Category Archives: writing grant

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.

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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.

Developing the Budget from Your Narrative

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

You are well on your way to finishing your narrative for your grant application to XYZ Foundation. You’ve crafted a most persuasive argument, using data and demographics from reliable sources; your need has been thoroughly explained and documented. You’ve developed a tone and voice that is professional, but compelling.

pen writing

As you’ve moved on to the next item on the narrative section list, “Activities”, you are confronted with the dreaded methodology. OK, we get it, you need your kids to improve their reading scores, an afterschool program is missing from your repertoire of solutions to the problem. It is a demonstrated and research-based method for solving your particular problem. You just don’t have the stuff or the staff you need to pull it off.

In focus groups with stakeholders, you’ve determined that there are some really great supplementary materials, software and Internet resources that are available with your reading curriculum from ABC Reading Company. You need more books, some have become torn or have gotten lost, you want to add a couple of lower and higher level readers to what you have. There are workbooks available in e-book and paper formats that would help fill out what you already own. You want to add some supporting fiction to your library media center, online resources, videos and audio support perhaps. Your district only purchased the bare bones set for all the classrooms it serves. All of your teachers have been trained to use this curriculum so you don’t necessarily want to throw out the baby with the bath water.

You’ve reached the point in your narrative that begins to justify your budget request. At this stage you really don’t know how much you will be asking for. The dollar amount will emerge as you go along. Don’t worry about whether or not the foundation will provide all the money you need. If necessary, your appeal can be spread among several funding resources. Right now, you just want to be sure you analyze your needs carefully and that you include every possible item needed in your budget.

Here is a “budget planning sheet” you may find useful. It has been my guide for years. It is a list of all the funding categories you might possibly need to be sure you include all required items for your project. It forces you to think of everything. It is an Excel spreadsheet and it automatically adds everything up so you can keep track of what your budget request will be when you finally submit your application.

This document differs from the budget document the foundation will want you to use when you submit. It is your internal guide. You can write all over it, add and take away lines, and print it out for others to review. Someone else in your group may think of something you’ve left out. There’s nothing worse than finishing your application and having someone point out that you forgot the software that links the curriculum to smart board exercises for phonics (for instance).

If you started your grant-writing exercises with a firm dollar amount in mind, you will be surprised by how much it has changed now that you’ve really taken the program apart. Your activities section might be structured as a timeline, you have a twenty-week afterschool program planned, and you have lesson plans sketched out for how you want each of those twenty week sessions to build on the last. There are visits to the library, a field trip or two, and oh yes, don’t forget stipends for your teachers. Unless you have a very unusual climate and culture in your district, these folks will expect to be paid. You may need an administrator on hand to be sure you stick to the script. You’ll need office supplies, do you want to have a clerk available in the office to meet and greet parents at the end of each afterschool session? Do you need an assessment specialist to help you build out your measurement instruments for the program? Your grantor is going to want to know if your program meets their expectations (and yours) for success.

Don’t forget to add one or two post-program sessions for staff to have everyone meet and decide how the program succeeded, failed, or should be repeated next year. So much to think about, but your budget planning sheet will help you with all of it.

I know, I know, you started reading this blog because you want to write a grant. You don’t want to be a number cruncher or a technology nerd. And you’re a teacher, not Ernest Hemingway. Welcome to the wonderful world of grant writing and grants management. At the end of the day, no one else will do it for you. It’s definitely a “be careful what you wish for” proposition. However, I am alive and here to tell you, it’s all worthwhile. You will be stretched and all the accumulated skills and talents of a lifetime will be called into play.

Please feel free to comment on this blog and provide ideas and suggestions. I learn from teachers each and every day.

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.

