Focus

Grant Writing: Money for the Plucking

by Penny Schuckman

Does your school district have an initiative or program awaiting financial support that you just know would help students succeed? I’ve discovered more money is available in the form of grants than most school districts have the time, energy or desire to secure.

Some 23,600 grant-giving foundations operate nationwide with $4.8 billion of assets available as grants. Fewer than 7 percent of foundation funds currently go to K-12 education. Why? Because educators don’t ask for it.

As someone who has brought in more than a quarter-million dollars in external support to our 4,500-student school district over the past year, I’ve developed 10 suggestions for what it takes to write a successful grant application for a school district. About 90 percent of the successful applications have provided federal grants ($360,000) with the remainder coming from state sources. The federal funds launched a distance learning charter school while the state money provided theater experiences for some students and services to our homeless students and promoted student wellness through nutrition and exercise.

Shared Writing
• Tip 1: Start with a great idea.
A proposal for a program that will help children achieve is half the battle in successful grant writing. Once you have your idea, search the web for grants or foundations with your same goal. A terrific place to get started is www.grants.com.

• Tip 2: Work as a T.E.A.M.
As suggested by the slogan — Together Everyone Achieves More — volunteers can be recruited within the district to write particular sections of the grant proposal. One staffer should be assigned to proofread the application and to ensure clarity and consistency in the writing due to the array of writers. Give team members a submission deadline two weeks in advance of the submission due date to allow time to wrap up loose ends. Each team member should benefit in some way by the program if funded — perhaps an incentive such as attendance at a national conference.

• Tip 3: Address all aspects of the RFP.
A Request For Proposal will outline everything to include in your proposal. Typically an RFP will require an abstract, a needs statement, goals/objectives/
outcomes, assessment of goals, a budget with a narrative and plans for how you will disseminate to others what you have learned from the funded project. Usually a rubric details how to earn the most points in each section.

Honest Costs
• Tip 4: Show true budgets.
Budgets are a window into how the project will be implemented and managed. Be sure to answer these questions: Can the project be accomplished with this budget? Are costs reasonable? Is the budget consistent with the proposed activities? Is there sufficient budget detail and explanation?

Your budget should show actual costs and detailed calculations on how those costs were determined. Costs should be broken down by categories such as personnel, travel, supplies and equipment. Budgets should list costs to be provided by the funding agency and those provided by others. The most common error is failing to detail fringe benefits separate from salaries — or in my case, forgetting them completely. Our school district’s finance director still is not speaking to me!

• Tip 5: Demonstrate how you will sustain the program.
Your proposal evaluators will ask themselves this question: “What happens when the money runs out?” Provide a clear strategy for supporting the program when the grant money is gone.

• Tip 6: Follow the directions.
This sounds simple, but it is the major reason grants do not get funded. Use the most current version of the application and have all the required signatures. Follow guidelines specifying proposal content, length and documentation.

• Tip 7: Contact the funding source.
Questions will arise as you work your way through the grant proposal. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to direct your questions to the funding source. This is a terrific way for fund-ers to put a voice with your name and humanize your grant proposal in their mind.

Reject Failure
• Tip 8: Be a grant reader.
Reviewing grant applications is a terrific way to polish your grant-writing skills. You will glean project ideas and gain exposure to various writing styles.

• Tip 9: Apply for the right reason.
Write for the students instead of the money and you will get funded. It also helps to keep in mind that money isn’t everything. Sometimes foundations can provide volunteers, technical assistance, etc. Ask for non-funding help to build a relationship before seeking substantial funding.

• Tip 10: Don’t surrender.
I remember sitting in the audience four years ago at a national conference listening to a professional grant writer wax eloquent about how easy it was to write a grant. I thought, “Yeah right!” I started writing grant applications in July 2006 and have secured $400,000 for students in our district during that time. I also have presented on my grant-writing experiences at a national conference.

My point is that novice applicants can be successful. The key is to not take rejection personally and to keep trying. Four years ago I thought the most rewarding part of grant writing would be receiving the money. I have since learned that the chief reward is in seeing your idea to help students come to fruition.

Penny Schuckman is director of The Learning Center in the Haysville School District, 150 Stewart, Haysville, KS 67060. E-mail: pschuckman@usd261.com