Tag Archives: free grant database

The Dark Side of Grant Writing

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

clock

Happy New Year, gentle reader! My resolution for this blog is to keep it fresh and very useful for fledgling grant writers in schools everywhere.

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 have 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.

You’ve decided that grant writing is for you, the discipline required to meet deadlines is in your genetic code, you love the social nature of making relationships with the power brokers in your community, and you love the adulation you receive from the other teachers in your community. This is the pretty picture; most of you who have done this for a while know that there is a dark side to the grants world. We’ll talk a little bit about that today.

We’ll say you now have a couple of successful grant applications under your belt, you’ve made inroads in your community for developing a steady stream of funding from several sources, things are really going well. You were not, however, prepared for the enormous amount of time all of these activities have taken from your schedule. Your husband/wife is now permanently angry with you all the time for missing all those soccer matches that little Poindexter has played. The bags under your eyes are deeper than the Grand Canyon, and the laundry is about a week overdue.

Don’t despair, you will find ways to manage your time so that all can be accomplished, and you will even be graceful doing it. One of the keys is to delegate. Some sections of a grant narrative can be done by people who are eager to help. In an earlier blog I cautioned against writing grants in committee, it rarely produces a coherent application. However, to delegate some of the demographics paragraphs and maybe budget research is acceptable. You’ve made a list of the costs you will incur in your project, but someone else can help you get the three bids you’re going to need to find the lowest costs. This one is sort of fun, you get to work with vendors and learn to sweet talk them to a fair price. Don’t kid yourself, it is always negotiable. Someone accused me of being unfair to corporate America for doing this, come on now folks, think about that for a minute.

Another cast member in the dark side of the grant writing drama is the whiner. There’s a teacher in your building who snipes at you behind your back, suggesting that you don’t know what you are doing, and that your motives are impure. This person is making a career of trashing your work, and it isn’t fun. My solution to this one is to sit down with the whiner to try to find out what the real issues are. Chances are its jealousy; they want some of this limelight you are now basking in. A good solution to this is to find something for the whiner to do. Bring him into the fold, and then be sure to give him lots of credit for being helpful along the way. Amazing how fast the whining will stop.

There are other parts to the dark side, the fact that now that you’ve been successful, people expect this level of success on a regular basis. I can tell you from experience, there will be dry spells along the way, you will develop writer’s block on occasion, and life will intervene to take you away from the tasks of putting together an application. You are not a superhero, you do what you can, and it’s all you can do anyway.

So, grant writer that you are, suck up to the dark side, learn to embrace it, and continue on your path to glory.

It’s all for the kids anyway, right?

Please comment on this post, let me know if there are topics you’d like me to cover. I have a million stories to tell, seven years as a grants manager has taught me a few things and I’d love to share it all with you.

Advertisements

Grant Writing – Your New Career?

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

pen writing

You are well on your way to finishing your narrative for your grant application to XYZ Foundation. I’ve been concentrating on the technical aspects of grant writing so you’ll have a template, outline and budget planner to use for any grant application process. Just in time for the holidays, let’s step back and scratch the itch I know you’ve been developing. What’s is like to write grants for a living?

First, I need to help you distinguish between grant writing and grants management. If you’re getting really good at this, and enjoy the process (deadlines and stress included), you may want to explore the wonderful world of a career in grantsmanship. If you are the go-to grants person in your school, you are a grant writer. Your school district most likely has a business manager (many are deputy superintendents) who takes the proceeds of successful grant applications and manages the cash flow and expenditure of those funds. If you haven’t done this yet, make an appointment to sit down with the district business manager to explain your progress and interest in working with him/her to make this process smooth and professional.

If this relationship is already perking along, and you are comfortable with your role and the lines around which you actually experience the money, you’ll also want to make sure your principal is aware of your desires and professional management skills. Your district superintendent will want to be in on these discussions, leaving any one of those people out of your conversation is very bad practice, and your new career will end quickly.

I began my career as a teacher and library media specialist who wanted to bring in some funds to improve my school/s. Sound familiar? Believe me, it is intoxicating when the approval letters start to arrive, and checks are cut. Be sure your foundation managers know to whom they will be sending the funds, and how the checks should be endorsed and deposited. Most likely, you will never see the check, unless it’s a small local grant from a merchant in town who has heard of your project. It is critical that these checks are handled correctly and handed over promptly to the appropriate parties. Make copies of everything, put your paperwork in a binder, and keep it secure. Create a duplicate binder for your business manager and update it for her frequently. Hand deliver checks or send via certified mail.

Pretty soon in my grant writing career, I knew I wanted to do this again, and again, and ….. I had no idea where to take this new found ambition. You have now entered the spooky world of school district politics. The way you approach this, and the manner in which you communicate your intentions is very important. Transparency rocks!

I knew I wanted to broaden my education, so I went back to school to finish a master’s degree in educational administration. Good education junkie that I am, this degree program was heady and full of promise, and I happily completed it for many reasons having nothing to do with grants. The possibilities are endless for advancement in public (or private) education. School districts need great leaders. Keep in mind your school year will lengthen, summer vacations will vanish, and your colleagues will look at you in a whole new light. Don’t get bogged down by faculty room nattering about “those idiots downtown” even if you’ve jumped right in to those conversations in the past. If your plans pan out, you’re about to become an idiot.

My first administrative job in a large urban district was in the curriculum office. This was ideal for me, coming from special education and library media, I could now broaden my outlook to curriculum k-12, a great vantage from which to view the needs of your learning community. If you remember you are creating with standards as your guide (Common Core State Standards), and all subjects as your palette, you can start painting pictures that illustrate the road to the improvement of academic achievement for your students. Remember, it’s not about the money; it’s really about children and their path to learning. You can become well rounded in the curriculum office, or as a principal.

Then as time went by and a position opened up in the grants office, I saw the opportunity and went to work. My responsibilities were for acquiring and managing state, federal, private and corporate grant resources for schools. There were times when I felt I was ill-suited for the job, bean counting and attention to meticulous detail were really not my forte, but I had a great staff of accounting clerks to help me keep it all straight.

I had big wipe off calendars on the wall to keep me on track, and with help from some professionals in the field, it has become a great career. I have now moved on to consulting, blogging and grant making, another avenue with promising career possibilities. For your perusal, I present you with some organizations that may help you decide if this is for you, and help you scratch your itch:

Networking: LinkedIn, Grant Manager Profiles

Education and Training: Lists of degree programs. Professional OrganizationsHow-to sites. and Blogs.

You’ll work long hours, have stressful days, and think you’ve lost your mind on several occasions, but you will join a group of professionals who are in it for the kids in a very big way. If it’s not about the kids, you’re in it for the wrong reason.

Let me know what you think!

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.

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.

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.