A Critical Two Months for Grant Writers

The New Year has begun. It is typically a long grind from now until spring break. It is an excellent time to make progress with your students. You should have few distractions and no extended holidays.It is also probably the very best time of the year to write grants for your district, campus, or classroom.
                                                                     

During January and February you have more flexibility as a grant writer than at just about any other time of the year. Why? Because you have the opportunity to writegrants for three different segments of the school year. You still have time to write grants that can be used during the spring semester.  You can write grants that can be used for summer school. You can begin writing grants for the fall semester. Only during the early fall semester do you have this much opportunity, and often educators are so busy with the beginning of school, they don’t have time to write grants during September and October.
In one of my November posts, I told you that it was time to begin assessing your programs so you could use that information you gained in your winter and spring grant applications. If you didn’t follow my advice then, you need to make sure you assess each of your programs immediately to measure student growth during the first semester. If you did your assessments in December, you are far ahead of the game and have all the statistical information you need to apply for grants immediately.
If you intend to apply for grant money that can be used during the spring semester, I recommend that you find either foundation or corporate grants with deadlines not too far in the future. You can apply for the grant, win the money, and actually receive your funding in time for it to impact your students in the current semester. You should be able to find several of these grants in the Discount School Supply® free grant database. Don’t procrastinate. If you need grant money in the near future, you have to begin working on your applications now, today.
If you’re looking for a summer school grant, you have a little more time, but not much.Remember, you have to send in the application, get it approved, and get your funding by the time summer school begins. Summer school grants are good to write in that you are usually helping underserved student populations, you’re helping to shore up either basic or highly advanced skills, and/or you have an innovative program that you can’t wait to try out. All of these make for great grant material. I’d try to have my grant applications in for summer school no later than the end of February or mid-March.
Finally, if you are a long-range planner, and I hope you are, you can already see major needs for the fall semester. You may need to totally revamp a program or introduce a completely new program to your school. You not only have all your assessment datafrom last year, you have current assessment data from last semester.  You may be searching for larger amounts of money that come only from federal grants, state grants, or some of the larger foundation and corporate grants. You still want to begin your search for grants now and to begin writing those grants during January and February.
With so many school budgets being cut time after time, finding grant money has become absolutely necessary for many schools.  There is no better time for you to write grants than during January and February. The money is out there. Discount School Supply® provides you an excellent free database to find that money. The only thing holding back the process is you. Don’t be a procrastinator. Your students deserve the best, and that probably means you need to write a few grants to supplement your budget.  Start now.

Supplant vs Supplement

Supplant means to “take the place of.” Supplement means to “add something to complete a thing.” For almost any grant you write, it is important for you to begin a new program or to supplement a program rather than to supplant one. While most grantors make that fact very plain in their grant literature, some are not as explicit. Regardless of that, you can rest assured they do not want you using their money to supplant a program you already have in place.

Most grantors are interested in helping you to improve academic performance in some way. You can usually do that by implementing a new program that has shown promise in other schools or by expanding a program that has been successful in your own school. You usually have to come up with the money for that new or expanded program. Grantors often supply that money.

Supplanting a program is different. That means you put a new program in the place of an old one. To do that, you should be able to use the money that you were using for the old program to put the new one in place. If you do, it is unlikely you would need grant money.

Some schools try to write grants that allow them to supplant one of their current programs in an effort to shift their money to another curriculum area. An abundance of reading grant money might be available at the time, but the school really needs money to shore up its math program. The grant writer applies for a reading grant for enough money to fund the reading program that is already in place, then the district shifts that budget money over to the math department so they can improve their math program with a promising supplemental program.

In theory this sounds like a workable plan for the school. In fact, it is a form of fraud. At the very least, it is deceitful. Grantors are usually very specific about what they are trying to accomplish with their giving, and to deceive them is wrong. You might very rarely see a grantor who is willing to add money to your general budget, but it is unusual to find such a grant.

It is important in your application to let grantors know you are supplementing a program rather than supplanting one. In your narrative, I recommend that you clearly describe how you plan to begin a new program or supplement a current program in order to improve that academic area in your school.

If you do not currently have an after-school program that tutors math students who are struggling, then you are supplementing your regular math program when you set up your tutoring program. If you do not currently have a computer lab that allows students who are struggling to better understand instructional concepts, then you are supplementing your math program when you set up such a computer lab. There are many ways to supplement a current program to improve it.

You should always clearly understand how a new or supplemental program will improve your overall academic program and clearly explain that in your grant application. If you struggle to prove that your grant program is truly supplemental, then it probably isn’t.

You will not often hear the terms “supplement” and “supplant” discussed at school, but you should hear it often if you are involved in writing grants. Thousands of grants supply money to schools for you to begin new programs or supplement academic programs to improve them. Only a handful of grantors are out there who would even consider providing money for you to supplant a program with their funds.

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.