Category Archives: submitting grants

Midterm Grant Narrative Review

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

money on a clothes line

You are well on your way to finishing your narrative for your grant application to XYZ Foundation. You now understand why the dollar amount you are requesting was a big question mark when you started this process; it needed to be revealed along the way, as part of the process. If you started your grant writing project with “We’re going to need and write for $10,000.00 you know you started from the wrong place in the process.”

A caveat is probably due from the author at this point. The processes and tips I provide are what have worked for me. I am a veteran grant writer and manager, I’ve raised millions of dollars for schools and over time, I’ve developed a rhythm of what needs to happen when. You may find a better way, one that works best for you, but some of the words of wisdom I provide will save you a great deal of time and get you off on the right foot.

The three big caveats are:

1. You are not writing a grant to get money for your school, you are creating an appeal to a foundation to join with you in a partnership that will solve a problem and help improve academic achievement in your school.

2. When you start to write the narrative, you have only a very vague idea of how much money you are requesting, that is being revealed as you go along and identify research based ways to solve your problem.

3. The relationship you develop with the foundation or corporation you have identified from your research through the Grants Database will be a long-term partnership. Once you have a grant from this organization, the door is open for future support. They will become your benefactor in many ways. You may find that corporations will want their employees to volunteer in your school to get real-world experience and become partners in the education of children in their community.

4. A bonus fourth caveat is that you may need to write several grants to different funding organizations to cover all the costs of your project. This happens all the time. You’ll get to know what each supporter will and won’t pay for. There’s always another who will step up and pay for that last little piece of the puzzle.

I’ve provided you with a budget planner spreadsheet. It is a great idea to stop now and take a closer look at it. You may want to add to it, print it out, and keep it handy so you can be sure you are not forgetting any details for providing for your needs. Please print it out right now, and let’s look at some of the line items (now you’ll know what people mean when they talk about things like line items.).

You’ll want to give every grant application a number. On the budget planner you’ll see a place for “ORG”. That’s the internal number you will use to identify the grants you pursue and keep them all organized. You will want to start creating and identifying numbering systems. A combination letter and number code has always worked for me. A state grant might begin with S1 – your first state grant might be S1 and so forth. You might want to add a date, call it S1111513 (first state grant submitted on 11/15/2013).

You’ll find lines for salaries, this will include part and full time staffs you will need to carry out your plan. Your principal might want to cover part of a teacher’s salary with funds from the grant. This amount will fall under “instructional salary.” A stipend is usually an hourly rate for staff you will hire part time. You want to keep administrative, instructional, clerical and paraprofessional salaries separate. If you’re paying for part of a teacher’s salary, you’ll want to be sure to cover their fringe benefits (how much will you need to subsidize their health insurance for example).

Contractual stands for companies or consultants you will bring in to provide services that support the project. Start thinking now about drawing up an actual contract with your service providers (more about this later in the series). Everyone is happier when things are carefully spelled out and all parties have signed an agreement. There is no such thing as a casual relationship when money is involved.

Your supply lines need to be specific. Grantors will want to know the percentages of your budget that you are setting aside for different items. You will want to work with your foundation representative to see if they have limits on lines. They may only be willing to support a salary at 10% for instance. Or computer software and supplies can only represent 15% of the total request. They will help you with the budget, take advantage of their expertise. In the beginning of my grant writing career I was intimidated by the budget, but quickly learned that the foundation was very eager to help with the details. They want you to succeed. Private grants (foundations and corporations) are competitive but that doesn’t necessarily mean “impossible to get”. If, by the time they score your application with their scoring rubric, you have been on the phone with them to work through details; they know about your needs and have a name and face to go with the application. You will be that much more ahead of the curve.

You’ll want to be sure you are supplementing not supplanting. The grant funds you seek will support the materials and supplies your city is paying for, not taking the place of, or becoming the sole source for materials that should be covered by your local budget.

Yes, it’s complicated; it’s a great deal of information to absorb all at once. That’s why this blog is crafted in a logical progression, to describe bits and pieces. It’s all intended to help you become a confident and successful grant writer.

Please feel free to comment on this blog and provide ideas and suggestions. I value your insights.

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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.

Step 7: Beating the Grants Deadline

Over the last few months, we have discussed the seven steps needed to find, research, and write successful grant applications.  As a reminder, the steps include:

  1. Finding a problem in your school that needs correcting,
  2. Developing a solution to the problem,
  3. Finding a grant that fits your situation,
  4. Confirming that you are eligible for that grant,
  5. Gathering the application and all the data you will need to complete your grant application,
  6. Actually completing the application, and
  7. Getting your application to the grantor by the grant’s deadline

The last one, getting your application to the grantor on deadline, is critical. I have seen beautiful grant application packages thrown out because they didn’t arrive on time. Months of hard work go out the window. With many foundations and federal grants, there is only one opportunity in a year to apply. Those applicants now must wait a year to try again. If it’s due by 5:00 Eastern Standard Time on Friday, they mean it. No exceptions, no excuses. Be sure you review how the application must be submitted—electronically or in the mail? Federal grants have always had a secure portal for applications. It has always been (in my experience) a tortuous experience; give yourself plenty of time to learn how to use the digital application process. You will get frustrated; take a deep breath, you’ll get there.

But it’s like many things with grants, the devil is in the details. By now, if you’ve followed through the first 6 steps, this one will be so ingrained in your thinking that it will be no problem. Right?

