Grant Writing Techniques for K-12 Funding
Zimet, Ellen, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)
Anyone with access to a newspaper or a television set is aware that there are myriad problems in education that need to be solved, all of which seem to require some type of funding. Although most schools receive funding from a variety of sources, the monies are not always available to fund special projects and programs. Most school personnel are not aware of all the ways to allocate resources and develop long-range plans to meet a school's assessed needs.
Developing a proposal-writing team at your school is a good technique for bringing school plans and personnel together, for learning to maximize local resources and for finding additional funding for supporting long-range programs.
* The Art of Grant Writing
Grant writing is a cross between technical writing and creative writing.
Money is given to fund educational programs by funding sources with a pre-determined philosophical idea of the programs and projects they are willing to back. Funders also determine the procedures they want you to follow before awarding money. Therefore, if you intend to be funded, you need to make sure your school's problems can be solved by the funding source you are soliciting and that you support your program with strong quantitative and qualitative data.
When a school finds a funder that meets its program's needs, the proposals should tell a story about the problems at the school, offer ideas on how to solve these problems, provide plans on how this will happen, and describe the necessary costs and personnel to make this project come true.
* Where Does Money Come From?
My father taught me that "money does not grow on trees," but then again he did not live long enough to see money fall from machines on walls. For successful grant writers, however, money does grow on trees. It's easier to get money when you have money, which is, of course, the "American Way" of doing business.
Grant monies come from a wide variety of resources that include federal funds, state funds, private donations, foundations, local businesses, fund-raising activities and your own school graduates. At the end of this article, I have listed a variety of places to look for major resources, but remember that any resource, no matter how small, can help fund your program. It is often easier to collect $100 from 100 people than $10,000 from one source. The 100 people will only require a thank-you letter, while the major source may require extensive paperwork.
Most companies have to give some money away as part of their tax structure. Your job is convincing them to give the money to you. Businesses are always eager to provide funding support that will makes them look better in the eyes of their community. Help them by writing a proposal in which you can all take pride.
* The Task of Grant Writing
Grant writing is not difficult, but it is hard work and very time consuming. Any educated person can write a successful grant, or you can find a grant writer to coach you through the process. The final grant, however, should express the needs of the students and the passion of the school to change education in terms of student needs.
First of all, there are no generic grants. Grantors will all ask their questions a little bit differently and no two final grants will look alike. That does not mean you cannot use information from one grant to support another. In fact, schools that receive multi-grants usually stick to one set of solutions and continue to request funding from different sources for the same basic program.
Federal and state grants will require a multi-paged proposal plus district and local documentation pages. Foundation and corporate funding sources prefer shorter proposals, usually a cover letter and a two-page proposal plus tax and budgetary information. Solicitation to local businesses may only require a letter of introduction and intent. However, no matter which type of funding source you seek, the information that you will provide is fairly consistent. Everyone wants to know who you are, what your problems are, and what you will do with the money once you receive the funds.
* "Chance Favors the Prepared Mind"
Developing a proposal is a little bit like the "Which came first, the Chicken or the Egg?" story. Do you wait to write the proposal until you find the funding source? Or do you write the proposal and then fit it into a funding source? The answer is both--you do both at the same time. There is nothing more frustrating and self-defeating than waiting until the last few weeks before a funding deadline to begin your program development and proposal writing.
If you are serious about seeking funding for grants then start as soon as possible and develop a six- to eight-person grant writing committee at your school. Divide their tasks as follows:
Funding Research Committee--to collect potential resource information and develop a list of all the school's current resources and positive programs. The objective is to list school successes, which in turn can become pilot programs in your grant. This shows the funder that you understand how to develop and run programs and can spend money efficiently and effectively.
Data Gathering Committee--to develop as much demographic information about the students, the school and the community in order to create as whole a picture as possible. School information comes from School Profiles, Accreditation Reports, School Reviews, attendance data, teacher report cards, etc. The objective here is to list as many school facts based on hard data as possible. These facts are used in developing a demographic statement about your school, setting up the school's needs section, and for evaluation purposes. Needs must be supported by measurable hard data. Good data is absolutely essential to winning proposals.
Voice of the Proposal--to write the proposal. This is a one-person job. Nothing is more confusing to the reader than a proposal written by a group. Everyone will participate in the development of the proposal and may even write some sections, but the final proposal should be edited and written by one person.
Oversight Manager--to coordinate the program. This is the person who reads the RFPs (Request For Proposals), charts the technical information, makes sure all the letters of support and assurances requested are completed when required, and keeps everyone on task and on time.
