Category Archives: why write 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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Yes, It’s a Sad Truth, But…

The hard truth is that some of the worst schools in the country get the most grant money. It seems like a tragedy to me, but if you have a low socio-economic population and poor test scores, it is usually easier for you to get grant money for your school than it is for others. Thank goodness there is a trend of late to break up schools that consistently perform poorly. The students in this country deserve better.

If you are from a low-performing school (next time, I’ll discuss higher performing schools), I suggest that you focus on three areas to improve your school: leadership, attendance, and reading. You should be able to find grant money in all three categories.
While a good superintendent is important for the overall academic performance of a district, it is the building principal that must provide strong leadership for a campus. Yes, you can have a weak principal and still have individual teachers who perform well, but you must have a strong principal for widespread success. While grants can be written to try to improve the performance of a weak principal, I feel that it is better to find someone with a proven track record to lead you.
The second problem that most low-performing must correct is poor attendance. It is impossible to teach students anything when they are not present in your classroom. Many low-performing schools have poor attendance overall and pockets of downright neglect. You should be able to write grants that help you center in on the problems that cause poor attendance and also look for incentives to help students want to attend school.
Finally, if you are ever going to turn a low-performing school around, you have to aggressively attack your reading problems. Most low-performing schools have students with reading levels two or more years below the norm. If this is the case in your school, you will make very little academic progress until you raise those reading scores nearer the appropriate level.
Reading is fundamental. It is fundamental to academic success. It is fundamental to student self-esteem. It is fundamental to all future academic growth. If your library is not well-stocked with interesting books on an appropriate level, you need to write a grant. If your school day does not block out time for students to read silently every day, you need to write a grant. If students are not aware of the level on which they read and don’t know how to choose appropriate books according to that level, you need to write a grant.
It is difficult enough to teach students these days when everything in your school is working well. If you have poor leadership, poor attendance, and poor reading scores, it will be almost impossible for you to move from a low-performing school to even an average school. It is imperative that you identify these problems in your school, make plans to change your current patterns, and write grants to fund these changes if you don’t have the money in your budget to do so.
I always loved being a principal, but when I became a principal at a low-performing school, it was absolutely essential that I attack the attendance problems that we had and to revamp our overall reading program so that every student practiced reading an hour each day in appropriate-level books. I know from firsthand experience how to turn around a campus:
1)      Improve your leadership
2)      Improve attendance
3)      Improve your reading scores
If you start with these three key components, you have a very good chance of actually improving your school

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.

Classroom Grants for Classroom Memories

While the majority of school days are taken up by routine lessons and mundane tasks, I believe that teachers and principals should strive to give students very positive memories of their time in a particular class or building. Students often remember special projects and particular activities far longer than the day-to-day grind that makes up most of the school year. While it is true that some teachers just have a more vibrant, fun personality than others, that doesn’t keep any teacher from developing engaging activities that students will remember for the rest of their lives. The good news is that you may be able to get grant money to help fund your special project.

Now don’t get me wrong. Each of these projects should have a very specific purpose and be centered on students developing skills or acquiring knowledge not already in place. Every project and every unit that you develop should have a pre- and post-test of some type to determine each student’s starting point at the beginning of the project and measuring the growth of each student during the project. Units involving Native Americans and dinosaurs abound in elementary schools because students like them, but I wonder how many of these units teach and track the skills that students should be developing? They certainly have plenty of potential for helping students learn skills and acquire important knowledge. It’s really up to the teacher to make sure these components are included and measured.

If grantors are going to give you money to develop a unit or a project, you can bet they will want to know the positive results that you achieve. Grantors have helped teachers develop gardens at their schools, install piano labs, set up outdoor science labs, build service-learning units, establish mobile computer labs, participate in a series of unusually productive field trips – the list goes on and on. If you can develop a unit or project that is unique and particularly meaningful to students, you have a good chance of finding a grant partner.

To get started, you need to think of a fun, productive project that gives you an opportunity to teach a skill that is included in your curriculum. You then need to set the scope of the project including some sort of pre- and post-test so you can measure growth. You need to give a lot of thought to the activities that will enable all of your students to develop the skills and learn the information you require them to learn. Once you get the entire project planned from start to finish, you should use a grant database to find a possible sponsor for your project. If you do not find a grantor in a month or two of searching, you might want to find a local sponsor for your project. This could be a local business, your own PTA or PTO, a wealthy individual in the community, or even an interested parent who might have the money to spare and needs a tax deduction.

I think it is important when developing your project and seeking a grantor to keep in mind that you want your students to remember this project for the rest of their lives. In the middle school where I was principal in Northeast Texas, we called it “making memories.” I encouraged every teacher to develop one such project every year. We were fortunate because even though we were a poor school, we brought in enough money through grants and business partnerships that we could fund almost any project our teachers developed.

As a result of our “making memories” program, every student raised his or her mother a plant for Mothers’ Day in our school greenhouse. One hundred seventy-five of our five hundred students took free piano lessons every day in our piano lab. Our eighth graders were treated to a robotics program in one of our two computer labs. One hundred of our students participated in a service learning class where they helped in our local hospital, senior center, elementary school, or our sheltered workshop every day. Those are just a few of the projects our teachers initiated. I can tell you that although years have passed, our students still fondly remember each of those projects.

It is important that students have positive memories of their time at your school. These positive memories tend to make them better students as they move through the educational process. Take the challenge and begin thinking about the special project that you can initiate next school year.

Remember, you’re not going to necessarily have the money to initiate the project you develop. Try to find grant money using a good school grant database, develop a business partnership locally, or find an individual to sponsor your project. Make those memories and don’t let anything get in your way.

Why Even Write Grants?

Why would you want to be a grant writer? It’s a lot of work to pull together a grant application. And it’s even more work if you’re fortunate enough to receive the grant. You have to keep records, prove that you’ve spent the money properly, and record the results of your program — even if those results are not positive. So why even put yourself through the grant-writing process?

The most immediate and seemingly logical answer to that question is, “For the money, of course.”

But don’t be too hasty with that response.

The best, most successful grants are not usually written with just the money in mind. True, money can help move the change process along, but if your purpose for writing grants is truly to better the lives of students and teachers, the chance for success in doing that improves dramatically when you have a positive, well-defined grant program in place.

What challenges are your students facing? What do they need help learning in your school? What behaviors are they exhibiting that might get in the way of achievement? Can your students read at grade level? Are they proficient enough in math to make major purchases without being ripped off? Can they speak English well enough to live productively in American society? Are your teachers trained well enough to truly educate every child in their classrooms?

Get passionate! You should write grants to change lives. That passion and determination will come across in your grant applications, and it will show up in the results you eventually achieve. That’s why you as a grant writer should apply for grants

But why do most schools in the United States apply for grants? Unfortunately, it’s usually just because they need the grant money. Grant writers should never apply for grant money just because their schools need additional money. They should apply for grants primarily to improve their schools.

Schools should apply for grants to enable them to correct problems and deficiencies they have in order to give their students a better education. A school’s focus should always be on student achievement. That’s why we have schools. That’s why we have grants.