With the potential for emergencies in mind, you should always set a deadline for completing your grant application a minimum of one week before it is due. Even a week will not guarantee that a mailed application will arrive on time. You also need to be absolutely certain whether the deadline the grantor established refers to the postmark on the application or the date when the application must reach the grantor’s office. If you do not know that information, call or email the grant’s contact person to make certain. If the U.S. Postal Service is the conduit, be sure to send things certified mail, return receipt. The extra cost will be well worth the peace of mind.

For tracking your grant writing projects, you might want to buy a big wall easel to capture all your brainstorming, thinking webs, dates etc., They have them at Discount School Supply®.  Check out the Colorations® Wall Easel.

The first grant application you write is always the most difficult. Eventually you will be so good at it that the steps are automatic. But when you become good at this, you will be a hero, and that’s obviously a good thing!

7 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Apply for a Grant

It’s not easy to get motivated to fill out grant applications. I know that. I spent twenty years in public schools as a teacher and an administrator. Asking for money shouldn’t be an educator’s job. After all, we signed on to teach children, to bring light into their lives, and to build a love of learning within their hearts. Unfortunately as the years roll by, you may find yourself discouraged, underpaid, and pulling money out of your own pocket to fund the basic needs in your classroom or building.

Try not to be discouraged. I believe teachers are still the most influential people on the planet. I have many conversations with past students, and it still amazes me how much they remember about my class and about me. My wife retired three years ago after teaching first grade for thirty-four years. She still gets more hugs and smiles than the law allows, often from large men a foot taller than she is. They love her. She taught them to love school. She taught them to read.

While teaching is a tremendous vocation, it can still get discouraging when money is not available from your district to fund the activities and projects you know your students need. You need to motivate yourself to write grants to supplement the money in your budget. Here are seven ways to get motivated to write those grants:

1) Write a grant for a very special project that you have personally always wanted to do but could not get the district to fund. This is very motivational because it’s all about you and something you want personally.

2) Write down new skills that your students will be able to develop by using grant money to enhance your budget. You may need to buy special materials or get help in your classroom to make sure students develop these new skills. Think about how these new skills could change your students’ lives.

3) Apply for a grant with a partner. It’s always easier to do a chore when you have some help. You should share the burden of writing the grant and the joy of what you both accomplish with the grant money.

4) Write a grant that will allow you and your students to have a very special experience. You might go on a very unusual field trip, bring in a motivational celebrity to your school, or build something together that your students will never forget.

5) Write a grant to keep from spending money out of your pocket. Then, buy yourself a gift with the money you didn’t have to use for school supplies.

6) Write a grant centered around the bottom few students you’ve had the most trouble reaching. This might be a program to get help from parent volunteers, an after-school tutoring program, or a program to buy computers and software that might help you reach these difficult students.

7) Let others know you intend to apply for a grant. Just like a New Year’s resolution, you’re more likely to complete your grant application if others know you’ve made a commitment to apply for a grant.

Grants shouldn’t really be about the money you’re going to receive. They should be about student achievement and the positive impact that a grant will have on your students. However, sometimes we need a little extra motivation to complete those applications. Maybe one of the above seven motivators will be just what you need to start completing a grant application this week. Don’t delay. Apply for that money you need and stop getting it out of your own pocket.

Step 5: Obtaining the Grant Application and Gathering Information

Over the past several weeks I have shared steps one through four to follow as you attempt to secure grant money for your school. Those first four steps include: 1. Understanding the hurdle(s)/issue(s) your school faces. 2. Developing a solution to address those issues. 3. Finding all possible grants to fund your solution. 4. Matching your needs with likely grant sources. If you missed the information on any of those four steps, you can access past blogs on the right-hand side of this page.

Step five is obtaining the actual grant applications for your top one or two grant matches and gathering all the information you need to complete those applications.

First and foremost, you need to understand a grantor’s application process and obtain an application form far enough in advance of the deadline so you are not rushed when it comes time to fill it out. If you plan ahead, you are much more likely to submit a competitive grant application.

You should be aware that different organizations use different types of grant applications. Quite a few foundations require no more than a letter that details your school’s problem, your planned solution, and a budget that details the money you need. That letter takes the place of a formal application. In other cases, some groups of foundations use common grant applications. But most foundations, states, and federal agencies use unique, detailed applications for each grant they sponsor. Grant seekers must obtain the specific application(s) required to apply for each grant.

The type of application required for each grant you seek is typically listed on the grantor’s website. In many cases, you will find, complete, and submit your application without ever leaving the grantor’s site. More often, however, grantors provide applications you can download to your computer and print out at your convenience.

Finally, some grantors require you to submit a request for an application in writing. If the grantor has a website, an email usually meets this requirement, and the application will be mailed or emailed to you. If the grantor does not have a website, both the request for an application and the return of the application will be accomplished using regular mail.

It’s important to know all the details of the application process up front so you can plan your time well and not be rushed.

Once you obtain the application, read it thoroughly — several times. Concentrate on the different kinds of information you will need in order to complete the application. Although quite a bit of the application will require you to supply information in narrative form, you will likely need statistics from several sources to verify your need for help. You will also have to develop a budget for your project.

Before you actually begin completing an application, gather all the reference materials and statistical information you will likely need and find a quiet place to work. Make time so you can complete the application without interruption. You don’t want to interrupt your writing every 15 minutes to look for some vital piece of information that you should have at your fingertips. Your writing should flow, and it will only do so if you’ve gathered all the tools and information before you sit down to write.

You will be two steps ahead of your competition if you have carefully read the application and gathered all the materials you will need to complete it without interruption. Good planning is a vital part of the grant application process.