Across the country, the budget story is similar: Money is always tight, and sometimes because of shortfalls in state and local revenues, districts have to cut programs. That means technology ideas can fall by the wayside. Finding money for new programs is often a distant dream.
Yet, there’s hope. If you've got a great idea for a project for your classroom, school, or district, but not the funding to make it happen, a grant may be the answer. Whether it’s a few thousand dollars for a classroom program or several hundred thousand to design and implement a district-wide plan, competitive federal, state, local, and corporate grants are available for education.
But be warned. Grant funders get lots of proposals and the competition is often fierce.
You have to know where to look for the right grant and how to write a winning proposal. This grant guide will help you.
For specific grants and deadlines, visit Tech & Learning's Grant Calendar
Trust the Process
Applying for a grant is a process. The first step is to state the idea you want to fund clearly. Then you can search for grants that fit your situation and narrow down your list to the one that is the best match. After you’ve identified the grant offering you want, the real work begins. You’ll need a team, buy-in from stakeholders, an understanding of what the grant requires, and good grant writing skills.
One thing to buoy your spirits through the hard work ahead is knowing that just applying for a grant is a winning proposition. The planning, research, and writing you put into the effort can serve to solidify your vision and long-term plan. It can benefit technology goals and inspire change, community building, and school improvement. And even though you may not actually win the grant, you’re way ahead when you try for the next one.
Start with a Good Idea
In many schools and districts, the needs have multiplied exponentially and everyone has ideas for how to address the issues. Yet there’s a difference between funding equipment needs and funding ideas that will make a difference in learning.
Grants fund ideas, not stuff, so proposals should address pressing educational issues and problems. Grant writers have to show how your creative idea will address these issues.
Begin the process by developing a solid idea and then gather enough supporting details to back up the concept. Explain the needs, how your plan addresses them, and how you will reach the goals. Be specific; vague intentions are not good enough. Know your school or district and how well you can carry out the plan if you win the grant. The best proposals build on something you’ve already accomplished. Success breeds success.
Questions to Ask Before Searching for a Grant Opportunity
- Do you have a compelling idea?
- Do you truly need the funding and can you explain why?
- Do you have the organization skills to write the proposal?
- Does the staff have the skills and willingness to carry out the project?
- Do you have stakeholder buy-in?
- Do you have the ability to write in clear, simple, convincing terms?
- Do you have an elevator pitch: Can you express your basic idea in one sentence?
FINDING THE RIGHT FUNDING
One of the hardest parts of getting grants is searching for the right one. You have to know what types of funding are out there and which you’re likely to be successful in winning. Even more, you have to learn where to start looking. Some sources offer grants for specific reasons and others offer grants with general guidelines and you specify the reason you are applying.
Types of Funding
In general, the federal government offers substantial amounts of money for large programs.
- Formula Grants: One major type of federal grant for K-12 schools is a formula grant, which means that a certain amount of money has been set aside through legislation to give to districts through their state education agencies. An example is Title I funding.
- Program Grants: Another type of federal grant is awarded competitively. The agency determines a purpose or program for this type of grant and districts can apply. Applicants must meet all of the guidelines. Many of these federal project grants involve a long application period and a lot of support material. Some of the projects run for as much as three years.
Each state determines its own way to allocate general funds and award extra funds as grants. With block grants, for example, the state requires districts to apply for funding, and districts must make a case for why they should receive the funds. Special funding is allocated for targeted programs such as special education, technology, gifted and at risk populations. The Education Commission of the States has information on programs by state here.
Nonprofit grants are available from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or a charitable trust, whose specific purpose is to make funds available to organizations or individuals for specific purposes including education, science, or community benefit. Some districts have created nonprofit educational associations that can apply for specific grants.
These grants are often offered by local nonprofit organizations that award grants to individuals and organizations for projects that are based in and primarily benefit the community.
There are different types of corporate grants. One comes from a corporate foundation, which is the nonprofit arm of a for-profit corporation and allows the corporation to fund efforts of particular interest. For example, a tech company might offer STEM grants to high school and college students in order to spur interest in technology careers. Another type of corporate grant is more product related and offers grant funds to purchase the corporation’s products to achieve a goal.
Many of these grants are listed by deadline in Tech & Learning’s Grant Calendar.
