If you were at our first-ever Grants & Funding for School Technology Conference in Washington, D.C., you heard all about the twin issues that will be drawing funding like a magnet in 1999. According to the assembled experts, two words will be the absolute key to winning big money for school technology from government and private sources. The two power terms? Training and Assessment.

That message came across strong and clear from the dozens of program officers, foundation officials, and others who spoke at ‘Grants & Funding East.’ One after another, the experts sounded a common theme: Before providing funding, grants makers want to see a detailed, innovative plan for how your schools intend to use technology to improve teaching and learning.

Strong technology plans

And that plan, they agreed, must include:

• time and budget allocation for teacher training initiatives;

• an assessment plan that goes beyond anecdotal material into quantifiable, measurable outcomes and addresses student achievement;

• a line item budget that details realistic amounts for all areas of your technology program and other sources of revenue.

The experts also said that the technology plans in the most competitive proposals followed pedagogical objectives. That is, they answered the question, “How does technology improve student learning?”

“Technology needs to follow pedagogy,” declared Donna Rhodes, of the National Partnership for Excellence and Accountability in Teaching and a grantsmaker herself. “Not the other way around. The pedagogy must come first.”

Rhodes told the the general morning address that successful proposals must offer a blueprint for the use of technology–including a commitment to ongoing training and support once the outside experts leave.

National funders also stressed the importance of innovation.

Instead of merely doling out money for hardware and software, the experts said, national funders are interested in finding innovative ways to use technology to make a difference, especially in low-income communities.

This theme was underscored in the keynote address by Linda Roberts, special technology advisor to the president for the U.S. Department of Education.

“We need to target our resources; we need to constantly assess our efforts,” Roberts told attendees.

Proposals that win

The funding experts also agreed that educators must learn to prepare grant application packages that can compete with the applications of more seasoned, professional (fulltime!) fundraisers.

What is a strong grant proposal, and how do you create one? The pros suggested the following.

Five Elements of a Competitive Grant Proposal

1. It has clearly stated, achievable goals and objectives that the project will address.

2. It is easy to read. The proposal doesn’t use jargon, or vague language. It clearly and succinctly explains the proposed project, the people involved, and the expected outcomes.

3. The competitive proposal makes the ask.

It defines the need and asks the funder to fill that need.

4. It fully understands and addresses the funder’s giving priorities. The most competitive proposals state the funder’s priorities and describes how the proposed project meets them.

5. It’s innovative. You don’t have to set the world on fire and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, funders advise. But your project should be built on a well-reasoned set of principles in a new way. Example: TIIAP funded a project last year that helped students in hospitals stay in touch with their classrooms via laptop computers.

Six More Steps You Can Take to Win Grants

1. Talk with the funder. The experts agreed: Make a phone call to the program officer of the agency or the foundation to discuss your project. Most foundation and federal funding agents are happy to discuss your proposal and your work. You shouldn’t call and ask obvious questions, such as, “What do you give money for?” But you are encouraged to discuss the scope and goals of your project and get feedback on how appropriate it might be for the funding agency–or what you can do to improve it.

2. Ask outsiders to review your proposal. One school grant writer said she asked a “smart but ignorant” friend to read over her proposals, to make sure that anyone who didn’t already know about the program could understand it by its description. Another funder suggested that you put together a “mock review panel” to go over your proposal and give you written comments about areas of confusion or improvements.

3. Study the proposals of previous award winners. If it’s a government funder you’re going after, you have a right to read the proposals of previous winners, under the Freedom of Information Act. And oftentimes grantees are happy to share with you the seeds of their success.

4. Become a peer reviewer yourself. Government agencies like the Department of Education and The Department of Commerce need field pros like yourself to read and recommend project proposals to recommend for funding. Sit on the other side for a while, and you’ll become an expert on what proposals actually get read.

5. Do your homework. Resource books, periodicals, guides and directories, conferences, the internet and peer-to-peer mentoring are great ways to find out more about the funders you’re going after.

6. If you missed Grants & Funding East, don’t despair: You’ll have the chance to learn the ins and outs of school technology fundraising at Grants & Funding West, slated for San Diego, Calif., in April of 1999.