Taking it for Granted
Written by Victoria Prater
“There is plenty of money out there waiting for anyone who wants it. All you have to do is jump through the right hoops to get it.”
-Brian Mckenna, English department chair and technology coordinator, Hueneme H.S., Oxnard, Calif.
As an educator, you are probably aware there is a plethora of resources and funding that can enhance your school, curriculum, program and even personal education.
The wonderful world of grants can provide those who seek them with a wide variety of resources like computers, technology training, textbooks, money to develop new programs, and money to enhance existing programs.
The question is, where are these resources, and how can you get your hands on them?
Types of Grants
There are essentially three types of funding:
this includes funding that comes from national, state or local government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Education and your local Board of Education.
private foundations are nongovernmental, nonprofit organizations with a principle fund or endowment. They are managed by their own trustees and directors, and aid charitable, educational, religious or other activities serving the public good. Private foundations fall into three categories: independent foundations (established by a person or family of wealth, this comprises the largest group); company-sponsored foundations (also called corporate foundations) created and funded by business corporations; and operating foundations, established to operate research, social welfare, or other charitable programs deemed worthwhile by the donor or governing body.
public charities supported by and operated for the benefit of a specific community or region.
Ask the Experts
For teachers across the country, specific programs and funding will vary on a state and local level. However, plenty of advisers have kept an ear to the ground and learned how to get money or equipment to enhance their programs.
The Internet, the local library, school principal, local state Department of Education/Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), and colleagues are all good resources to help you start gathering information on what groups are out there and who is offering the type of funding you are looking for.
Most school districts have a district-level person who is a grant coordinator for the schools in that area. This person is an invaluable resource for helping find grants and learning how to obtain them. His or her name should be readily available at your school‹check with the principal or other teachers to find out who it is.
“Researching what funding exists in your area is probably the toughest part of getting grants,” Cindy Buxton, yearbook adviser, Lamar H.S., Lamar, Colo., explained.
Buxton has written nearly 10 grant proposals, and over the years has received computers, digital cameras, software, printers, scanners, CD burners, video equipment and more.
“I actually outfitted a six-station iMac lab and a 10-station PC lab, almost entirely through grant funds.
“When I started, I knew very little about how to get grants, but the school I was with at the time was very big on grants, and got a lot of them. I utilized the people around me who were more experienced to help me identify sources for funding and write proposals,” Buxton said.
Buxton did not get her first grant.
“The first proposal I wrote was denied, but it turned into a useful learning experience,” she said.
“The evaluator I approached returned my denied proposal with a list of reasons why it was denied. I took a lot of useful information from what I did wrong the first time, and was able to write a better proposal the next time,” Buxton said.
Since then, Buxton has also taken advantage of grantsmanship workshops, frequently offered at local and national educational conferences.
She has utilized grants from Goals 2000, a local state grant which encourages teachers to find ways to use grant money to increase student achievement, and School to Career, another state program designed to give money to schools for programs to help students consider what kind of career they may pursue after school.
Kelli Foreman, yearbook adviser, Charlotte H.S., Punta Gorda, Fla., was able to get seven compact PC computers for her journalism program.
“We only had one computer, and our program desperately needed more,” she said. Foreman heard about a technology mini-grant program in her county through her school bulletin.
“I had never written for a grant before, but I was told this was a grant where, if I even applied, I was guaranteed to get something. Having never written a proposal, I interviewed another teacher at my school and he walked me through the process.
“In order to assess what, specifically, I needed, I contacted my Walsworth customer service representative, and she was able to fax me a list of the kind of computers and software that would best benefit my journalism program.”
Sue Asher, yearbook adviser, Inza R. Wood Middle School, Wilsonville, Ore., obtained a $2,000 grant from her local Education Service District (EDS), an umbrella organization which provides video and technology help for organizations and individuals in the county.
She also received a digital camera through the Casio/Eisenhower fund, along with a one-day training session about how to use the camera.
In today’s information age, there is a big push in many states to upgrade the technology within schools. More and more funding programs are available to help advisers and educators get the equipment they need, and sometimes, the training on how to use it.
A good example is the California Department of Education’s Digital High School Grant Program. This program provides assistance to schools serving students in grades 9-12 so these schools may install and support technology, as well as provide staff training.
The program happens in two parts: the installation of equipment is provided through the Technology Installation grant. Following this, schools must submit a final report and a Certification of Completion. These schools are then eligible to receive a technology support and staff training grant in the second fiscal year following the year in which they were selected for the Technology Installation grant.
The goals of the program are that every participating classroom will be connected to the Internet by the end of the Technology Installation grant, and that technology be integrated into the curriculum to enhance teaching and learning.