If formal applications seem too complicated for your organization or if your idea doesn’t need major funding, informal sources may be just the thing for you. There are crowdfunding options, equipment giveaways, fundraising and other resources to consider. Read the disclosure information on these sites carefully; sometimes there’s a fee or percentage the site keeps. And while some of them were designed specifically for education, others are general sites where anyone can raise money.
Crowdsourcing grants that are focused on providing support for individual classrooms began to appear approximately ten years ago. These organizations accept donations from individuals to support classrooms, teachers, or schools. Examples are Donors Choose and Adopt-a-Classroom. Donors Choose allows teachers to post requests for funding and Adopt-a-Classroom donors can target a specific school or the organization will match the donor with a classroom. In both organizations, reports are sent to the donor detailing exactly what the money was used for. Others include Digital Wish, Funding Factory, and Computers for Learning.
Tech & Learning's more complete list of fundraising and donation sites is here.
HOW TO LOOK FOR A GRANT
Grant Search Sites
It can be confusing to search for grants and funding, but there are organizations that can help you target the specific type of program you need. Examples include:
Grants.gov - lists federal grants by keyword or by category.
Candid - a merger of the Foundation Center and GuideStar, has data tools on nonprofits, foundations, and grants.
Grant Gopher - a searchable database of funding opportunities.
Grants Watch - posts federal, state, city, local, and foundation grants categorized by type.
Candid and Grants Watch require subscriptions, so check if your district or a library has one.
Narrowing the Possibilities
Once you’ve found a few programs that might work for you, read the grant guidelines again very carefully. Decide if a grant program is the right one for your needs and ideas. Make sure you are not bending either your ideas or what the grant is asking for to make it fit. The better you know what you want to accomplish and how you will do it, the easier it will be to pick the right one to apply for.
Consider outlining the basics of your plan in clear, simple terms so you can judge how well each grant offering matches what you want to do and what you need to do it. It is time well spent because you will be able to get to work writing the proposal with your outline to guide you.
Mission: State in clear, simple, and convincing terms what your goal is and what your plan will achieve.
Needs: Know the demographics, test results, and anecdotal evidence that prove your district, school, or class needs what you are asking for.
Goals and Objectives: Goals are general guidelines that explain what you want to achieve. Objectives are the strategies or steps you will take to reach the goals. Be sure your goals and objectives are specific and measurable.
Timeline: Develop a tentative but logical timeline for each stage of your project.
Assessment. You should know how you will measure success. Know how and when the assessment will be done.
Materials: Have a summary of the supplies and staff you will need.
Cost: Have a fairly comprehensive and complete budget.
BEFORE YOU WRITE
Once you’ve found the perfect grant offering to match your plan, and have the details of your idea and the information the grant requires, get ready to write. Be as organized as possible because the competition is stiff.
We’ve stressed that you should have a solid idea and supporting details. Remember that honorable but vague intentions are not enough. Review the grant guidelines once more to be certain that this is the right fit to meet your needs; you don’t want to adjust your idea or misinterpret what the grant is asking for.
Remember to build commitment among stakeholders along the way. Those involved should meet, discuss, plan, and agree to contribute to the grant-writing process if needed and agree to carry out the plan if successful. Enthusiasm of participants, administrators, school board members, and other community members is important as you’ll need their support.
Create a timeline and set deadlines for your team to write their sections, and for you to complete the work, get signatures, and make the copies you need to send so you'll be ahead of schedule. Build in a buffer in case things take longer than expected.
Questions to Ask Before You Write the Proposal
- Why do you want this grant?
- What needs will your project address?
- What are your short- and long-term goals?
- Do your goals address the mission of the funder?
- What do you need to reach these goals?
- What are you looking to accomplish?
- Who will be involved in the project?
- Are you and others committed to writing the proposal?
- Are you and others committed to carrying out the program?
- Do other key people support the project?
- How much money will you need?
- What resources will be required?
- Do you fully understand the grant’s guidelines?
Now get ready. It’s time to write.
WRITING IT RIGHT
The first part of writing a proposal is to make sure you assemble exactly what the grant offering requires of you – both information and explanations. Most grants require similar components and have a similar format so the technique you’ll need is similar, too.
You’ll include a title page, table of contents, personnel and signature pages, and more, plus appendices with related information. All of it is important, but spend most of your time and focus on the pages that contain the real substance: what you want to do; why you want to do it; how you’ll get the job done; and what you need to make it happen. You will communicate that information in the Executive Summary, Needs/Goals/Objectives, Narrative, and Budget pages.
