Category Archives: grant programs

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.

Are You Assessing or Obsessing?

I know that I talk a lot about assessments when this is actually a blog about grants. However, if you really understand grants and the grant application process, you know that good, comprehensive assessment is a vital part of any grant program.

Every program and every class is your school should have a thorough assessment done before the end of the school year. You may assess progress in any given program using a nationally-normed test, a state test, a campus, or teacher-made test, or a combination of these.  It doesn’t really matter what the process is. The bottom line, as far as grants go, is that you have to know where your students started the year and how much progress they’ve made during the course of the year. You can only do that by properly assessing each of your programs.

When you get the results from your assessments, you should be able to quickly spot the problem areas in your school. When you know those problems and exactly how large they are, you can then begin to develop plans to eliminate or remediate those problems. But, here’s the rub.Even if you identify your problems, are you going to have the funds in your budget to do the things you need to do to solve all of your problems?  If you don’t, then you’re going to need to apply for grant money.

When you start completing grant applications, your assessments come into play again. On your application, you can show the grantor how you determined that you had a problem and just how severe yours problem are. You then explain exactly what you need to do to alleviate the problem and how their grant money will be used to make the needed changes and improvements. If you don’t have good, solid data from your assessment instrument, you end up talking in generalities while your competitors will be using specifics.

Most grantors also require you to include your assessment process in your grant proposal. They want to know where your students started, how much growth you got using their grant funds, and the instrument you used to determine this growth.

This whole funding, assessment, and growth process is probably the closest a school will come to mirroring other types of businesses. Using the proper assessment tools, you can determine exactly how much money you spent to obtain the months or years of growth you gained. Good programs make a profit (high growth on the part of students). Poor programs have a loss (little or no progress for the money spent).

The reason I am mentioning assessments again now is that as we close in on the end of the current school year. Each of your programs should be assessed properly. You should determine exactly how much growth each student demonstrates. From these assessments you will get much needed statistical information that you can use in a grant application, and you will have a benchmark of exactly where students are at this point in the school year.

Your assessments should be given toward the end of the school year to allow as much growth to be demonstrated as possible. It should not be so close to the end of the year, however, that students cannot concentrate or do their best on the assessment instrument.

Assessments are a vital part of any grant program.  Make sure that every program in your school receives a proper assessment before you leave for the summer.

Can You Get Grant Money Locally?

In my last post I gave you several places to look for grants.  Mainly I listed grant databases available to you since I am convinced these databases are the most logical place to find grants these days.  Hey, we might as well use computers to their full advantage, and up-to-date, comprehensive grant databases just weren’t available 20 years ago.                                                                                 
Sometimes these databases, as good as they are, just aren’t going to list some of the grants that are available to you. Some grants are purely local, don’t have set criteria, and are never publicly announced.
Most of my time in education was spent in a small East Texas school district where I was a teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent for 20 years. In that time, I asked for and got $15,000 for my middle school and then another $75,000 for the district from one local business. How did I get that money? I just asked for it. I laid out a plan showing that by investing this money in the local school system, the company would have better educated employees when the current students graduated in a few years and sought jobs locally.
In addition to that money, a well-to-do couple in our community gave the school district enough money to buy a vocational center for the agriculture department, rebuild the press box at the football stadium, and to repair and update the baseball field.We didn’t even approach them. They came to us, gave us the money, and told us how they would like it spent. Their two children went to our school, and they just wanted to help.
Educators also often overlook the opportunity to ask for help from “big box” stores in their area.  Most of these have regular corporate grant programs, but they don’t always advertise the $1,000 to $3,000 dollar grants they often give to local groups.  To find out if your local Wal-Mart, Target, Lowes, Home Depot, Best Buy, etc. has such a program, just go to the store and ask the manager.  If they do, ask what type of projects qualify.  If they don’t, go to the next store.  Most of the time your school or organization doesn’t have to lie within the city limits. In fact, if you are within a 50-mile radius and the city is your regular shopping destination, you will usually qualify.
Even if you’re getting money locally, and the grantor doesn’t require a lot of paperwork, I still suggest you write out what type of problem you’re having, what you believe to be the best solution to your problem, and how the money the grantor is giving will be spent to help you reach your goals.  I think anyone who gives money, whether an individual or a company, deserves to know how you spend your grant money and how successful you are. 
In fact, your ability to use local grant money successfully may actually help you get even more money from the same local source in the future.  Also, you might consider asking individuals or companies that give you money if they or their employees would like to be involved in the grant program.Many like to volunteer so they can be more involved locally with the schools.
You don’t always need a grant database to find grantmoney. Look close to home when you have the opportunity. It might pay off more than you could ever imagine.

A Great Time To Find Grants for Your School

It’s always a good time to seek out and write grants for your school or classroom. The very best time to find grants for your school, however, is right now — January and early February. This is true for several reasons: 1) More grants are available at the first of the year, 2) Many new grants are available, and 3) You can apply for grants for the spring semester, summer school, or the fall semester.

Generally, more grants are available at the beginning of the year than at any other time during the year. Grants have deadlines throughout the year. Some have several deadlines. But almost all grant programs are announced or renewed at the first of the year. Granting entities like to get the word out about their grant programs, build new links to their programs on their websites, and make changes to streamline their grant programs. The first of the year is the natural time to accomplish all of these tasks. You should take advantage of the increase in the number of opportunities in January to find money for your classroom or school.

January is also a logical time to announce new grants. The federal government, state governments, corporations, and foundations often take advantage of the New Year to announce new programs and new grants for those programs. Take advantage of these new opportunities they announce and make available to help your school.

One of the very best reasons for finding and writing grants in January is that you have great flexibility for finding the money you need for the current semester, summer school, and/or the fall semester.

If you need money for the spring semester, find grants with short deadlines so you can apply and get the money while it can still impact student learning during this school year. If you don’t need money for the spring, it’s certainly not too early to apply for summer school money. June will be here before you know it. And if you’re looking for money for fall programs, you do have a little more time for planning and can look for grants with deadlines further out, but January is still the time to start the process to make sure you have your money in hand when the fall semester does roll around.

January is absolutely the time to be thinking about grants. Use the free grant database that Discount School Supply so generously offers you and find the grants you need for this semester, summer school, or for the fall. Find that grant money that your classroom or school so desperately needs. Every dollar you find will enhance the educational experience of your students.