Brian McKenna, English department chair and technology coordinator at Hueneme H.S., Oxnard, Calif., has also written a number of grants and serves on a state team in California that reads and evaluates school grants.
McKenna suggests that any educator writing for a grant first check with their school district to see if they will receive the entire amount, or if the district will keep some of the grant money for administrative costs, etc.
“Once a grant is written and approved, the person who applied for it usually doesn’t get the whole amount. This is because some school districts take part of the funds, which they may attribute to indirect costs,” McKenna explained.
“This amount usually ranges between four and seven percent. I try to avoid it by telling my district beforehand I will do all the work and apply for the grant, provided I receive the entire grant,” he said.
According to McKenna, your district may not always agree to this, but it is worth a try, because the school wants the grant as well, and they may be willing to compromise on this issue.
A successful grant proposal is one that is well-prepared, thoughtfully planned and concisely packaged. Usually, the grantor or the organization supplying funds will provide a specific proposal format for you to follow.
McKenna also emphasizes the importance of thinking like the evaluator while you prepare the proposal.
“Every grant has a particular rubric you will be asked to follow in your proposal. You must follow it, or your proposal will be rejected,” he said. “Try to figure out ahead of time what the evaluator will be looking for.”
Although there is no such thing as a generic proposal, a number of major components do recur throughout most grant proposals.
The cover page summarizes the important identifying information: the proposal title; the name, address and telephone number of the project director; the agency and program name; the project’s beginning and ending dates; and the budget request.
A well-written summary captures the entire proposal in a nutshell, and should be no longer than a few paragraphs that include the who, what, where, when, why and how much information on the proposed project.
You might use the following as a guide for the summary.
Briefly state the problem or need you have recognized and are prepared to address.
Briefly describe the proposed project, including what will take place, how many people will benefit, how and where it will operate, for how long, and (if applicable) who will staff it.
Explain the amount of grant money required for the project and what the plans are for funding it in the future.
Organization and Expertise
Briefly state the history, purpose and activities of your organization (or school, or yearbook program), emphasizing its capacity to carry out the proposal.
Problem Statement/Statement of Needs
This section gives a more detailed description of the need for the project, its goals and objectives, and your hypothesis or research questions. This is perhaps the most important section, as it presents your vision of the worth and overall contribution of the project.
Decide which facts or statistics best support the project. Be sure all data is accurate and specific. Also, give the funder a reason to want to invest in the program; be sure the solution appears feasible and worthwhile.
Avoid presenting the absence of a solution as the actual problem. For example: “The problem is we do not have enough computers in the yearbook staff room. Purchasing more computers will solve this problem.” The more persuasive case looks at what extra computers can do to enhance the yearbook itself, how it might save the school time and money, and how students will benefit from what they can learn with the opportunity to use the new computers.
Describe what you will do to achieve the desired outcome. It is helpful and sometimes required to create a timeline for the activities which make up your approach in order to persuade the reader you are organized and prepared to meet the demands of the project.
Budget and Budget Narrative
Begin considering budget needs immediately after deciding on a project. Budgets should reflect all costs related to fundable activities in your project, including personnel and non-personnel items.
The budget narrative provides an explanation of how the figures cited in the budget were calculated.
If a grant calls for a line-item budget, know the prices (exactly). Do not round numbers or guess. It is important to show the evaluator or grantor you are serious and know what you are talking about.
A brief conclusion summarizes the proposal’s main points and reiterates the importance and purpose of the project. In the conclusion, invite the funder to join you in ensuring the project’s accomplishment.
Each funder or sponsor will have their own preferences and will probably give specific guidelines on what they want attached to the application.
Typical attachments may include curriculum vitae, letters of support, statistical tables, cost documentation for equipment, and audited financial statements.
It never hurts to get as much support as possible from others. Once the proposal summary is developed, look for individuals or groups representing academic, political, professional and lay organizations, and do not forget colleagues and parents, who will be willing to support the proposal in writing. Numerous letters of support can be persuasive to a grantor agency. Also consider support from local government agencies and public officials.
Most federal agencies require some form of program evaluation among grantees. Evaluations measure the project’s stated objectives to determine its progress and success. Interim evaluations help to fine-tune the program as it moves along, and a summative evaluation at the end of the program assesses the final outcome.
Convincing evaluations require the collection of appropriate data before and during program operations. Tip
The grantor should be highlighted in the evaluation. Evaluations help the grantor see if (and how) their money was well spent.
Remember, a good proposal is concise, precise and shows you have done your homework and know what the evaluator or grantor is looking for.
It’s Worth It
Although grant proposal writing may seem daunting to the novice, taking the time to explore the resources (both human and otherwise) available to you can make all the difference. The money is out there, if you are willing to go after it.