* Getting Started
After your team has collected all the appropriate information, they should start their proposal writing by doing the following:
Develop the needs assessment.
Solicit information from as many people as possible and from as much data as possible to determine just what is the current situation at your school that requires change. The following are examples of school needs that can be supported by measurable hard data:
* "Children don't read at the appropriate level to be successful in school." Data would come from standardized test scores, report cards and teacher observation.
* "Too many children are not involved in creative thinking and problem solving in their math and science classes." Data would come from standardized tests, numbers of students in advanced math and science classes and instruments used for student assessment.
Develop the goal/vision.
Take all the plans that have been developed at your school and put them together or compile them into one plan that meets the needs of all the children at your school. You could also have the key stakeholders in your school and community participate in strategic planning. Remember that your school vision must be shared by the majority of persons at your school or that vision may just be your personal hallucination.
Develop the reasons why funding would be necessary, or understand the discrepancies.
The discrepancies are the factors that fall between the way things are (your data), and the way things should be (your vision). These become the problems that need to be addressed in your program. Discrepancies come from lack of time, training and knowledge, etc. They do not come from bad parents, teachers and/or administrators. This is not the place to find fault with the persons with whom you will be working when your grant is funded.
Develop the activities, objectives, evaluation, timeline, budget and key personnel.
Once you have developed your funding source and established that your needs meet the funder's criteria, the rest of the proposal development is clear sailing. Each need should be addressed by an activity; have a measurable objective; be able to be evaluated based on the objective; fit into a reasonable timeline that meets the funder's established program; have a budget that pays for the established activities; and have responsible, experienced personnel to carry out the program. The funder should be able to see a tight tie between all those components.
Remember not to establish a need in your program for which you do not intend to create a solution.
For instance, do not establish that the major problem facing education today is caused by one-parent families unless your proposal contains a solution to that problem.
* Tips for Success
By this time your team should have found a proposal application and begun the writing process. The following are some tips to help move the process along.
* Read the RFP very carefully. Follow all the directions to the letter. Develop a checklist of the criteria and technical specifications before you even start to write. If the funder says six characters to the inch, get out the ruler and measure. If the funder says 25 double-spaced lines to the page, count them. Funders will throw your proposal away if you do not follow their technical specifications. Don't get thrown out at the starting gate.
* Open the RFP, go to the narrative and answer the questions, one at a time and in the order in which they were asked. Try, however, to let the reader know as soon as possible and no later than the middle of the second page what you hope to achieve with their grant funding.
* The proposal should be read as often as possible by the severest critics. Find those on staff with permanent red ink stains on their fingers and a thesaurus on their desks and ask for a grammar critique. Find the person who is the loudest critic and ask for a content critique.
It is important not to get married to your ideas. If someone on your staff does not understand something you have written, say thank you and rewrite that portion immediately. You won't be with the funders to explain to them what it was you meant to say. Be prepared to write several drafts. Good proposal writers develop thick skins; grant writing becomes a character-building experience.
* Write at the level of a popular best-selling novel. Funders receive hundreds of applications. Make it easy for them to read and understand what your program and plan are about. Don't use jargon or "education-speak." Don't use acronyms or abbreviations without explaining them first. Explain terms thoroughly. Be very clear and specific about your plan. Your finished proposal should be a plan of action that can be easily understood by the funder.
* Watch gender, ethnicity and educational status references in your writing. All students are not "he" and all teachers are not "she." Don't use expressions like "those students." Be sensitive to readers' biases. Although readers are supposed to be objective, people cannot help letting their feelings impact their opinions, so make sure that your editors include persons that read for sensitivity.
* Above all, your final grant application must present a professional image. It should be clean, neat and readable. It doesn't have to be fancy, but if charts or graphs will better tell your story, use them. There should be no spelling or grammatical errors. The reader should never have to stop and think about the context of a word or meaning.
A proposal is a solution in response to a problem. As I have always stressed, you definitely will not get funded if you do not apply. Good luck!
Ellen Zimet is an educational grants consultant for Los Angeles County, LAUSD, Saddleback USD, ABC School District, and Jostens Learning Cotp, among others. She is also a part-time faculty member at California State University, Los Angeles and a lecturer at California Lutheran University. Zimet lectures nationally on grant writing and is a retired principal with 27 years of educational experience. She is currently an evaluator for a state foreign-language project and an oversite coach for a state restructuring demonstration program.…
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Publication information: Article title: Grant Writing Techniques for K-12 Funding. Contributors: Zimet, Ellen - Author. Journal title: T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education). Volume: 21. Issue: 4 Publication date: November 1993. Page number: 109+. © 2009 1105 Media, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1993 Gale Group.
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