Category Archives: securing grant money for schools

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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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!

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 school-wide 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 during 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 became reading monitors 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 likely 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 post: finding grant money to fund your program.

Get All the Grant Money You Need: 7 Steps

There are no secrets to getting grant money for your school. You can get your share of grants provided you follow the proper steps persistently and 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 I offer a list of 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 the fall and spring semesters.

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.

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 is 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 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.