Across the country, schools are feeling the pain of steep budget cuts; now, more than ever, it makes sense for schools that haven’t had a clear grant-seeking strategy to adopt one to help keep valuable instructional programs afloat–and even implement new projects.
If your school district has not gotten into the grant-seeking game, now might be the time to take a close look at the advantages of securing grant funding to support your instructional programs. Here are five simple steps you can follow to get started:
1. Lay the foundation by becoming "grant ready." This means establishing the internal infrastructure to apply for grants and manage funded projects. In other words, you need someone (or a group of people) willing to research funding opportunities, identify the most viable funders, and write proposals. You can establish your own internal grants team consisting of writers, curriculum experts, and fiscal experts. Or, you can consider hiring a grant-writing consultant to do these jobs for you. As for managing grant projects, someone will have to take responsibility for adhering to the terms and conditions of every funded grant, collect the programmatic and fiscal information needed for required reports, and make sure that reports are completed and submitted in a timely fashion. Grants management for smaller funded grants is usually less complicated and time-consuming than for larger grant awards. Keep in mind that managing one or two grants can be pretty simple, but the more successful you are at getting funds, the more grants you will need to manage!
2. Subscribe to grant-seeking resources. If you want to pursue federal grants, then subscribe to grants.gov to receive daily information about funding opportunities. You should also become familiar with the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Funding Forecast to get advance notice of upcoming funding opportunities. For state grants, check to see if your state education department has an eMail alert system you can subscribe to. There are several other funding alerts you can sign up for, too, such as eSchool News’ Grants and Funding ALERT eMail newsletter. If you are a charter school, look at the National Charter School Clearinghouse Grant Sightings. For foundation funding, check out the Foundation Center and its Foundation Search. Also, some foundations will alert potential grantees of their grant programs via eMail. Consult education publications for funding alerts you can subscribe to, and ask colleagues for their recommendations.
3. Use parents as resources. Parents with specific expertise related to grant seeking and grant writing can be placed on district grant teams. They also can be sources of information about local funders. In the best-case scenario, they might have their own family foundation and can serve as potential funding sources for your district. In addition, parents can make in-kind contributions by donating their time or expertise to various projects. Send a letter home with students, asking their parents if they have any special expertise and are willing to volunteer–and put a call for volunteers on your school or district web site and/or your local cable channel.
4. Develop project ideas. Having specific ideas is necessary to secure grant funding. Meet with department heads to discuss the projects they’re working on or would like to implement in the next year or two. One of the keys to success in the grants field is to know that long-term planning is crucial. Grants should never be viewed as a "quick fix" to a budget crisis, or as a way to bring in funds to balance a district budget that has been beset with shortfalls. Grants are primarily seed money for new projects or funds to expand current projects. Funders want to support projects, not just equipment–and they view grantees as "wise investments" of their grant funds, not recipients of money to keep their heads above water. Funders award grants based on the strength of project ideas; if you focus your efforts on developing pedagogically sound projects, the funding is sure to follow.
5. Explore local partnerships. Working with outside partners–such as colleges, libraries, museums, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit companies–will strengthen your projects by drawing upon the partners’ expertise. It also will strengthen your proposals and send a very positive message to potential funders, many of whom might encourage or even require collaboration on projects. By working with partners, you also expand the pool of potential funders available to you. For example, if you are working with a museum, you can apply for grants from organizations and programs that support both schools and museums, and not just those that support schools.