Getting Funded: 6 Grant-Seeking Tips

The allure of grant funding is strong. It means funds for schools to grow existing educational programs and invest in innovative ways to bring new ideas, tools, and resources into the classroom.

Yet the grant-seeking process can be complex to navigate. First of all, grants are for programs; not just "things." Also, it's important to know where to look for funding opportunities, what makes for a successful application, and how school districts already working with limited staff can tackle grant applications and grant management.

Whether your district is experienced in securing grant funding or is new to the grant application process, here are six tips that can boost your chances of grant-seeking success.

1. Know where to look. The first step in any treasure hunt is having a map. While grants can be given to schools or school-sponsored programs by corporations or private and public foundations, much of today's educational funding also comes from government sources.

Here are a few places to start your grant search:

One thing to keep in mind is that many of these sites also require an online account to actually apply (such as a account for Federal grants or a FastLane account for the NSF), so set one up now so you're ready to act when an opportunity comes up.

2. Assemble a team. Grant seeking can be a daunting process. With applications that can run to 150 pages or more, it's enough to overwhelm a single person, no matter how dedicated he or she is.

Here's what to keep in mind when assembling your grant team:

  • For best results, pull together a team that brings a variety of skills to the table, including writing, instructional expertise, program evaluation and proofreading.
  • Core team members should include:
    • A superintendent or representative from the instructional perspective;
    • A grant writer or someone familiar with the grant process;
    • A department chair who represents the area the grant is for (such as Technical Education, English, etc.).

A team approach both lightens the workload and ensures you bring the best expertise your community has to offer to each part of your application.

3. Check guidelines carefully. When you find a grant that looks like a fit, it's worth investing time on the front end to carefully read the request for proposals (RFP) closely.

Here are some specifics to look for:

  • Ensure you're eligible. For example, if the grant is only for colleges and universities, a high school wouldn't be eligible to apply.
  • Ensure your target fits the grant priorities. For example, an after-school arts program wouldn't be a good fit for a National Science Foundation grant focused on environmental education.
  • Ensure your program serves the grant's target audience and includes the right partners (such as serving high-school biology students or including a local college and a business as partners.)
  • Review the budget information. For example, if they're giving $200,000 grants, don't apply for a grant for $202,000 as it won't be approved — and won't even be read.

4. Get down to the details. When you've found the right opportunity and are ready to begin assembling your grant application, it's time to start paying attention to some important details. Also, take advantage of information available from the funder.

  • Make sure you understand the submission requirements. Most grants will have a length requirement; if you submit 15 pages and the maximum length is 10 pages, your grant won't be reviewed. Some grants need to be submitted by CD, while others must be submitted online. Some requirements are even as specific as making sure the grant application be signed in blue pen!
  • Call the funder (for example, the Department of Education) early in the process to ensure you're on track and gain valuable insight into what they are looking for and how to be successful. Questions to ask include:
    • Is this a competitive grant process?
    • How many districts/programs are applying? How many grants will be awarded?
    • Describe your program to the funder and ask whether this is what they're looking for.
    • Can you send me a past grant proposal that was successful so we can see what works?
    • Is it possible to get contact information for a past grant recipient so I can connect with them?
  • Call a grant recipient who received funding from this grant last year and ask what made their grant successful; ask them for input on your grant program idea.

5. Develop a strong program and describe it clearly: One of the biggest mistakes grant writers make is failing to give grant reviewers a clear picture of their program.

Take the time to develop your program thoughtfully and then describe your program in detail on the grant application. Grant applications are often rejected for lack of specifics.

Here are some key questions the reviewers will want answers to:

  • How and with whom was your program developed?
  • What do you want to accomplish and how will you get there?
  • How many students will be served?
  • Which students will be served by your program (e.g., sixth-grade girls)?
  • What other partners are joining you in this effort?
  • How will you evaluate whether the program is successful?
  • What other sources of support will augment the grant funding?
  • What are your plans to sustain the program when the grant ends?
  • Why is your program a fit for this particular grant?

A bonus tip is to have someone who is unfamiliar with the grant and your program read your application when it's completed, to ensure it's both clear and persuasive. If he or she can easily understand your goals and how you'll achieve them, it means grant reviewers are also likely to understand your program vision. A read-through by an independent party can also help spot any spelling or grammatical errors.

After all that hard work, you're ready for our final tip on deadlines.

6. Deadlines are non-negotiable. Just like homework assignments, in order to even be considered for funding, grant applications need to be turned in on time — no exceptions.

Make sure you understand the grant deadline, which may not be as simple as it sounds. For example, some grants are due by a "postmarked by" date, others by a submissions date and time, and these are not flexible, even by a few minutes. For example, one school district submitted their application just 20 seconds past the submissions deadline, and it was rejected. Keep in mind that once an RFP is issued, you will probably only have four weeks to complete and submit the grant; plan the time carefully.

While grant seeking can be time- and resource-intensive, the potential rewards are great. Follow these tips to position your district for success, and hopefully soon you'll be on the receiving end of funds to support your vision for a improving the educational experience for students in your district.