Let’s face it. It’s almost a necessity for teachers to spend a lot of their own money to purchase supplies for their classes and classrooms. Because educators have a ton of great ideas about projects and programs to start with their students, finding money to do them is always a problem. That’s where grant writing comes in. It can sound intimidating, but once you understand the basics, you can develop an approach that will work for you. Since I started writing grants, I’ve been awarded over $6,000 of funding to develop my own projects. I wanted to provide some information that I’ve acquired and that I think is helpful for beginners. Be sure and get this book on the left, you’ll need it! There’s more info about it at the bottom of this post.
Grant awards are developed by organizations and companies (and even individuals) to fund things that they feel are important. It provides great PR for the groups that basically give money away. Some grants are designated for certain topics or recipients. Many of the grants out there are accessible to educators, it’s just a matter of finding them. I encourage you to check with your school district when thinking about getting involved with grants. Some districts have departments dedicated to grant writing and can help you with getting started.
Step 1: Decide on an Approach
There are two approaches to take when starting to look at grants as a potential funding source. Educators can identify a need in their classroom or school and then seek out grant opportunities that fit that need. Alternatively, one could find a list of active grant opportunities and develop a program or project that would meet the eligibility. I have personally used both approaches; one isn’t necessarily better than the other. However, I have had more success when I read about a grant opportunity first, and then developed a proposal that would meet the criteria. Grant requirements can be VERY specific, and it’s always been easier for me to develop a program around them.
Step 2: Locate a Grant Opportunity
Information is out there, you just have to find it. You can Google ‘grants for education’ and get a ton of resources, but a great place to start is at GetEdFunding. Register for an account to have the option of saving grants that you want to apply for. By registering, you can also receive grant alerts- emails that announce when new grants are released.
Contact your school district. When I taught in Albuquerque I signed up with the Grants Department and they sent out a monthly newsletter with grant opportunities for educators, categorized by grade and content area. As I mentioned above, these departments sometimes have professional development courses you can take that teach more about the writing process.
One site I haven’t used but that I have heard good things about is Donors Choose. This site allows you to post a project that you want to complete for your classroom. You state the approximate cost and needed materials involved with your project. People or groups with money regularly browse the site and select projects to fund. I’m sure there are more detailed guides about getting your project funded on this site, but I did want to mention it. It’s considerably easier and more passive than seeking out a grant and applying for it.
Step 3: Prepare and Submit an Application
When looking for grants, be sure and read the entire description to make sure you understand everything that is involved. Once you have located a grant that is a good fit, it’s time to apply. You’ll fill out basic information about yourself and your school. Usually the application will require you to answer specific questions about your project and how it will meet a need at your school or in your city and state. You will be required to write a proposal (frequently 3-5 pages) that describes your project, includes a budget, and outlines a plan of how you will achieve your goals if awarded the grant.
There’s a couple things to keep in mind when developing your proposal. If the review committee wants a 3 page proposal, you have to write a 3 page proposal. You won’t impress anyone by submitting a detailed 20 page proposal with charts and spreadsheets. The committee won’t even look at it and you’ll be automatically excluded. You also have to turn it in on time, there’s no credit for late work. These committees are rule-oriented and expect you to comply with the guidelines they set out in the application. Finally, be realistic about your budget. Just because the committee will award up to a certain amount doesn’t mean you should ‘fill’ your budget with stuff you don’t need just to meet the amount. You can apply for less. However, if you really need the $500 microscope to look at cells in your science lab instead of the $50 one, that’s fine, but tell them why you need it.
Step 4: Implement Your Plan and Report Out
Let’s assume your proposal is selected. Your next step is to notify your administration and ask them how to proceed with accepting the funds. All schools/districts handle this differently. They may want you to purchase materials through certain vendors or follow other procedures.
After you receive your materials, you need to follow through with the exact plan you outlined in your proposal. You’ve made a commitment that you have to honor. You can’t just buy all the stuff and take it home. Grant awards typically have reporting procedures that you have to follow as well, like providing the committee with updates about the progress you have made. At the end of the school year or project, even if you aren’t required to, you need to prepare a final report that documents how the award helped you accomplish your goals. This makes you look good, makes other people happy, and helps build your reputation when applying for future awards.
It’s also important for you to celebrate your success. Thousands of people apply for grants and if your proposal is selected, you’re kind of a big deal. Contact the school board and tell them what you achieved. Create a video with your students and submit it to the local news media. Being an educator is not an easy job and it feels good to get recognized. If you write a successful grant application (and you totally can), you deserve it!
A great resource that I have used to help me frame my writing process is a book called The Only Grant-Writing Book You Will Ever Need. This book goes into more detail about the steps I outlined above. It provides information about how to write each section of a proposal and incorporates writing exercises. It also gives you access to discussions with professionals to learn why certain proposals get accepted and others don’t. I took a grant-writing course in grad school and this book was required reading. I’ve referred back to it several times since then. Highly recommended reading.
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