Tag Archives: Discount School Supply®

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.

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Raising Quick Money

money on a clothes line

Anyone who needs and wants grant money for a good academic cause can find it.  How badly do you want the grant money and are you willing to put forth the effort to get it?

A special challenge arises if you need grant money quickly.  What if you came back to school and found that budget cuts have made it impossible for you to be as successful as you have been in the past? Or you know you need curriculum support materials that simply weren’t budgeted for.  What if you have a class full of students many of whom simply will not be able to move on to the next grade or pass exams unless you have extra help?

This is not the time to look for big grants that may take thirty days or more to write, even longer to be read and evaluated by a foundation. Next thing you know it’s next semester before you have any hope of receiving funds.  Large grant initiatives are the answer to long-term funding problems, but it’s not going to help you if you need it now! Don’t berate yourself, all the planning in the world cannot possibly help you predict all emerging needs in your school.

Start with the Discount School Supply® free grant database.  Start looking for foundation or corporate grants that have a deadline coming up soon or even better, no deadline at all.  These grants generally have short applications, many of which can be completed online. The foundation board often meets and decides who gets the money shortly after the deadline is reached.  If your timing is right, you might have grant money in your school account within 45-60 days.  This means you can begin impacting your problem areas before the end of the fall semester. This is especially true if you have an existing relationship with a foundation. Never assume a private foundation will only give you money once. The key is to establish a real working relationship with the people in the foundation who are responsible for making decisions. They’ll come back time and again if you’re crafty. Invite them in for a tour if you have received funds from them, they love to see how their support is impacting student learning.

When you are looking for a grant, you need to make sure you have a very clearly defined problem.  Next, you need to search the DSS grant database until you find a grant provider that matches your problem.  In fact, you should make absolutely sure that:

1) your problem matches the grant criteria;

2) you fully qualify for the grant (eligibility for public schools for instance);

3) the grant has a deadline within the next 45 days, or no deadline at all.

If you have a problem that can only be addressed by additional help as well as money, you might seek a partnership with a local business. Let them know that their money is important, but you also need volunteers to come during or after school to work with students who are behind.  Sometimes these volunteers are more essential than the money, so if you are going to go after a business partner to help you, make sure they employ the type of person who can most easily make a transition into the role of tutor or classroom helper. It’s all about relationships.

Hopefully, you are the kind of person who goes into solution mode when you see a problem that arises for which there is no plan. No time for panic. Other habits to get into are things like book fairs, product box top programs (General Mills) where students save and bring in the box tops that are then mailed in to a processing center for quick cash turnaround. With the right rah-rah attitude and a big glass jar in the school lobby, you’d be surprised how much you can raise. A school store that builds in a little profit for the sale of books, candy, etc. is a great way to teach kids about economics and can raise quite a bit of cash. Candy sales at holiday time, and other fund raising events can provide your school with “mad money” so you’ll have it when you need it.

Don’t sit back and wait for someone else to take the lead.  Start looking for those grants and partnerships today.

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!

How Do You Research Grant Opportunities?

Most grants are competitive. When you approach most grant possibilities, there are many others seeking the same funds. An essential way to make sure you get your grant funded is to do research on both the grant itself and the grantor involved.

Whether you get your initial information about a grant from a grant database like the one provided for you by Discount School Supply®, a newsletter, or a blog such as this one, you never get complete information about the grant in the synopsis provided;  you have to do some research. The better your research, the better your chance of getting grant money.

Your very best source of information about an individual grant is the grantor’s website. Almost all of the organizations that give grants these days have a website. Most of them are very good about giving pertinent information about their organization and the individual grant or grants they give. There are clues in those sites that transcend the information provided about their giving habits. What industry are they in? Who sits on their Board of Trustees? Does the grantor have a meet-and-greet conference each year? (These are often worth a plane fare to attend). You will learn so much at these events and meet some key people.

Your research should focus on a few key points. You can develop a checklist of the points you wish to cover in your study. First, you must make absolutely sure that your school or organization is eligible for the grant you’re researching. You might not be in the right region, state, area, or city to qualify for the grant. Some grants are very restrictive. Being a public school might disqualify you. Being a private school might disqualify you. You might need to be a 501(c)(3) organization to qualify for the grant, call or email the grantor to be sure. 501(c)(3) is an IRS designation that basically means “non-profit organization”. Many school districts create their own “Friends of the XYZ Schools” 501(c)(3) non-profit just so they can be eligible for the millions of dollars provided in these restricted grant opportunities. This process is not for the faint of heart; you might want to consult your school district attorney before you venture into this thicket.

