Category Archives: grant writing

The Dark Side of Grant Writing

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

clock

Happy New Year, gentle reader! My resolution for this blog is to keep it fresh and very useful for fledgling grant writers in schools everywhere.

This article is part of a series of articles about grant writing for teachers and school personnel. I’ve been outlining steps to take in the process, and have provided you with some templates for your narratives, and a budget planning Excel document that will help you make sure you cover all the financial bases. This blog is part of a super Grants Database you can search for appropriate resources.

You’ve decided that grant writing is for you, the discipline required to meet deadlines is in your genetic code, you love the social nature of making relationships with the power brokers in your community, and you love the adulation you receive from the other teachers in your community. This is the pretty picture; most of you who have done this for a while know that there is a dark side to the grants world. We’ll talk a little bit about that today.

We’ll say you now have a couple of successful grant applications under your belt, you’ve made inroads in your community for developing a steady stream of funding from several sources, things are really going well. You were not, however, prepared for the enormous amount of time all of these activities have taken from your schedule. Your husband/wife is now permanently angry with you all the time for missing all those soccer matches that little Poindexter has played. The bags under your eyes are deeper than the Grand Canyon, and the laundry is about a week overdue.

Don’t despair, you will find ways to manage your time so that all can be accomplished, and you will even be graceful doing it. One of the keys is to delegate. Some sections of a grant narrative can be done by people who are eager to help. In an earlier blog I cautioned against writing grants in committee, it rarely produces a coherent application. However, to delegate some of the demographics paragraphs and maybe budget research is acceptable. You’ve made a list of the costs you will incur in your project, but someone else can help you get the three bids you’re going to need to find the lowest costs. This one is sort of fun, you get to work with vendors and learn to sweet talk them to a fair price. Don’t kid yourself, it is always negotiable. Someone accused me of being unfair to corporate America for doing this, come on now folks, think about that for a minute.

Another cast member in the dark side of the grant writing drama is the whiner. There’s a teacher in your building who snipes at you behind your back, suggesting that you don’t know what you are doing, and that your motives are impure. This person is making a career of trashing your work, and it isn’t fun. My solution to this one is to sit down with the whiner to try to find out what the real issues are. Chances are its jealousy; they want some of this limelight you are now basking in. A good solution to this is to find something for the whiner to do. Bring him into the fold, and then be sure to give him lots of credit for being helpful along the way. Amazing how fast the whining will stop.

There are other parts to the dark side, the fact that now that you’ve been successful, people expect this level of success on a regular basis. I can tell you from experience, there will be dry spells along the way, you will develop writer’s block on occasion, and life will intervene to take you away from the tasks of putting together an application. You are not a superhero, you do what you can, and it’s all you can do anyway.

So, grant writer that you are, suck up to the dark side, learn to embrace it, and continue on your path to glory.

It’s all for the kids anyway, right?

Please comment on this post, let me know if there are topics you’d like me to cover. I have a million stories to tell, seven years as a grants manager has taught me a few things and I’d love to share it all with you.

Training for Grant Writers

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

steno and pen

This article is part of a series of articles about grant writing for teachers and school personnel. I’ve been outlining steps to take in the process, and provided you with some templates for your narratives, and a budget planning Excel document that will help you make sure you cover all the financial bases. This blog is part of a super Grants Database, you can search for appropriate resources.

If you have been selected to be “the school grant writer”, it’s probably because you raised your hand in a faculty meeting when the subject of fund raising came up. You have a reputation for being organized, detail oriented, and timeline friendly. These are all great traits, but the process of getting a grant can sometimes be a “be careful what you wish for” situation. Working through the writing process will take weeks, perhaps months if you are doing it right.

Sounds daunting, but once you have a few grant applications (successful ones) under your belt, subsequent applications will become easier. You have an opportunity to become a hero in your school, and if you are really good at it, develop a career in grantsmanship.

Assuming you are in this now for the long haul, it may have occurred to you that there might be some formal training available that can help you become an effective grant writer. I’ve outlined a few of the possibilities (free and not so free) for formal training in this blog.

  • Full-fledged master’s degree program in grants management:

Concordia – online and distance education solution.

  • Grant Writing USA, organized workshops throughout the country, a formulaic approach to learning how to write and manage grants (not for everyone, but useful nonetheless.)
  • Foundation Center – one of the oldest and most established organizations for grant writing professionals – worth a look-see. If nothing else, network with other professionals.
  • YouTube presentation – are you visual? YouTube has many videos on the process of writing a grant. We link to one here (disclosure – this video was selected randomly with no allegiance to any commercial products it may highlight.)
  • A librarian’s approach, always a good place to start.
  • Slideshare presentation – if you aren’t familiar with Slideshare, take a look at the resources available on this site.
  • LinkedIn – Grant professional’s corner – meet and network with fellow grant writers, they are always available to help you through sticky parts of the process.

So many resources and great training opportunities, so little time. All you have to do is Google (or Bing, or Yahoo) “grant writing training”. You will be astonished at what pops up.

Let me know what you think about formal training! Maybe you are more organic and learn best by doing – let me know your training selections.

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!

Tone and Voice in Grant Narrative

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

steno and pen

Writer’s block is a common problem among grant writers. You work hard to collect useful and relevant information for your narrative, create an outline, get organized, and try to figure out what to cut or leave in a narrative paragraph so it passes word count or page restrictions put in place by the grantor.

