Finding and Writing Grants
by Kathleen Leonardi
Teachers are a resourceful group. For one thing, we're the best scroungers around. Just check out the exhibit hall on the last day of a teachers' conference. Picked clean! Every local business probably knows you by name because you're not afraid to ask for stuff. After all, it's for the kids. So how about going one step further and asking for money? Grant money, that is.
Education is currently a red-hot topic, and there are some people with very large purses who want to get in on the act. Don't let the "strings" attached to those purses keep you from going out and looking for funding. With a little perseverance, you can find a good match.
Where to Find Grants:
- Government Agencies
It's good to know you can obtain information on federal and state government grants through departments of education. I found http://www.ed.gov/funding.html to be a very helpful, general government grant site. You can access information on state government grants by using these keywords for an online search: "education and government [your state's name]."
Foundations want to support worthy causes. And who is more worthy than your students? The key to getting a foundation's money is to find out it's areas of interest by reading its home page. One foundation may specialize in environmental issues; another may concentrate on early literacy. Once you match your needs with a foundation's interests, you can pursue the process through its website. Most sites I've visited ask only for a two-page proposal.
- Local Resources
Everyone with experience in writing and receiving grants seems to agree that the place to start looking for a resource is near home. One experienced grant writer pointed out that I have access to 20 potential funding resources in my own classroom. What are those resources? The parents of my students! The companies they work for are often interested in investing in the educators of their employees' children.
Other local resources include organizations such as Kiwanis, Rotary Club, and Lions Club. Local businesses can also be a great source of monetary support; the best bet is to call your local Chamber of Commerce. One teacher at my school received a grant from the local Wal-Mart store for a school-wide environmental project. He used this money to purchase tools, a worm bin, and a worm harvester so that students could build and maintain a school compost heap that uses food waste from the cafeteria.
How to Write Grant Proposals:
- One Voice
No matter how many people are involved, it's best if your grant has only one author. This helps to ensure that the proposal is cohesive and clear.
- The 7-Eleven Rule
The 7-Eleven Rule means that if you handed your proposal to anyone who happened to be standing outside a local convenience store, he or she would be able to tell what your objective is and how you'll accomplish it. A proposal filled with educational jargon or lofty, save-the-world objectives is less likely to receive a grant than a straightforward request for an achievable goal.
- Your Audience
Remember that the people who consider your proposal may regularly receive hundreds of proposals. Stay within the guidelines relating to length, use bulleted lists, and be concise. It's also good to use the language that appeared in the original description of the grant. For example, if the grant asks how you will achieve "equity" for all students, use the word "equity" to catch the reader's eye.
Problems to Avoid:
- The Bottom Line
You want money for something that will benefit your students and the school community. At the same time, your funding source wants to know that its money is being put to good use. So before you begin, make sure you're willing to comply with the grant's requirements. For example, my composting colleague must periodically update his benefactors with photographs and brief descriptions of his students' activities, such as feeding and harvesting the worms.
- Tracking Deadlines and Other Paperwork
Keep a record of compliance requirements and deadlines and give yourself plenty of time to meet them. One school administrator confessed to me that she almost lost funding from a grant because she forgot to send a required follow-up survey to the project participants. In the end, she was able to comply with the requirements and keep her funding – but it was close.