Remember that you have to state in advance how you will know that your project is a success. Will grades go up? Will students produce something? Who will judge your success?
Whether or not you actually win a grant, remember that the process itself is important. The planning, research and writing needed often solidify your vision and long-term plan – not only for technology but also for change, community building, and school improvement. So applying for a grant is a positive experience.
The parts of a grant proposal are:
You’ll need an overview statement that briefly describes your proposal. Write this page last but you’ll include it at the beginning. Use short, clear sentences and pull excerpts from every section of your proposal.
In this section, you will detail the compelling needs of your school, district, or community; tell why your organization should get funded to run this project and state the economic situation of your district and student body. Be sure to say how the idea will impact teaching and learning. This section should be so compelling that no one could resist funding the proposal. Don’t harp on the financial needs; the overarching educational idea is what will get it funded.
Explain the important results you expect the project will accomplish. The goals show that the plan is clear, important to achieve, and will have a major impact.
Tell what specific methods you will use to reach each goal. Be sure the needs, goals, and objectives are clearly aligned.
This is the plan of action that leads to success: what you'll do; how you'll do it; where you'll do it; and who's going to do what. Be sure to include specific details and examples. Make your idea look like a sure winner. The clarity of this section and compelling detail persuades the grant reader that this is an important idea to fund.
The narrative has four main parts. The first should describe the organization: the size and type of student body, educational philosophy, current programs and achievements. Then you’ll explain the needs, including the problem that you want to solve. What is missing and how did you discover it? Provide any data that demonstrates your point. Next, describe your program–the goals and objectives, timeline, who is involved, what will the result be, and how you will be able to sustain the program beyond the life of the grant. Last, explain how you will evaluate your success. What data will you collect and how will you analyze it? What are the criteria you will use to measure success? Where does this program lead?
Outline what funds you need for everything you want to do by completing the budget form. Use the budget narrative to explain clearly all the items listed to show that every cent is required to guarantee success. Itemize the expenses in an easy-to-read format and explain how you will track expenditures. If you expect other sources of funding, explain how they will be used together with the grant.
Include a personnel page to show which staff members will be part of the program and what each will do. Cite each person’s qualifications to make the program a success. Make sure that these people can take on the work. If other staff has to replace their usual jobs, build in their salaries so the district can replace them.
Tell what you will measure and how you will measure it so it is clear how the project will demonstrate that it achieved its targets. Include clear benchmarks that will be used to evaluate success. Hiring outside evaluators can show how serious you are about determining if your plan worked.
Questions to Ask as You Write the Proposal
- Summary/Abstract: Are you including excerpts from each section?
- Needs: Do you detail the compelling needs of your school, district, or group and why your organization should get funded to run this project?
- Objectives: Do you explain specific objectives and the methods you will use to reach each goal? Are the needs, goals, and objectives clearly aligned?
- Narrative: Do you describe your action plan with specifics on how it leads to success--what you'll do; how you'll do it; where you'll do it; and who's going to do what?
- Budget: Do you itemize every budget item and explain clearly how each is required to guarantee success?
- Personnel: Do you show which staff members will be part of the program, how each person’s qualifications contribute to make the program a success, and what each will do?
- Evaluation: Do you explain what you will measure, how you will measure it, and the benchmarks you will use so it is clear how the project will prove that it achieved its targets?
When you get to the narrative and budget explanation portions of your proposals, you want to be convincing. How you write is as important as what you write. In a nutshell, use clear, concise language; provide relevant details and examples; and make sure your grammar is perfect.
Write in active rather than passive voice. For example, say, “The Program Director will file a report.” Don’t say, “A report will be filed by the Program Director.” Answer the questions that journalists use: who, what, when, where, why and how. Bullets, lists, outlines, diagrams, and tables can help clarify your ideas.
Using action verbs will stress the positive and show you have specific, measurable goals. Choose from words such as accomplish, achieve, conduct, demonstrate, expand, generate, launch, motivate, revamp, and streamline. Employ phrases such as “Students will demonstrate…”
Avoid flowery writing and pretentious words when simple ones will do. For example, don’t write “in view of” when you mean “because” or “in the event that” when you mean “if.”
Avoid acronyms. Use an organization’s full name so there’s no question what you’re discussing. Try to minimize jargon; if a term isn’t clear to anyone who isn’t in your field, avoid it.
