Show Me the Money: Tips and Resources for Successful Grant Writing
Many educators have found that outside funding, in the form of grants, allows them to provide their students with educational experiences and materials their own districts can't afford. Learn how they get those grants -- and how you can get one too! Included: Practical tips to help first-time grant writers get the grants they need.
You have a great idea for a class project, a school field trip, a district-wide anti-bullying curriculum, a....
You dream of providing accessibility software for your special needs students, an after-school program for gifted students, a visual arts curriculum for all students, a....
But your school or district just doesn't have the money to make your dreams come true. What's a teacher to do?
Many educators, like Robin Smith, an educational technology specialist in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, have found that outside funding, in the form of educational grants, can provide the answer.
"The first grant I applied for was a Digital Grassroots Grant for $15,000," Smith told Education World. The grant, awarded by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, provided money for technology initiatives by classroom teachers. At the time (1993-94 or 1994-1995), I was teaching a multimedia class, and I used the money to buy advanced (for that time) equipment, including a scanner, a laptop computer, digital cameras, and software.
"The second grant I received was a Technology Literacy Challenge Fund (TLCF) grant; federal money funneled through the Pennsylvania Department of Education and awarded by them. That grant, awarded in 2000-2001, was for $187,500. (I applied for $250,000 but was funded for a smaller amount.) The grant was for a technology training program for the teachers in our district, and it included using the FutureKids Professional Development Curriculum, purchasing additional computers and projectors, and paying for trainers."
Clearly, Smith is a successful grant writer. Can you do what she did? According to Smith, "Anyone can do it if they're willing to put in the time and if they have decent writing abilities. The more writing experience you have, the better off you will be. I had no special training or experience when I started. Experience is the best teacher and you should be prepared to not get every grant you apply for -- or even the first few you apply for. But it does become easier as you learn what funders are looking for, although it's always very time consuming!"
THE THREE P'S
Most successful grant writers give the same advice: begin your search for a grant with a project, a plan -- and permission. "If you're planning to apply for a major grant," Smith noted, "be sure you have the support of your principal or superintendent. Many grants for more than a few thousand dollars require a senior officer's signature to agree to implement the grant within the school system." In addition, school districts are limited in the number of state and federal grants for which they can apply. If you're applying for a government grant, you'll need permission -- whatever the amount.
Before you even start the funding process, however, you need a project. "The most important thing is to have a project in mind and then search for a grant to fund the project," Smith said. "Many people do the opposite; they hear about a grant and then try to find a project to fit it. The writing is much harder when you don't have a clear plan in mind and know exactly what you want to do before beginning applying for a grant."
As soon as you have a project in mind and permission to implement it, formulate your plan. Don't wait until you're faced with a grant application form before solidifying the details of your project! Begin right away with a written account of the project's:
Having this information in hand will make it much easier to locate appropriate funding sources -- and to complete the grant application when the time comes.
And be sure to start the process early. Experienced grant-writers say that, depending on costs and the amount of funding, it can take months, in some instances a year or more, before you receive any funds.
After you have a detailed picture of all aspects of your project, it's time to find the necessary funding. Start by searching online and library resources. You might begin your search with some of the resources in the Grant Resources and Grant Sources sections at the end of this article. You should also investigate local government agencies, educational and civic organizations, and businesses as possible sources of funding. According to Smith, "the best funding sources are education-related businesses, U.S. Department of Education programs, state department of education programs, and philanthropic organizations. Many magazines also highlight education grants."
Most importantly, however, look for funding sources whose philosophy and focus are consistent with your project's goals and objectives. The Grant Match Rubric will help you determine how close a match various funders might be.
Contact those funders who are the best matches based on your research. (Don't limit yourself to a single funding source.) Obtain their funding guidelines and, if possible, a list of previously funded projects. Determine whether the average amount of funding is consistent with your needs.
Speak personally with a contact person involved with the funding who can answer your questions and provide advice and guidance. Be sure to ask how projects are reviewed, how decisions are made, and how and when funding is dispersed. Develop a relationship with your contact person and keep the lines of communication open throughout the application process.
THE APPLICATION PROCESS
Next comes the hard part -- completing the grant application! A grant application generally consists of three parts: the application form or forms, the narrative, and the budget. Grant writers and grant givers alike caution applicants to give equal weight to all three sections, and they provide the following advice for completing each part successfully.
Fill out application forms meticulously and completely. Read the questions carefully -- read them again -- and then proofread your answers. Type answers, if possible; otherwise print them neatly and legibly.
The narrative section of the application usually includes:
Remember to make your narrative clear, concise, and interesting to read. Write professionally, but avoid too much educational jargon. Define any educational buzz words that you do use. (Remember, the reviewers might not be educators!) Be specific about your project's goals and objectives -- and focus on results! Most importantly, follow the rules set down by the funder. Dont assume that more is better or that your way is better. Most funders know what they want and ask for it.
The budget provides funders with cost projections for the project. Your budget should be specific, reasonable, realistic, accurate, and flexible -- in case the funder wants to negotiate the funding amount. Be sure to include other revenue sources, if any are available. Above all, make sure the budget is consistent with the narrative. Don't include budget items that aren't mentioned in the proposal or omit costs for projected activities.
Some funding sources may also require a variety of supporting documents as part of the application. Those could include endorsements, resumes, additional project information, visual aids, and so on. Don't assume that your funder wants -- or even allows -- those documents, however. Ask if you aren't sure.
THE RESULTS ARE IN
Well, you made it through your first grant-writing experience! And in spite of your inexperience and pessimism, you got the grant! What do you do now? Robin Smith and other successful grant recipients offer the following advice:
Of course the alternative is also possible: You thought you did everything right -- but you didn't get the funding. Why not? According to Smith, grants are not funded for the following reasons:
"I applied for one grant that was reviewed by three reviewers," Smith recalled. "Each reviewer could give the application up to 100 points. Reviewer 1 gave us 99 points. Reviewer 2 gave us 98 points. Reviewer 3 gave us 60 points -- and we weren't funded. I called the Pennsylvania Department of Education and complained. Reviewer 3 had given us a 0 on a page that other reviewers gave us maximum points. I felt that score was totally out of line. Of course, the money was already awarded and nothing could be done, although the PDE did change the review process after that, switching to 5 reviewers and dropping the highest and lowest score. They also removed the scores from the Web page, however, so applicants are no longer able to see their scores; they can only read the reviewer comments."
So what can you do if your project isn't funded? Probably not much. But do ask to read the reviewers' comments, write a thank you note, and try again!
In addition, Robin Smith offers the following tips for educators about to embark on the grant application process for the first time.
ADDITIONAL GRANT-WRITING RESOURCES
The following sites offer tips and advice for the grant-writing process.
ADDITIONAL GRANT RESOURCES
The following sites offer resources that can help you locate appropriate sources of funding for your project.
ADDITIONAL GRANT SOURCES
The following sites are businesses or public, private, or government organizations that make funding available to K-12 schools.
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