Category Archives: grant plan

Grant Writing – Your New Career?

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

pen writing

You are well on your way to finishing your narrative for your grant application to XYZ Foundation. I’ve been concentrating on the technical aspects of grant writing so you’ll have a template, outline and budget planner to use for any grant application process. Just in time for the holidays, let’s step back and scratch the itch I know you’ve been developing. What’s is like to write grants for a living?

First, I need to help you distinguish between grant writing and grants management. If you’re getting really good at this, and enjoy the process (deadlines and stress included), you may want to explore the wonderful world of a career in grantsmanship. If you are the go-to grants person in your school, you are a grant writer. Your school district most likely has a business manager (many are deputy superintendents) who takes the proceeds of successful grant applications and manages the cash flow and expenditure of those funds. If you haven’t done this yet, make an appointment to sit down with the district business manager to explain your progress and interest in working with him/her to make this process smooth and professional.

If this relationship is already perking along, and you are comfortable with your role and the lines around which you actually experience the money, you’ll also want to make sure your principal is aware of your desires and professional management skills. Your district superintendent will want to be in on these discussions, leaving any one of those people out of your conversation is very bad practice, and your new career will end quickly.

I began my career as a teacher and library media specialist who wanted to bring in some funds to improve my school/s. Sound familiar? Believe me, it is intoxicating when the approval letters start to arrive, and checks are cut. Be sure your foundation managers know to whom they will be sending the funds, and how the checks should be endorsed and deposited. Most likely, you will never see the check, unless it’s a small local grant from a merchant in town who has heard of your project. It is critical that these checks are handled correctly and handed over promptly to the appropriate parties. Make copies of everything, put your paperwork in a binder, and keep it secure. Create a duplicate binder for your business manager and update it for her frequently. Hand deliver checks or send via certified mail.

Pretty soon in my grant writing career, I knew I wanted to do this again, and again, and ….. I had no idea where to take this new found ambition. You have now entered the spooky world of school district politics. The way you approach this, and the manner in which you communicate your intentions is very important. Transparency rocks!

I knew I wanted to broaden my education, so I went back to school to finish a master’s degree in educational administration. Good education junkie that I am, this degree program was heady and full of promise, and I happily completed it for many reasons having nothing to do with grants. The possibilities are endless for advancement in public (or private) education. School districts need great leaders. Keep in mind your school year will lengthen, summer vacations will vanish, and your colleagues will look at you in a whole new light. Don’t get bogged down by faculty room nattering about “those idiots downtown” even if you’ve jumped right in to those conversations in the past. If your plans pan out, you’re about to become an idiot.

My first administrative job in a large urban district was in the curriculum office. This was ideal for me, coming from special education and library media, I could now broaden my outlook to curriculum k-12, a great vantage from which to view the needs of your learning community. If you remember you are creating with standards as your guide (Common Core State Standards), and all subjects as your palette, you can start painting pictures that illustrate the road to the improvement of academic achievement for your students. Remember, it’s not about the money; it’s really about children and their path to learning. You can become well rounded in the curriculum office, or as a principal.

Then as time went by and a position opened up in the grants office, I saw the opportunity and went to work. My responsibilities were for acquiring and managing state, federal, private and corporate grant resources for schools. There were times when I felt I was ill-suited for the job, bean counting and attention to meticulous detail were really not my forte, but I had a great staff of accounting clerks to help me keep it all straight.

I had big wipe off calendars on the wall to keep me on track, and with help from some professionals in the field, it has become a great career. I have now moved on to consulting, blogging and grant making, another avenue with promising career possibilities. For your perusal, I present you with some organizations that may help you decide if this is for you, and help you scratch your itch:

Networking: LinkedIn, Grant Manager Profiles

Education and Training: Lists of degree programs. Professional OrganizationsHow-to sites. and Blogs.

You’ll work long hours, have stressful days, and think you’ve lost your mind on several occasions, but you will join a group of professionals who are in it for the kids in a very big way. If it’s not about the kids, you’re in it for the wrong reason.

Let me know what you think!

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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.

A Grant Database is Good, But…

A free school grant database like the one Discount School Supply® provides is a tremendous asset, but you have to have a good program that you are looking to fund to make it useful. Many educators want to go out and find money when they don’t have a clear purpose in mind for using that money.  That’s not practical, and they rarely find grant money that way.

You need a program in mind that will either improve something you’re already doing at school or that will address a problem that has arisen at your school. If you have a reading problem at your school, and you have a good reading program which is simply underfunded, you might find a grant that will provide you with the additional funding. Maybe you have an after-school tutoring program that is working well, but you don’t have the money to fund enough tutors for all the students that need tutors. A grant could make a good program much better by allowing you to hire all the tutors you need.

On the other hand, you may have a reading problem and no program in place that is likely to fix that problem. Maybe you need an after-school reading tutorial program that will allow tutors to work with individual students or small groups. Such a program might be an excellent candidate for grant funding if established and run in the proper way.

You need to have everything you’re going to do and all the people and supplies you will need down on paper in a working model before you apply for grant money. The grantors are going to want to be able to visualize your program and how it will work before they fund it. If you can’t visualize the program yourself well enough to put it down on paper, don’t expect grantors to lay out the money you need to start or improve your program.

A good way to get a grasp on your overall program is to do a five-part planning document:

1)      Define the problem you have using as many statistics as possible to make the problem clear and concrete.

2)      Describe the comprehensive program you want to establish that has an excellent chance of positively impacting your problem.

3)      Give details of the growth that is likely to occur as a result of your program.

4)      Give details of how you will measure that growth (pre-, post-tests, state tests, nationally-normed tests, etc.)

5)      Make a detailed list of exactly what you will need in terms of people, equipment, and supplies in order to make the program successful.  Be sure to list what your district or campus is supplying and any other grant money that you may be using.

When a grantor sees that you’ve done this level of planning, you will have an excellent chance of receiving grant money if you use the grant database to make good matches for your program.  Find all the grants that you might qualify for and then narrow your list down to the two or three that most closely match your needs.

If you’ve done your part in the planning stages of your program, and you get good matches from the grant database, you are very likely to win the grant money you are seeking. It’s not magic. It’s just good planning and hard work.

The Second Step: Developing a Solution

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

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

1) Although we had a serious school-wide reading problem, only our very poorest readers attended reading classes.
2) Although we knew that reading was a skill, we did not provide enough time durng the school day for our students to practice that skill.
3) Monitoring large amounts of independent reading is difficult without enough computers and specialized software.

With that knowledge, we were able to put together a comprehensive plan in which

• all students, regardless of their reading levels, would attend a reading class.
• each student would spend one hour each day in reading practice on appropriate-level materials.
• we would use the STAR reading test to determine the beginning reading levels of students and to measure growth.
• we would use Accelerated Reader software to monitor students’ daily reading.

In addition, we would initiate “structural” changes in order to meet the needs of our new program:

• In order to make time in the school day for students to receive an hour of reading practice, we had to change from a 7-period to an 8-period schedule.
• All of our teachers would become reading teachers in order to monitor 30 minutes of reading practice time. The regular reading teachers monitored the other 30 minutes and taught mini-lessons on skills.
• We had to purchase STAR and Accelerated Reader.
• We had to purchase thousands of library books to match the reading levels, interests, and reading volume of our students.
• We had to purchase dozens of computers to monitor the program.

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

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

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