Once you’re sure you qualify for a grant, you need to make absolutely certain you know the deadline for submitting your application. Sometimes grantors require you to submit a letter of intent or have you take a qualification quiz weeks before the application is due.  If you miss the deadline for those types of pre-qualifiers, the actual grant deadline date is unimportant because your application will not be considered anyway. Read all of the information on a grantor’s website to make sure you do not miss any type of deadline that might be posted.

You should next do research to see how closely your reasons for needing grant money and the grantor’s reason for giving grant money coincide. If the grantor gives money for quality after-school programs, but you have a reading problem, the question then becomes can you tailor an after-school reading program that will benefit your students and raise their test scores. If you can, you probably have a match.  If you can’t work the reading program you need into a quality after-school program, you should just look for another grantor.

Finally, make sure you jot down the contact information for the grantor, especially the grant contact person.  Get both the email address and phone number if they are available. I would recommend never writing a grant without having a conversation with that contact person first.  That exchange itself is an important piece of research. You should be able to get some type of indication from the contact person whether or not you should submit an application. The contact person will not tell you whether or not you will get grant money, but you can often tell from that person’s responses if it is worth your time to actually apply for the grant.

So, after you use the Discount School Supply® free grant database, you still have some work to do.  If you find a grant that looks like a good fit for your school or organization, it is then time to put on your researcher’s hat and start digging on the grantor’s website.  It’s absolutely worth your time to do this research before starting to write any grant application.

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!

The Third Step: Finding Possible Grants

If you want to secure grant money for your school, the first step is to understand in detail the main problems/needs your school faces. The second step — the subject of the last blog — is to develop a solution that has the greatest chance to solve that problem. And the third step is to locate all possible grants that might help fund your solution.

Grants available to schools fall into three basic categories: federal grants, state grants, and foundation or corporate grants. Federal and state grants are generally larger, and their applications are longer and more difficult to complete. Foundation and corporate grants typically yield schools less money, but their applications are less complex. That means you can usually fill out several foundation applications in the time it takes to complete one federal or state application.

Many educators attempt to locate grants on the Internet by using search engines or by subscribing to grant newsletters. Those methods tend to be inefficient and end up costing both time and money. The best way to locate potential grants is to use a grant database. The more comprehensive and up-to-date the database, the better it will serve your needs.

Your very best choice for using a grant database is the free one offered by Discount School Supply®.  It is large, free, and fairly comprehensive.  By far the most comprehensive grant database available to educators is the School Funding Center Grant Database. It contains virtually all federal, state, foundation, and corporate grants available to schools in the United States. Old grants are removed and new grants are posted on a daily basis. The one drawback to using this database is the cost — $397.00 per year. While relatively expensive, it still saves educators both time and money because of its comprehensive nature. First, use the free database provided by Discount School Supply®.  If you need even more grant information, go the database provided by The School Funding Center.

If you are looking specifically for federal grants, another good database to use is ED.gov Grants. This resource comes directly from the federal government, and it is free. It lists every federal education grant available to schools in the United States. It does not list state, foundation, or corporate grants. If you use this grant resource, you will still want to track down discretionary grants for schools.

If you are specifically looking for state grants, your best bet is to go to your state education agency’s website. Some of those sites include good grant databases that will help you locate current state grants. Others are not so good — or worse than that — and will take a little more work on your part. Go to ED.gov’s Education Resource Organizations Directory page to find your state education agency’s website. If your state’s site does not have “grants” or “funding” listed in its menu bar, type “grants” into the search box on the site to see if you can find listings that way.

If you are specifically looking for foundation grants, your best bet is to go to the Foundation Center. This organization lists thousands and thousands of foundations in its database. Many of those foundations offer grants to schools. The database is good for finding foundation grants, but the subscription cost ranges from $595.00 – $995.00 per year depending on the number of foundations you want listed in your searches. The more comprehensive the database you wish to search, the more your subscription will cost.

While you can find grant listings in many places, if you want to find all of the grants available to you quickly and easily, you will want to use one or more of the grant databases listed above. Remember, grant writers should use their time to write grants, not look for them. Save both time and money by using a good, established school grant database to locate the funding solutions you need in order to improve student achievement.

Get All the Grant Money You Need

I wish there were secrets for getting grant money for your school.  If there were, I’d be more than happy to share them with you in this blog.  But there are no secrets to getting grant money. You can get your share of grants provided you follow the proper steps 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 are 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 summer school and the fall semester.

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.  Obviously, you should use the free Discount School Supply® school grant database first.

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 were 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 you 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.