Grant Writing 101
If you are like most educators, at one point or another you have probably been in need of funds. You may have wanted funds for supplies, STEAM activities, connecting the curriculum with special projects, or field trips. Whatever the case may be, you needed money yesterday to make learning fun for your students. A resourceful educator will quickly learn to make a dollar out of .15 cents by turning to grant writing and outside sources.
When I first started as a school library media specialist in the Bronx, N.Y., the closed library had three old PCs. When I left the school three years later, the school library had truly become a library media center with 36 Mac Air laptops, 30 PC laptops, 6 Mac desktops, 6 iPads and a new top of the line Smartboard. In addition, I had many more grants funded for expanding learning opportunities, summer programs, workshops, and similar activities and events. How did I do it? It all started quite innocently enough with DonorsChoose.
LAYING A FOUNDATION
As you may know, DonorsChoose is a very popular website that enables educators to get donations of supplies, field trips and other learning experiences. It is an incredible way to get projects funded quickly without having to deal with the bureaucracy of grants. You write it, make a wish list, post it, and get funded. As a recipient, you are then required to have the children write thank you notes and take pictures of the donated goods in use for online posting. DonorsChoose is an excellent lead into grant writing since their format requires educators to paint a picture of their scholars, write about the experience they are seeking, as well as the learning objectives. Having used this resource for over 14 years, it has helped provide me with a solid foundation for grant writing. The site reinforces the structure of need, data, requested experience, and measurable outcomes. However, the secret to getting funded is to keep the cost low. If projects cost more, then break it up into several proposal requests. The $300 – $400 range projects have always been funded for me. I also read up on partner funding opportunities before I write my proposal. Partner funding will provide half the cost with some stipulations. If you think outside of the box, you can meet the partner’s criteria, promote a great learning opportunity, and have the resources for implementing any way you want later on after initial use.
For bigger projects that you need funded, the site Go Fund Me offers an alternative. There are also several large corporations, foundations and organizations that support education. It is not unusual to find Best Buy, CVS, Corning, Target, Honda, Toshiba and a bunch of other companies that try to give back to the community. Once you do start applying for grant funding, you will start to get a slew of emails on additional opportunities that will most likely interest you. For me, grant writing has had a snowball effect, and I now receive so many email notices about opportunities that I do not have enough time or energy to apply to them all.
Before you create proposals, it will be beneficial for you to meet with your principal. While some school districts may have grant guidelines in place in the event of funding, meeting with your principal will provide you with insight into how the proposal will be carried out. Some principals also need to better understand how you are connecting the grant. My experience with principals has taught me that not everyone truly understands what a solid library program can do for the learning community. Having implemented several interdisciplinary units through the library, I know you do have to often hold an administrator’s hand. To many educators, the library and the school library media specialist are only about books. To build collaboration and to make learning more powerful for scholars, the learning community needs to know that literacy through library initiatives is the gateway to greater learning.
DATA, DATA, DATA
If you ask any realtor what the most important thing is in real estate is, you will hear location, location, location. If you ask a grant writer what the most important thing is, you will hear data, data, data. As a course of habit, I use statistical information for my school when grant writing. I insert total population, ethnic breakdown percentages, total special education population and English language learner population as well as data from NCES, National Center for Educational Statistics. You can also include state test scores and reading benchmarks. Facts do not lie, and grant readers like to see data included as it indicates a well thought out and comprehensive proposal.
PUTTING YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD
In grant writing, it is of the utmost importance to edit and revise. Grant writing is a process that cannot be rushed. You will find the higher the grant, the more time and dedication it will require. When writing grants, it is not unusual for the process to require eight or nine revisions and a good chunk of your personal life. In competing against others for funding, you want your work to stand out. Being a professional, taking the time to review and improve your work will most definitely help you meet with success and get funded. Grants are a numbers game. You will not receive every grant you apply for, but you will get a lot if you do not give up and you keep applying. Whatever you desire for funding a learning experience, there is a grant out there with your name on it.
In conclusion, grant writing can be incredibly rewarding. Nothing is more fulfilling than bringing learning opportunities to your scholars in order to connect the curriculum. Learning should be fun and stimulating. As an educator, you are perfectly poised to make enriching experiences for your students.
Tracey Wong has over 14 years teaching experience with NYC DOE as an elementary teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, and a LLI (Leveled Literacy Intervention) Specialist. She has five years teaching experience at the college level. Her work was featured in the UFT NY paper in the Sept. 2013 issue and on ABC’s Born to Explore series. Her digital portfolios can be viewed here or here. You can follow her blog here.