for the faint of heart; you might want to consult your school district attorney before you venture into this thicket.

Once you’re sure you qualify for a grant, you need to make absolutely certain you know the deadline for submitting your application. Sometimes grantors require you to submit a letter of intent or have you take a qualification quiz weeks before the application is due.  If you miss the deadline for those types of pre-qualifiers, the actual grant deadline date is unimportant because your application will not be considered anyway. Read all of the information on a grantor’s website to make sure you do not miss any type of deadline that might be posted.

You should next do research to see how closely your reasons for needing grant money and the grantor’s reason for giving grant money coincide. If the grantor gives money for quality after-school programs, but you have a reading problem, the question then becomes can you tailor an after-school reading program that will benefit your students and raise their test scores. If you can, you probably have a match.  If you can’t work the reading program you need into a quality after-school program, you should just look for another grantor.

Finally, make sure you jot down the contact information for the grantor, especially the grant contact person.  Get both the email address and phone number if they are available. I would recommend never writing a grant without having a conversation with that contact person first.  That exchange itself is an important piece of research. You should be able to get some type of indication from the contact person whether or not you should submit an application. The contact person will not tell you whether or not you will get grant money, but you can often tell from that person’s responses if it is worth your time to actually apply for the grant.

So, after you use the Discount School Supply® free grant database, you still have some work to do.  If you find a grant that looks like a good fit for your school or organization, it is then time to put on your researcher’s hat and start digging on the grantor’s website.  It’s absolutely worth your time to do this research before starting to write any grant application.

The Final Step: Beating the Grant Deadline

Over the past several issues we have discussed in detail how to find appropriate grants for your school and how to complete applications that help ensure your school receives the grant money it needs.

The final step in this process is to complete your application and get it in the mail at least one week prior to the deadline. If you don’t meet a grantor’s deadline, the granting entity will not consider your application. What a waste — and what a disappointment — to do all that work and not even have your application considered!

While getting your grant application in on time may not seem like a big deal, you might be surprised how many grant writers wait until the very last minute to mail their applications. One grant-writer friend of mine is a famous procrastinator. She often pulls all-nighters to finish grant applications on time. She lives in East Texas, and there have been times when she has sent her husband on the 300-mile mad dash to Austin because it was the only way she could beat the deadline for a grant sponsored by the Texas Education Agency. I have to say that she is a great grant writer. She wins a very high percentage of the grants she writes. But why go through all that stress and torment when you could simply do a better job of planning?

It takes a lot of preparation and hard work to write and submit a good grant application. The last thing you need is to be stressed at the end of the process because of a looming deadline. Before you ever begin to fill out a grant application, you must create a plan — a timeline — that leaves time to fine-tune the application before mailing it. A plan with a little padding leaves room for emergencies, too. You can never fully predict emergencies that might come up at your school or in your life that could take precedence over completing a grant application. So creating a plan — and sticking to that plan as much as possible — will help ensure that your grant application arrives safely and on time.

With the potential for emergencies in mind, you should always set a deadline for completing your grant application a minimum of one week before it is due. Even a week will not guarantee that a mailed application will arrive on time. You also need to be absolutely certain whether the deadline the grantor established refers to the postmark on the application or the date when the application must reach the grantor’s office. If you do not know that information, call or email the grant’s contact person to make certain.

One more word of warning: be careful about trusting guaranteed delivery times. Those guarantees usually mean you will get your shipping fee back if your package does not arrive on time. That’s great for what it’s worth, but getting your $20 mailing fee refunded while missing your chance at a $250,000 grant won’t help your students. Just remember that “Overnight” does not necessarily mean overnight. And “Guaranteed Delivery” does not mean that your shipper can absolutely guarantee that your package will arrive on time.

The responsibility for ensuring that your application arrives on time sits squarely on your shoulders. You must create a schedule for writing your grant, and you have to keep to that schedule. As you create and follow that schedule, be sure to allow plenty of time for your grant application to reach the grantor several days before the published deadline.

The Seven Steps
Over the last few months, we have discussed the seven steps needed to find, research, and write successful grant applications. Those steps include
1. finding a problem in your school that needs correcting,
2. developing a solution to the problem,
3. finding a grant that fits your situation,
4. confirming that you are eligible for that grant,
5. gathering the application and all the data you will need to complete your grant application,
6. actually completing the application, and
7. getting your application to the grantor by the grant’s deadline.

If you consistently follow those seven steps, you will consistently win grant money for your school. Whether you write one grant or 20 grants this year, follow that process. It will make you more successful as a grant writer than you ever imagined.

The 4th Step: Finding Likely Grants & Making the Call

If you want to secure grant money for your school, the first step is to understand in detail the main issues your school faces. The second step is to develop a solution that has the greatest likelihood of solving one of those problems. The third step is to find all possible grants that might fund your solution. And the fourth step — the subject of this issue’s article — is to narrow down the list of grants to those whose criteria match your needs and then call a contact person to verify that match.

Over the course of a year, hundreds of grants will become available to your school. The tricky part, however, is finding among all those grants the few that might fund your plan and support your goals. That’s why it is so important to employ a comprehensive grant database. A grant database allows you to search quickly and easily for grants that match your needs. Yes, you could use your favorite Internet search engine to locate grants, but you will need to wade through thousands of search results — many of which won’t apply to your type of school, won’t match up with your specific needs, or have deadlines that have already passed. A good grant database allows you to tailor your searches and find likely matches in minutes rather than hours, days, or weeks.

Even when you use a good grant database, you still have additional work to do. In just a few minutes, a database can provide 30 reading grants for private schools in your state or 50 math grants for public schools. Once you’ve narrowed down and identified those grants, then your real work begins: you must search through those grants to find the ones for which you qualify. You will be able to eliminate some that don’t tie in with your goals. You will eliminate others for which you might not qualify because your school doesn’t meet one or more of the grant’s criteria.

TWO INVALUABLE RESOURCES

Fortunately, good databases provide two essential resources to support your grant research.

The first resource is a live link to the grant’s website. Use that link to find every bit of information you can about the grantor and the specific grant. Typically, the website will list more grant restrictions than a short database entry can list. If you find anything that clearly disqualifies your school from receiving a particular grant, simply go on to the next grant on your list. Almost anything you would want to know about grantors or the grants they offer can be found on their websites. Those websites are invaluable tools that will help you determine if you and that grant/grantor are a good match.

The second resource is a phone number or email address so you can communicate directly with the grant’s contact person. Once you are quite sure that a grant matches the needs of your school, call or email the contact person. (I prefer calling that person myself.) I never start completing a grant application without first getting in touch with the contact. While that contact person cannot tell you that you will get the grant money you seek, he or she can certainly confirm that you are eligible to apply. You might also pick up from the person’s voice a tone that is either encouraging or discouraging. If that tone is particularly negative, I would recommend moving on to the next grant on your list. I would definitely make this call — even if it is hard for you to do — because it can save you hours and hours of needless work.

If you don’t make use of those two resources, you are wasting valuable time.

IN SUMMARY…
The fourth key to finding lots of grant money for your school is matching your school’s specific needs with grants that meet those needs. To find those matches…

Use a good, comprehensive database to narrow down the list of grants for which you might qualify.
Once you find possible matches, use the live links provided in the database to do research on the grantor’s Web site.
After you determine that your school is eligible for a particular grant, call the grant’s contact person to verify your eligibility and elicit any tips for applying for that grant.