Category Archives: grant money

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.

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Do You Have What It Takes? Self-Evaluation for Would-Be Grant Writers

The summer is here, it’s a good time to see if you have what it’s going to take to mount an effective grant seeking campaign, and it’s the time to gather your energy to do so.

At any time during the school year many teachers and administrators decide they need to find grant money for their schools.  With budget cuts that many schools have suffered the last couple of years, I’m sure that this year will not be an exception.  Many educators will want to find grant money.  The question becomes, “Do you have what it takes to go out and get the grant money you need?” This is a question that individuals need to ask themselves, and school leaders need to ask about their school communities. Grant writing is a process, and it’s about developing relationships within and outside your school community. There are no short cuts.

I believe that any school community can find grant money if it wants it badly enough.  But any educator who is going to be a successful grant writer must possess three characteristics: desire, determination, and persistence.  Without these characteristics, you might find some grant money, but you will not do so consistently. Many begin with a great deal of energy but then burn out.

First, to be successful, a grant writer must have a strong desire to solve a problem.  Typically, this problem will involve a deficiency in the educational program at your school and must be solved in order for students to achieve to their potential.  It doesn’t matter if your students are behind in math, reading, science, social studies, writing, or in the arts.  As a grant writer, you must dispassionately look at your problems and deficiencies. They are unacceptable, but they provide a compelling rationale for starting the search to find the grant money to eliminate them.

Second, if you are going to be a successful grant writer, you must have determination.  You must identify your problem, find a logical solution, seek out grantors that provide support for solutions to your type of problem, and fill out their grant applications properly and proficiently.  You must extract the data that supports your contention that you have a problem. You must review that extraction process, often you’ll find you are drowning in data, and you need to pick out the most important evidence for study. You must study until you find the proper grants that match well with your problem.  These are difficult and time consuming tasks, and you must show marked determination if you are to be successful as a grant writer. It’s often like going back to school, all those study skills will now pay off.

Finally, you must be persistent.  It is rare to have a problem at a school, write one grant, receive the grant money, and have your problem corrected.  More often, you must write multiple grants to be assured of getting enough grant money to tackle your problem.  It is only beginning grant writers who believe that finding a single grant opportunity will be enough to solve their problems with one stroke.  You may find that a multi-faceted program emerges that requires the energies and resources of several grant providers to fulfill. Grant providers often prefer to be part of larger plan to solve problems, but be sure they know they will receive the recognition they deserve for being part of that plan.

Any school can get grant money.  I won’t say that it will be easy or that you’ll get grant money the first time you try. If you are a person who truly desires to make your school a better place, who is determined to make a difference by seeking grant support, and who is persistent enough to continue to apply for grants until your problems are solved, you will be a successful grant writer.

The Third Step: Finding Possible Grants

If you want to secure grant money for your school, the first step is to understand in detail the main problems/needs your school faces. The second step — the subject of the last blog — is to develop a solution that has the greatest chance to solve that problem. And the third step is to locate all possible grants that might help fund your solution.

Grants available to schools fall into three basic categories: federal grants, state grants, and foundation or corporate grants. Federal and state grants are generally larger, and their applications are longer and more difficult to complete. Foundation and corporate grants typically yield schools less money, but their applications are less complex. That means you can usually fill out several foundation applications in the time it takes to complete one federal or state application.

Many educators attempt to locate grants on the Internet by using search engines or by subscribing to grant newsletters. Those methods tend to be inefficient and end up costing both time and money. The best way to locate potential grants is to use a grant database. The more comprehensive and up-to-date the database, the better it will serve your needs.

Your very best choice for using a grant database is the free one offered by Discount School Supply®.  It is large, free, and fairly comprehensive.  By far the most comprehensive grant database available to educators is the School Funding Center Grant Database. It contains virtually all federal, state, foundation, and corporate grants available to schools in the United States. Old grants are removed and new grants are posted on a daily basis. The one drawback to using this database is the cost — $397.00 per year. While relatively expensive, it still saves educators both time and money because of its comprehensive nature. First, use the free database provided by Discount School Supply®.  If you need even more grant information, go the database provided by The School Funding Center.

If you are looking specifically for federal grants, another good database to use is ED.gov Grants. This resource comes directly from the federal government, and it is free. It lists every federal education grant available to schools in the United States. It does not list state, foundation, or corporate grants. If you use this grant resource, you will still want to track down discretionary grants for schools.

