Category Archives: grant applications

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.

Organize Next Steps

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

white board

I highly recommend getting a dry erase white board. A big one so you can create a timeline for the development and completion of your grant project. Writing a grant is not about creating a document on a deadline. It’s about a project, with many moving parts. You will be distracted by other things, like life. Getting organized is easier for some than others. In my life it has been a real struggle. I’m the one seen running down the hall in my platforms, papers flying, screeching “OMG, I’m late.” There goes Neva again.

There are helpful software programs that can guide you through organization phases. I like something called “Simplicity”, its name speaks volumes, it has a very small learning curve and creates nice visual organization tools you can use to manage yourself, and to communicate timelines to grantors.

Organize/structure the proposal.  I shared this outline last time, it bears repeating. This is just one look at a way to organize the information you want to share with your potential grantors. They will have strong opinions about how they want this to look also.

  • Abstract (consider writing your abstract last; it will allow for more concise, project specific information)
  • Problem Statement or Significance of Project
  • Project Purpose (overall goal and specific objectives)
  • Research Design or work plan (activities and timelines)
  • Applicant qualifications and capabilities
  • Evaluation Plan – assessments
  • Budget (summary and justifications – refer back to the design/work plan)
  • Sustainability (how will you pay for the program when the grant is gone?)
  • Appendix (everything else, if allowable)

Every once in a while, pull back and evaluate where you are going. This is the deep breath part. A grant writer is always in danger of missing the big picture. You get pulled into the minutiae of budgets and document creation. Remember the mission; you and other stakeholders are solving a problem that you have identified by taking a long dispassionate look at your data.

You can further break down your outline when you approach the narrative portion of the application. It might look like this;

  1. Project Narrative
    1. Goals and Objectives
    2. Proposed Activities
    3. Facilities and Resources (laying the foundation for your budget)
    4. Evaluation (how will you assess whether you met your goals)
    5. Dissemination (how will the public be informed of your project and results)

I’m not trying to muddy the water with more steps. My point is there is no one way to approach the narrative portion of the application. The key is to make sure you are touching on all the important things your grantor needs to know about you, your project and your school. You are setting out from a position of pride. There is a great deal of good stuff going on in your school. You can reveal this by presenting a positive tone in your narrative, but make no mistake, your school has issues, you don’t have enough money to solve them in your city budget, and you are appealing to the foundation to join you in a long range relationship to eliminate the problems you’ve discovered.

In general, foundations and corporations are great partners. They are enthusiastic and want to dig in and help. One of the best ways a local company can help is by providing volunteer support for projects. Get the employees in to your school for after school programs, many of them may have attended your school, it gives them a chance to give back. It also lets them see the problems up close and personal. You don’t need to convince when they are right in there with you.

So, create a timeline, when will all of this activity bring valid solutions to your problems? It may be sooner than you think.

Organize Your Approach

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

money backpack briefcase

You are getting ready to write the grant, you may have a notebook filled with notes from encounters you’ve had with stakeholders about the direction for your project and your funding priorities.

Now is the time to organize your thoughts in an outline as you develop the structure for your project. Sometimes the foundation will share a winning application with a fledgling applicant. Don’t steal the words, but certainly use it as a template for what you write. Here’s a template I have used for sections to include in the narrative but check the grantor’s application guidelines very carefully. Each grant narrative is a unique opportunity to explain your school’s priorities and needs.

Organize/structure the proposal.

  • Abstract (consider writing your abstract last; it will allow for more concise, project specific information)
  • Problem Statement or Significance of Project
  • Project Purpose (overall goal and specific objectives)
  • Research Design or work plan (activities and timelines)
  • Applicant qualifications and capabilities
  • Evaluation Plan – assessments
  • Budget (summary and justifications – refer back to the design/work plan)
  • Sustainability (how will you pay for the program when the grant is gone?)
  • Appendix (everything else)

Follow the grantor’s instructions for formatting to the letter. A common mistake grant seekers make is to send in an application that has 25 pages when the instructions said not to exceed 15 double spaced pages. The double spaced part is important too – they mean it and will not read one that is single spaced, you’ll have to wait until next year to try again.

