Category Archives: grant research

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.

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!

How Do You Research Grant Opportunities?

Most grants are competitive. When you approach most grant possibilities, there are many others seeking the same funds. An essential way to make sure you get your grant funded is to do research on both the grant itself and the grantor involved.

Whether you get your initial information about a grant from a grant database like the one provided for you by Discount School Supply®, a newsletter, or a blog such as this one, you never get complete information about the grant in the synopsis provided;  you have to do some research. The better your research, the better your chance of getting grant money.

Your very best source of information about an individual grant is the grantor’s website. Almost all of the organizations that give grants these days have a website. Most of them are very good about giving pertinent information about their organization and the individual grant or grants they give. There are clues in those sites that transcend the information provided about their giving habits. What industry are they in? Who sits on their Board of Trustees? Does the grantor have a meet-and-greet conference each year? (These are often worth a plane fare to attend). You will learn so much at these events and meet some key people.

Your research should focus on a few key points. You can develop a checklist of the points you wish to cover in your study. First, you must make absolutely sure that your school or organization is eligible for the grant you’re researching. You might not be in the right region, state, area, or city to qualify for the grant. Some grants are very restrictive. Being a public school might disqualify you. Being a private school might disqualify you. You might need to be a 501(c)(3) organization to qualify for the grant, call or email the grantor to be sure. 501(c)(3) is an IRS designation that basically means “non-profit organization”. Many school districts create their own “Friends of the XYZ Schools” 501(c)(3) non-profit just so they can be eligible for the millions of dollars provided in these restricted grant opportunities. This process is not for the faint of heart; you might want to consult your school district attorney before you venture into this thicket.

Once you’re sure you qualify for a grant, you need to make absolutely certain you know the deadline for submitting your application. Sometimes grantors require you to submit a letter of intent or have you take a qualification quiz weeks before the application is due.  If you miss the deadline for those types of pre-qualifiers, the actual grant deadline date is unimportant because your application will not be considered anyway. Read all of the information on a grantor’s website to make sure you do not miss any type of deadline that might be posted.

You should next do research to see how closely your reasons for needing grant money and the grantor’s reason for giving grant money coincide. If the grantor gives money for quality after-school programs, but you have a reading problem, the question then becomes can you tailor an after-school reading program that will benefit your students and raise their test scores. If you can, you probably have a match.  If you can’t work the reading program you need into a quality after-school program, you should just look for another grantor.

Finally, make sure you jot down the contact information for the grantor, especially the grant contact person.  Get both the email address and phone number if they are available. I would recommend never writing a grant without having a conversation with that contact person first.  That exchange itself is an important piece of research. You should be able to get some type of indication from the contact person whether or not you should submit an application. The contact person will not tell you whether or not you will get grant money, but you can often tell from that person’s responses if it is worth your time to actually apply for the grant.

So, after you use the Discount School Supply® free grant database, you still have some work to do.  If you find a grant that looks like a good fit for your school or organization, it is then time to put on your researcher’s hat and start digging on the grantor’s website.  It’s absolutely worth your time to do this research before starting to write any grant application.

The 4th Step: Finding Matching Grants

If you want to secure grant money for your school, the first step is to understand in detail the main issues your school faces. The second step is to develop a solution that has the greatest likelihood of solving one of those problems. The third step is to find all possible grants that might fund your solution. And the fourth step — the subject of this post — is to narrow down the list of grants to those whose criteria match your needs and then call a contact person to verify that match.

Over the course of a year, hundreds of grants will become available to your school. The tricky part, however, is finding among all those grants the few that might fund your plan and support your goals. That’s why it is so important to employ a comprehensive grant database.  A grant database allows you to search quickly and easily for grants that match your needs. Yes, you could use your favorite Internet search engine to locate grants, but you will need to wade through thousands of search results — many of which won’t apply to your type of school, won’t match up with your specific needs, or have deadlines that have already passed. A good grant database allows you to tailor your searches and find likely matches in minutes rather than hours, days, or weeks.

Even when you use a good grant database, you still have additional work to do. In just a few minutes, a database can provide 30 reading grants for private schools in your state or 50 math grants for public schools. Once you’ve narrowed down and identified those grants, then your real work begins: you must search through those grants to find the ones for which you qualify. You will be able to eliminate some that don’t tie in with your goals. You will eliminate others for which you might not qualify because your school doesn’t meet one or more of the grant’s criteria.

TWO INVALUABLE RESOURCES

Fortunately, good databases provide two essential resources to support your grant research.

The first resource is a live link to the grant’s website. Use that link to find every bit of information you can about the grantor and the specific grant. Typically, the website will list more grant restrictions than a short database entry can list. If you find anything that clearly disqualifies your school from receiving a particular grant, simply go on to the next grant on your list. Almost anything you would want to know about grantors or the grants they offer can be found on their websites. Those websites are invaluable tools that will help you determine if you and that grant/grantor are a good match.

The second resource is a phone number or email address so you can communicate directly with the grant’s contact person. Once you are quite sure that a grant matches the needs of your school, call or email the contact person. (I prefer calling that person myself.) I never start completing a grant application without first getting in touch with the contact. While that contact person cannot tell you that you will get the grant money you seek, he or she can certainly confirm that you are eligible to apply. You might also pick up from the person’s voice a tone that is either encouraging or discouraging. If that tone is particularly negative, I would recommend moving on to the next grant on your list. I would definitely make this call — even if it is hard for you to do — because it can save you hours and hours of needless work.

If you don’t make use of those two resources, you are wasting valuable time. Remember, check out any website for which you are given a link and call or email the contact person to make absolutely sure you qualify for a grant.

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.