If you are specifically looking for state grants, your best bet is to go to your state education agency’s website. Some of those sites include good grant databases that will help you locate current state grants. Others are not so good — or worse than that — and will take a little more work on your part. Go to ED.gov’s Education Resource Organizations Directory page to find your state education agency’s website. If your state’s site does not have “grants” or “funding” listed in its menu bar, type “grants” into the search box on the site to see if you can find listings that way.

If you are specifically looking for foundation grants, your best bet is to go to the Foundation Center. This organization lists thousands and thousands of foundations in its database. Many of those foundations offer grants to schools. The database is good for finding foundation grants, but the subscription cost ranges from $595.00 – $995.00 per year depending on the number of foundations you want listed in your searches. The more comprehensive the database you wish to search, the more your subscription will cost.

While you can find grant listings in many places, if you want to find all of the grants available to you quickly and easily, you will want to use one or more of the grant databases listed above. Remember, grant writers should use their time to write grants, not look for them. Save both time and money by using a good, established school grant database to locate the funding solutions you need in order to improve student achievement.

Get All the Grant Money You Need

I wish there were secrets for getting grant money for your school.  If there were, I’d be more than happy to share them with you in this blog.  But there are no secrets to getting grant money. You can get your share of grants provided you follow the proper steps consistently. Most of the schools that don’t win grant money either don’t apply for grants or do so in a haphazard way. Below are seven critical steps that I believe you need to follow and apply in order to secure grant money for your school. I will break down each of these steps in more detail in future blogs, but please don’t wait for those blogs to start using this information.  You should be applying for grants right now for summer school and the fall semester.

1. Understand in detail the problems your school faces. If you want to secure grant money for your school, the first step is to understand in detail the problems your school faces. To understand the problems and their severity, you must consistently perform needs assessments. A good needs assessment will measure the difference between what you expect to happen in your classroom, school, or district and what actually happens. The wider the gap between expectations and actual outcomes, the larger the problem you have.

2. Develop a solution that has the greatest chance of solving the problem. Once you have identified your greatest problem, the second step toward obtaining grant money is to develop the solution that has the greatest chance of solving your problem. That solution will entail details about personnel, programs, time, and materials that will be needed to accomplish your goal. For example: What will it take to get your students reading on grade level rather than 1.5 years behind the national average? You must develop a plan and have every expectation that it will work. As a part of the plan development process, you must develop a reasonable budget that details what it will cost to implement your plan.

3. Begin looking for grant money to pay for your program. Assuming that you do not have the money in your regular budget to finance your plan, step three is to begin looking for grant money to pay for your program. Since your time writing grants is more valuable than your time looking for them, I strongly recommend that you use a comprehensive school-grant database to match your needs with a grant from the federal government, your state government, a corporation, or a foundation. It is vitally important that you match your needs as closely as possible with a granting entity that uses its grant money to help schools solve the type of problem you are experiencing.  Obviously, you should use the free Discount School Supply® school grant database first.

4. Verify that your school is eligible for the grants you will seek. The match between your needs and the granting agency’s requirements is so important that it leads directly to step number four: always call the person listed as the contact for the grant(s) you seek and verify that your school is eligible for that grant (those grants). If you are not eligible, or you sense a negative response from the contact person, you should immediately go back to step three and start the matching process again. If you are going to be successful in getting grant money, you must have good, verified matches.

5. Obtain the grant application and read it carefully. Step five involves gathering information. Once you know you have a match between your needs and a grantor, you should obtain a copy of the grant application, read it carefully, and gather all the statistics and other information you will need about your school and your needs in order to complete the grant application.

6. Complete the application. Write clearly and concisely. Follow all directions to the letter, including the font style and type size that you use to prepare the application. Complete every section of the application. To be sure you do a quality job, complete each section as if it were the only section on the application. You will be competing for this money with other schools. A quality application is essential.

7. Get your application in the mail a week before the deadline. The final step is to complete your application and get it in the mail at least one week before the deadline. Overnight delivery does not always mean your package will be delivered the next day. If your package is late, you may be able to reclaim the postage you paid; but if you’ve missed the grant deadline, the granting entity will not consider your application.

That’s it. Follow those seven steps, and you will get more than your share of grant money. For more detail on these steps, watch the next seven blogs to make this seven-step process work even better for you.

