Imagine my surprise on a recent Monday morning when I opened an eMail message (which had been sent to me on Saturday evening) asking for help with a federal grant application that was due later that same day! This reminds me of a little statue I have seen of a hair stylist that reads “I’m a beautician, not a magician” at the bottom. I felt like writing back to the sender with the response, “I’m a proposal writer, not a magician!”

I’m using this example to highlight the importance of preparing far enough in advance and leaving adequate time to put together a proposal. I know I’ve addressed this topic before, but it seems there are still folks out there who continually operate in the “last-minute” mode, trying their very best to put together a proposal as those last minutes are ticking away on the clock.

Obviously, your chances of winning a grant are much greater if you have adequate time to prepare. With that in mind, here are five strategies for managing the grant-seeking process in order to minimize your stress–and maximize your grant-earning potential.

1. Stay on top of the most recent grant listings.

To get advance notice of when U.S. Department of Education (ED) grants are expected to be announced, check ED’s Grants Forecast web site (www.ed.gov/fund/grant/find/edlite-forecast.html). This site lists all of the expected discretionary grant programs (and their anticipated deadlines) for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. To learn about other grant opportunities soon after they’re announced, consider subscribing to a service like eSchool News’ Grants & Funding ALERT, which lists the latest in school technology grant opportunities. For $35 a year, this electronic newsletter is delivered to your eMail in-box every two weeks.

2. Create a system for quickly disseminating grant information to the appropriate people.

If you don’t have a system in your district for disseminating information about grant opportunities to the appropriate staff members within a day of receiving this information, consider putting such a structure in place. For example, place one person (a district grant writer, if you have one) in charge of disseminating this information, and identify which staff members should get which types of information. Curriculum-related grant opportunities that involve the use of technology could be sent your curriculum supervisor and IT director, for instance. Or send grants that relate to math to your math department head, science-related grants to your science department head, reading-related grants to your reading specialists, and so on.

In many cases, your staff will need every second that is available to them to polish a project idea and construct a well-written proposal. You can assist in the process by disseminating information about grant opportunities as quickly as possible–and by supporting the decision that it is too late to apply for a grant if the deadline is, indeed, too soon.

3. Follow up on all new grant listings immediately.

How many of you read the “Grant Deadlines” section that appears in this publication every month? For some of these grants, only a few weeks’ notice (or less) before the deadline is not enough time to collect all of the information and work out all of the details needed to submit a comprehensive proposal. However, even if you don’t have time to apply for the current funding cycle, you can still use this information to prepare for future competitions under the same program.

When you see a new grant program, do you check to see if the funder will fund the types of projects you’d like to implement in your district? If so, do you get in touch with the funder or check the web site right away to find out more about the program and what is required in a proposal? Most people who see an impending deadline will become discouraged and let this opportunity pass by. If no follow-up steps are taken immediately, in all likelihood this information is forgotten. However, you can turn this into a proactive situation by taking a few simple steps.

If the description of the grant program seems to fit with some projects you’d like to implement in your district, do the research as soon as you see the information. (Better yet, do the research as soon as you identify some project ideas!) Contact the funder and ask for the RFP (request for proposals) or giving guidelines, or find out if this information is on a web site. Ask if there is a mailing list that you can join to receive more information. For more information about private or corporate foundations, you can also check the Foundation Center database (www.fdncenter.org).

4. Review the rules and consider carefully whether it is realistic to apply.

When you get the information about applying for a particular grant, review it and make a quick decision about whether it is worthwhile to apply for the upcoming competition, based on your answers to these questions:

  • Do you meet the funder’s eligibility requirements?
  • What material must be included in the proposal–and is it readily available?
  • What kind of time do your staff have within the time frame to actually work on the grant proposal? Can they get release time during the school day, or is it expected that they will do all of the work on their own time?

Don’t let your decision be influenced by the amount of the grant award, because a poorly conceived project that is translated into a hastily written proposal is not likely to be funded anyway.

5. If you don’t apply, use the information you collected to prepare for next year’s cycle.

If you decide not to pursue a grant opportunity this year, note when the competition was announced and put it on your calendar for next year. Make a list of all the items you’ll need for the application package, and start collecting them at least a month before the anticipated deadline.

Design a simple database to include information about funders for easy reference in future years. Also, keep copies of funders’ RFPs and guidelines on hand, so you can get a jump on the competition for the next year.

Using these steps to achieve proactive grant seeking should help reduce the stress of proposal writing and will lead to better applications that contain well-developed projects. Always strive to avoid the last-minute proposal whenever possible.

Deborah Ward, CFRE, is an independent grant writing consultant. She welcomes questions at (717) 295-9437 or Debor21727@aol.com.