Category Archives: completing grant applications

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.

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Step 7: Beating the Grants Deadline

Over the last few months, we have discussed the seven steps needed to find, research, and write successful grant applications.  As a reminder, the 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

The last one, getting your application to the grantor on deadline, is critical. I have seen beautiful grant application packages thrown out because they didn’t arrive on time. Months of hard work go out the window. With many foundations and federal grants, there is only one opportunity in a year to apply. Those applicants now must wait a year to try again. If it’s due by 5:00 Eastern Standard Time on Friday, they mean it. No exceptions, no excuses. Be sure you review how the application must be submitted—electronically or in the mail? Federal grants have always had a secure portal for applications. It has always been (in my experience) a tortuous experience; give yourself plenty of time to learn how to use the digital application process. You will get frustrated; take a deep breath, you’ll get there.

But it’s like many things with grants, the devil is in the details. By now, if you’ve followed through the first 6 steps, this one will be so ingrained in your thinking that it will be no problem. Right?

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. If the U.S. Postal Service is the conduit, be sure to send things certified mail, return receipt. The extra cost will be well worth the peace of mind.

For tracking your grant writing projects, you might want to buy a big wall easel to capture all your brainstorming, thinking webs, dates etc., They have them at Discount School Supply®.  Check out the Colorations® Wall Easel.

The first grant application you write is always the most difficult. Eventually you will be so good at it that the steps are automatic. But when you become good at this, you will be a hero, and that’s obviously a good thing!

Step 6: Completing Your Grant Application the Right Way

Once you’ve completed the first five steps in the grant process, you are ready to start filling out the grant application. You have already done a tremendous amount of work. You’ve identified a problem in your school that needs correcting, developed a solution, found a grant that fits your situation, confirmed that you are eligible for that grant, and gathered the application and all the data you will need to complete your grant application.

Completing an application is not all that difficult if you’ve done your homework — but it’s almost impossible if you haven’t. Your primary concern as you begin the application process is to carefully follow all instructions. You don’t want to be disqualified for something as simple as using the wrong type font or font size in your application. And, yes, some grantors are that particular.

Be sure to include four major components in any application regardless of how the application is laid out.

  • Describe the problem you have at your school with sufficient statistics to prove that you truly have a problem.
  • Give a detailed summary of your solution to this problem and give statistics or other information to show why you believe your solution will produce positive results.
  • Include an evaluation component to show how you will track progress throughout the program and exactly how you will determine the gains that were made at the end of the program.
  • Include a budget that shows where every dollar of the requested grant money will be spent.

Regardless of the way an application is organized, be sure you carefully complete every section. Some applications may have sections that don’t seem to apply to your situation. You have to remember, however, that competitive grants are generally scored on a point system. Every section of the application is worth a certain number of points. If you don’t complete a section, you get no points for that part of the application. Many applications are so competitive that a score of “zero” on one section will likely eliminate you from the competition.

As you complete the application, you might come to a section that asks you to describe the community involvement aspect of your plan. But what if you hadn’t planned on having a community involvement component? You must realize that if community involvement was not important to the grantor, it would not be a part of the application. If the section is there, it behooves you to go back to the solution you’ve developed and add a community involvement component. If you leave that section blank, you are not likely to be among the final competitors for the grant money.

Each section of a grant application is so important that you need to complete it as if it were the only section you were submitting. Why? Because you need to earn every point possible to stay competitive in your hunt for grant money.

As you complete your application, avoid using “cut and paste” information provided by vendors. Yes, they have great writers who prepare those descriptions, but you are doomed if the same descriptions show up on several applications for the same grant. The scorers see it as evidence that you are relying on a canned solution to your problem rather than personalizing your solution to fit your school’s needs. Similarly, you need to be careful about centering your whole grant request around a single commercial product. Grant money is typically awarded to those schools that seek money to establish well-rounded programs with multiple components — not to schools   that just want money to buy a single product.

Also, be sure you complete the application with language that is clear and concise. Don’t try to sound fancy or more educated than you are. You’re not trying to convince the grant readers how smart you are. You are trying to show them that you understand the problems at your school, and that you’ve come up with what you believe to be the right solution. To begin to put that solution into place, you need their grant money. It’s also always a good idea to let the grant readers know how much district money and other resources will be applied to the problem. Again, be straightforward, clear, and concise.

Completing a grant application is not all that difficult if you’ve done the necessary preliminary work. It’s exciting to know that you are in competition with other grant writers to get money for your school. If you closely follow the directions that accompany the application, lay out your problem clearly, describe your solution in detail, include an effective evaluation component, and develop a budget that is realistic and all-inclusive, then you will win grant money most of the time.

You will also get better with practice. As soon as you finish one application, start looking for your next grant. If you follow the steps that I’ve laid out over the past few posts, when it comes time to sit at your desk to complete a grant application, you’ll find that applying for most grants is really not that difficult.

Are You Completing Grant Applications Correctly?

I wouldn’t say there’s an art to completing grant applications, but there is a set of skills involved.  There are also correct ways to fill out grant applications and ways that are simply wrong.

First, you should read all the directions provided with an application before you begin. The directions may tell you that you have to apply online, use a certain font, use a certain type size, or have the application postmarked by a certain date. If you fail to follow any of the directions given for completing the application, your application will be disqualified and all your work done for nothing. You have to be sure you follow all the directions to the letter.