Developing a Plan to Fix Your Problem

If you are looking for grant money to fix a problem in your school, I hope you have developed a checklist to follow. You should:  1) define the problem you need to address, 2) develop a plan that has a good chance of fixing the problem, 3) use a grant database to find grantors who are interested in helping you fix that type of problem, 4) complete a grant application in a way that lays out the problem you have, the plan to fix it, and a budget to show how the grant money will enable you to put your plan in place.

Today, I want to focus on the plan you develop to fix your problem.  My first suggestion is not to get too creative. There’s little chance that the problem your school is facing has not been encountered hundreds of times before.  Sorry, but most problems are just not that unique. Chances are also that someone who has faced this problem before has developed a very good solution for fixing the problem. Why reinvent the wheel if you can find something that’s already working somewhere else?

I will caution you, however, to find a school that is similar to your own when you look for possible solutions. It’s not the same when one school has 80% of their students who are economically disadvantaged and another school has 20%. They might have both overcome a reading problem similar to the one you have, but the students and their individual problems might be vastly different.  Look for a school that has a similar student population and similar resources if at all possible.

You should be able to find a plan that will work for you by attending appropriate conferences, getting in touch with your local education service center, through large education sites on the Internet, or even Google if you do your research properly.  And yes, once you find a good program you might even have to make a few adjustments to make it fit your school, but be very careful.  If you’re not sure exactly what made the program successful in another school, you might make a change that will also change the results you get in your own school.

You will also probably be able to find commercial products that can help you solve your problem.  While some people hate it and some people love it, I can tell you that Accelerated Reader from Renaissance Learning helped to turn our entire middle school around. But I can also tell you that we had proper training and ran the program exactly as it was recommended. Far too often when schools depend on a commercial product, they do little training and typically run the program the way they think is best rather than the recommended way. If you do that, I will tell you that it won’t work at least 90% of the time and both your effort and your grant money will be wasted.

The key is to find a program that works with your type of population. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a program developed by a teacher or administrator or one that another school found in a catalog.  It should have a proven track record with schools similar to yours, and it should be implemented just as the developers recommend.  If you find that type of program, if you implement that type of program, you are very likely to get similar results.  You will have solved your problem, and the grant money you used will be money well spent.

One of the key ingredients of any grant application is the plan you develop to fix your problem. Make sure you develop a plan that has the very best chance of success and give details how it has worked before in other schools similar to yours. When you do that, you greatly increase your chances of winning grant money.

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.

Have Any New Year’s Resolutions?

Happy New Year! The economy is not great. You probably don’t have the best budget you’ve ever had, but as an educator, the New Year affords you the opportunity to make some choices and some changes. You might want to go in a new direction. Since you are not likely to have a lot of extra money in the budget, that may mean that 2012 will be the Year of the Grant for you.

Of course, you could be a Doomsday enthusiast and firmly believe the world as we know it will end in December, 2012. If you happen to fall into that group, you may just want to enjoy yourself or start survival training. You probably believe that nothing you can do will help to avert the disaster, so you are resigned to this final act of fate.                                                                                
If you don’t belong in that small Doomsday Group, maybe you’re in the much, much larger Status Quo Group. You probably believe that nothing is going to change in your school regardless of how much effort you put forth, so it is best to just let things roll along as they are now and as they have always been. Besides, there’s no money for new programs or even enough money to significantly change the old programs that aren’t working. Nothing changed last year. Nothing will change next year. Nothing you can do now will change the current year. If that’s your thinking, then you’re as Status Quoas you can get.
The rest of you probably fall into my group: The New Year’s Resolution Group. You may have never stuck with a New Year’s resolution in the past, but you still make them because you are optimistic and believe things can change for the positive. In fact, you believe that you are an important part of your school system. Your thoughts and deeds can make your school a better place, and you are an important part of the change process.
Granted, there is probably little or no money in the budget for new programs or dramatic changes in the old programs, but that is why federal and state governments, foundations, and corporations give grant money to schools. Grant money should never be used to sustain an unsuccessful program. Grant money should be used to develop new, promising programs or to fix the ones which can be significantly improved.

New Year’s resolutions can be powerful motivators. Write them down. Share them with your fellow educators. Solicit their help in reaching your goals. Your enthusiasm is likely to be contagious and infect those around you. 

Here’s the question:  “Do you want to be a part of the small Doomsday Group, a part of the very large Status Quo Group, or a part of the medium-sized, but powerful New Year’s Resolution Group?” Be a positive, optimistic educator, if not for yourself, for every student you will touch for the remainder of this year. Make this year the year of change for your school, the Year of the Grant.