If they want the application signed by the superintendent, the principal will not be enough, they want the superintendent, and it proves the district is in support of this effort. Many grant writers venture off on their own to write a grant. They think the end will justify the means, that they will be a hero for taking initiative. Not in this case. Be sure all those in authority in your district are informed about your school’s project and the rationale for your grant approach. Work with your principal, she may want to include people in the loop that you might not have thought about.

Many grant seekers make another mistake by running all over town collecting letters of support from various dignitaries. Unless they specifically request 3 letters of support from members of the community, don’t look for those supporters, their letters will annoy the grantor. Toward the end of the process, after many phone calls have been made to the foundation to tighten the narrative, and cross every “t”, a phone call from the superintendent thanking the foundation for giving you the opportunity to apply might be a nice touch.

This is the time you may want to bring your school district business manager into the mix. He or she has done a million budgets; they know what one is supposed to look like. If successful, your grant funds will have an impact on the district’s general budget, you want to make sure they know what you’re up to. You’re also looking for sustainability. Who will pay for your project when the grant ends? You business manager may have some ideas about this important piece of the puzzle.

Use the form the grantor provides for the budget, now is not the time to be creative. There is almost always a separate page called “budget justification”. This is the place where line by line you explain in greater detail how the funds requested will be spent. Don’t estimate, get quotes from suppliers, explain that you have sent three requests out for bid, the prices you are quoting are the lowest of the three. I will go into much more detail about building budgets in future articles, this is a broad brush stroke of the process. The bidding process will require an article all its own for instance.

Foundation and corporate grants generally will not pay for staff. So if you’re putting salaries in the budget, you should have prior approval from the foundation for that expense. Likewise, building projects, if you’re writing a grant for construction of a building, this needs to be pre-approved. Building projects are the single most difficult appeal to make, they are better left to the city budget.

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!

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.

Step 5: Gathering Info & Requesting a Grant Application

Over the past several weeks I have shared steps one through four to follow as you attempt to secure grant money for your school. Those first four steps include: 1. Understanding the hurdle(s)/issue(s) your school faces. 2. Developing a solution to address those issues. 3. Finding all possible grants to fund your solution. 4. Matching your needs with likely grant sources.

Step five is obtaining the actual grant applications for your top one or two grant matches and gathering all the information you need to complete those applications.

First and foremost, you need to understand a grantor’s application process and obtain an application form far enough in advance of the deadline so you are not rushed when it comes time to fill it out. If you plan ahead, you are much more likely to submit a competitive grant application.

You should be aware that different organizations use different types of grant applications. Quite a few foundations require no more than a letter that explains your school’s problem, your planned solution, and a budget that details the money you need. That letter takes the place of a formal application. In other cases, some groups or foundations use common grant applications. But most foundations, states, and federal agencies use unique, detailed applications for each grant they sponsor. Grant seekers must obtain the specific application required to apply for each grant.

The type of application required for each grant you seek is typically listed on the grantor’s website. In many cases, you will find, complete, and submit your application without ever leaving the grantor’s site. More often, however, grantors provide applications you can download to your computer and print out at your convenience.

Finally, some grantors require you to submit a request for an application in writing. If the grantor has a website, an email usually meets this requirement, and the application will be mailed or emailed to you. If the grantor does not have a website, both the request for an application and the return of the application will be accomplished using regular mail.

It’s important to know all the details of the application process up front so you can plan your time well and not be rushed.

Once you obtain the application, read it thoroughly — several times. Concentrate on the different kinds of information you will need in order to complete the application. Although quite a bit of the application will require you to supply information in narrative form, you will likely need statistics from several sources to verify your need for help. You will also have to develop a budget for your project.

Before you actually begin completing an application, gather all the reference materials and statistical information you will likely need and find a quiet place to work. Schedule sufficient time so you can complete the application without interruption. You don’t want to interrupt your writing every 15 minutes to look for some vital piece of information that you should have at your fingertips. Your writing should flow, and it will only do so if you’ve gathered all the tools and information before you sit down to write.

You will be two steps ahead of your competition if you have carefully read the application and gathered all the materials you will need to complete it without interruption. Good planning is a vital part of the grant application process.