As you fill out your application, you should remember that each grantor has a motive for giving grants. It may be helping students from low socio-economic backgrounds to read better, making sure students know how to improve the environment, or helping students appreciate art and music more.  Whatever their reason for giving, the closer you match the program you are trying to implement to that motive, the greater your chance of winning the grant money. You want to let them know that you want to join their team and influence students the way they want them influenced. This is not a bad thing. Your application should just reflect that your philosophy matches theirs, and that’s why you’re completing the application.

Next, you need to complete every section of an application.  It doesn’t matter if it has four parts or twenty-four parts. You need to complete each one. Most of the applications that you complete will be for competitive grants. That usually means that each application is scored by the grant readers, and each section is given a point value. If you fail to complete a section or two, you may eliminate yourself from the competition. The winning grants may receive scores of 95 or above. If you failed to complete two sections worth five points each, you couldn’t possibly get a score above 90, thus eliminating you from the competition.

Each grant is competitive. Each section has a point value. The best advice I can give is for you to complete each part in the application as if were the only part. In other words, you have to do your very best on every section in order to get as many points as possible on every section. If you will approach the application in this way, you are much more likely to win grant money. 

Many people completing the application will not approach it in this fashion. They will expend less effort on sections they feel are less important. That will give you a distinct advantage. Each time a competitor skips a section or completes it in a half-hearted manner, you will gain points.

Most applications are not that difficult to complete. Follow directions carefully. Match your grant program to the philosophy of the grantor. Complete each section of the application as if it were the only section.If you follow these simple steps, you’ll win more than your share of grant money.

Quick Tips for Getting More Grant Money

Here are 25 quick tips for getting more grant money:

1.      Follow application directions carefully. All of them.

2.      Stay focused on your need for grant money. Don’t add fluff or filler to your application.

3.      Use a grant database to find grants quickly and easily.

4.      Before you write a grant, visit the grantor’s website.

5.      Be persistent. The more applications you complete, the greater your chance of getting grant money.

6.      Determine your school’s most pressing problems that could be aided using grant funding.

7.      Apply for less popular grants for less money. The competition is not usually as great.

8.      Don’t try to artificially match your needs to a grant. It’s usually a waste of time.

9.      Before you write a grant, get in touch with the grant contact person.

10.  Make sure you list all the money and resources on your application that you have available locally.

11.  Write multiple grants for a single project to make sure you get all the money you need.

12.  Competition can be fierce. Make sure your application is of the highest quality.

13.  Complete every section of an application as if it were the only section.

14.  If you are not good with budgets, get a partner to do the financial part of the proposal.

15.  Don’t focus on money. Focus on student achievement.

16.  Collect all pertinent student data (economic status, failure rate, dropout rate, race, gender, etc.) before writing your needs assessment.

17.   Apply for local and regional foundation grants. There is usually less competition.

18.  Have very clearly in your own mind what your school needs before you begin to describe it to a grantor.

19.  Develop a program that is measurable and replicable.

20.  Have a strong evaluation component that precisely measures the amount of improvement the grant money helped you achieve.

21.  Planning is extremely important in grant writing. Plan first, then write.

22.  Read your finished proposal as a grant reader would.It might surprise you.

23.  Establish a timeline for applying for grants. Never miss a deadline.

24.  Get help from those with the data you need.Don’t try to do everything yourself.

25.  Make sure you let your computer check for spelling and grammar errors.

The Perfect Time for a Grant Committee

I’ve written a time or two on this blog about forming grant committees. This is the perfect time for you to form your own grant committee at the campus or district level if you don’t already have one. If you do already have one, make sure it’s functioning properly.

Unfortunately, the fiscal climate for schools does not seem to be getting much better. Every superintendent I’ve heard from lately speaks of little else besides budget shortfalls and tightening budgets. One of the only ways many districts will be able to increase expenditures next year or even keep their budgets at the same level will be through an infusion of grant money. If you are in one of those districts and anticipate that you will need money on a district, campus, or even a classroom level, you need to be making plans now in order to win the grant money you need.

Most grants are competitive. To be able to submit grant applications that will be funded, your school must understand its most pressing problems, gather statistical information to prove you have problems, develop solutions to these problems, and develop budgets to remedy these problems. It doesn’t matter if your problem is an increasing gap in test scores between at-risk students and those who are not, an alarming decline in your reading scores, or increasing truancy numbers. You must define these problems, find solutions, and finance those solutions.
Good grant committees can do all of these things and much, much more. A grant committee can help define a school’s problems and use a comprehensive grant database to match grantors with those problems. Committees can find outside grant-writing help, fund the training of district or campus personnel in grant writing, or even have individuals or teams of committee members fill out grant applications.

While it is true that poor grant committees can slow the entire process down and get little accomplished, good grant committees tend to quickly focus on major problems, do intensive searches to find appropriate grants, and find grant writers who work quickly and efficiently to produce quality grant applications well before the grantors’ deadlines.

No more than 10-15% of all school districts in the United States have full-time grant writers. Almost no individual campuses have them. If you don’t have a full-time grant writer (and maybe even if you do), you need a grant committee to assess needs, find appropriate grants, and to assign someone to apply for those grants.

As school funding gets tighter over the next year or two, grant money will become more and more important to your district and your campus. I suggest that you form an active grant committee now.

Yes, times are tough. Grant money is becoming more and more important to schools everywhere. Get ahead of the game and ahead of the competition by forming your grant committee this week, not later than this month. Meet often at first. Assess those problems. Find grants that will fund your solutions. Get those grant applications in the mail in March, April, May, and throughout the summer.

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.