It never fails! I get to the point of taking the narrative outline and filling it out to make a pleasing and convincing narrative for the grant readers to evaluate and I freeze. The stakes are high, you want this application to be successful, you know you have competition coming from grant writing professionals from disparate organizations, schools, and social service agencies.

You know you are eligible because you’ve checked with the foundation to make sure it provides funds to public schools (or whatever entity you are writing for). You can’t stall any longer. So, you start to write.

Often, what comes out, at least at first, is a stiff, formal recitation of facts: your test and demographic data to support your need, a list of activities you will pursue to solve the problem, your goals and objectives, and data to support your assessment strategy.

On your first read through a common reaction to your own writing is “Ughrrrgh, that’s just awful”. Your spelling of “ughrrrgh” will vary depending on your general feelings of self-worth, but it’s always the same. It’s ok, it’s supposed to be awful at this stage, you will write and rewrite many times before you submit your application. It’s one of the reasons you have assembled your stakeholders in the first place. They will act as proofreaders and provide commentary when the tortuous task of writing is complete. Thank goodness you have friends!

One tip to hold on to: Every foundation, corporation, or government agency that provides grants has grant readers. These folks are experienced; they’ve been reading grant applications for a long time. They know what the foundation is trying to achieve by the careful application of funds in the community. In the first round of reading applications, they may read hundreds of narratives. You want your application to stand out, be readable and be persuasive. You may draw the line at entertaining, but an injection of humor is not out of the question, especially if you’ve met the readers and have a standing relationship with the organization. An excellent, thorough article on grant writing style can be found at the Purdue University OWL (Online Writing Lab) site.

Whatever you do, keep your voice professional. These readers wade through some of the most egregious assaults on the English language you have ever seen. I know this because I have been a reader for a number of private foundations. You would not believe the misspelled, grammatically sinful drivel people submit. Keep your voice professional, your tone serious (but not deadening) and above all, your grammar and spelling impeccable. If you have added footnotes (this is often a good idea if you are providing a review of research literature), use MLA (Modern Language Association) or APA (American Psychological Association) rules of style.

To remind yourself of the best writing you have done, go through old college papers, select the ones that garnered an A, and see for yourself. You’re pretty good at this, but you just need encouragement and support. Your goal is to persuade, so a review of guidelines for persuasive essays might help.

Another tip, when you’ve finished your first draft, go back and eliminate redundancies, shorten your sentences (more like Hemingway than Faulkner). Save your long, winding, lyrical prose for the great American novel you know will write one day.

Tips and tricks for a great grant narrative:

  • Be kind to the beloved grant reader.
  • Keep your sentences short.
  • Use a professional tone and voice.
  • Perform positive, self-affirming exercises in the mirror each day.
  • Support your application with strong demographic information.
  • Used an organized approach (outline, footnotes).
  • Avoid the “aaarrrggghhh” by taking breaks and deep breaths.

Remember, you may fail the first time around, but you WILL get better at this.

If you fail the first time, be sure to contact the grantor and ask for an evaluation rubric so you can find out why your attempt wasn’t successful. They will be helpful and will share their thoughts freely. They want you to succeed; a good strong application narrative helps them see the beauty of your argument and your solution to the problem you face in your school.

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.

Working with Stakeholders in a Grant Writing Environment

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

You are getting ready to put a narrative description together for your grant application, now you will need to get organized.

Continue to identify your goals, objectives and assessments. What is your project going to do that meets your goals, and how will you know it has (assessment)?

We are not identifying a donor who will provide resources yet. You’re not ready to approach him/her. You’ve got work to do. You may explore the Discount School Supply’s Grants Database but you’re not ready to make calls to foundations just yet.

You’ll need to learn to make bulleted lists and create an outline. Think about the focus of your project. Answer the following questions; they may help you narrow it down, using the 5 W’s process from journalism:

  • What is the problem you are trying to solve? Why is this project important?
  • Who are you, who will benefit from your project? What are the characteristics of your student and his/her community?
  • Why is this project important to your larger community?
  • When will the project begin? How long will it take to meet your goals? Can you draw a timeline?
  • Where will the project take place? In school, in a community agency, in the student’s home?

“W” number 2, “Who” is the one we’re focusing on today. You will also use the 5 W’s when you plan to get your stakeholders together. You should be able to answer the question, “Who are the stakeholders I should consult for ideas and guidance as we work through the writing process?” This is not the same thing as writing a grant in a committee. In fact, I don’t recommend writing grants in committee, but it is important to identify the people that will be impacted by the project, and getting them together for a focus conversation. The idea that the narrative can be divided up among well-meaning people may sound great, but it’s horribly inefficient and you end up with 5 different “voices” and dissimilar ideas of what needs to happen.

Your focus session will be a one-time event; your invitation may say “Please help me approach supporters for funds for our school.” Many minds are better than one, you may find some folks who have done this before, and their expertise will be valuable. Or you may find one kindred soul who will keep you on task. There’s a fine distinction between working in isolation and writing the grant alone. The former means you have shut out any input that may or may not guide the grant application process. The latter can be taking the opportunity to seek suggestions and then putting it all together in your own narrative.

You will ultimately write it on your own. This is really important advice. This first attempt may be a failure; this is a skill that needs to be nurtured. The work you do now will pay off in dividends later. If you are a successful grant writer, you become a very popular person. You don’t want to be accused of shutting anyone out, but you need to set the tone that you are ultimately responsible for the application that is submitted.

Please add comments below, you may have other opinions on this issue, all ideas welcome!

Next time: more about writing narratives.

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.