Organize your writing. Decide what purpose each section will serve and stick to it. If you need to write a long or complex explanation, you can use headings that match the criteria in the RFP to clarify the issues.
It’s not always so easy to write a compelling proposal, but if you say exactly what you mean, you’ll have a clear and convincing argument. Consider highlighting your expertise by building on a current program that is successful.
Remember that money matters. Watch the bottom line so that every dollar will be well spent. You can also show your seriousness by leveraging other funds. For example, find a local organization that will give you additional money, time, equipment, or extra funding if you get the grant.
In your budget section, use a spreadsheet with clear, well-organized section heads that are directly tied to specific sections of your written proposal.
Double Checking your Work
You have to submit the best proposal that you can write. Make sure that you’ve said what you mean and mean what you’ve said – and given enough evidence to prove it. Go over your proposal using the checklists below to make sure you’ve covered everything. Also review that you’ve addressed the grant’s specific guidelines and criteria. The closer your proposal aligns with the RFP’s goals, the better your chance for success.
After you’ve finished writing your proposal, mark it Draft 1 and set it aside for a day. Go back with a little perspective a day or two later to review and edit what you’ve written.
Ask someone to be a critical reader to be sure that you are clear about what the project will do, how it will do it, and why it matters. Rewrite whatever isn’t clear or that doesn’t read well.
CHECKLISTS FOR SUCCESS
General Criteria Checklist
- Is your idea for the grant significant, compelling, and actionable?
- Does your funding proposal contain a sense of urgency?
- Do you clearly understand the mission of the funder?
- Is this the best organizational match for your funding request?
- Does your application include a clear summary that articulates your vision for the project and need for the money?
- Are there specific, measurable goals and objectives?
- Is there alignment of your needs, goals, and objectives?
- Does the proposal tie into the school’s overall plan?
- Does your proposal reflect best practices for instruction and learning?
- Have you included research data or statistics to support your project?
- Have you defined success and how you will measure the effectiveness of the project throughout the duration of the grant?
- Do you have stakeholder buy-in?
- Have you conveyed what the impact will be on your school or district if you are successful?
- Have you matched your answers to the grant’s selection criteria?
- Have you allocated staff time to manage the project?
- Is there a detailed budget for your proposal?
- Have you outlined the contributions of the people associated with the application and how their expertise is critical to the project’s success?
- Has the timeline been cross checked against the budget?
- Do you have a plan in place to submit progress reports as required by the grant?
- What about sustainability after the funds are spent?
- How will the needs of the community be met moving forward?
- Have you defined the technology required for each part of the proposal?
- How will the technology assist in implementing the grant goals?
- Will the technology be used to develop effective strategies for authentic learning?
- How will the technology be used to improve student achievement or staff development?
- Have you tied the technology expenses to the proposed budget?
Even after others have reviewed your application, ask yourself the following questions:
Final Questions to Ask Before You Submit the Application
Does the proposal:
- Demonstrate a compelling need for the grant?
- Include specific, measurable goals and objectives?
- Match your answers to the grant’s selection criteria?
- Explain the expertise of the staff?
- Describe the commitment to making it work?
- Make it clear that the grant funds are essential?
- Show what you mean by success and how you will measure it?
- Steer clear of jargon?
There’s no knowing exactly what grant readers are looking for but if you’ve checked that you included everything they asked for, your proposal should be in the running. Grant readers generally use a scoring rubric to determine how well you addressed the issues. Some parts carry more weight than others.
The one below gives you a general idea of how this works.
Grant Review Rubric
|Section||Points (Out of 100)|
|Information about the organization||5|
|Statement of need||20|
Take a Deep Breath
When you’re certain that you’ve included everything, take a deep breath, and send it. Congratulate yourself on a job well done because whatever the result, you’ve learned a lot and created a great plan.
What Happens Next
Eventually you will hear from the grant giver. If you win, have your plans in place and be ready to hit the ground running. Make sure that everyone involved understands the project thoroughly and knows exactly what his/her role is in it. Then do what you've said you want to do. Spend on budget items exactly. Measure what you've said you'll test. Send reports on time. Maintain enthusiasm for the project throughout its life. Evaluate the outcomes, thank everyone and keep people motivated.
If you don't get the grant, contact the funder and ask to read the reviewers' comments about your proposal so you'll know how close you were to winning and what you might want to change for next time.
Read the summaries of projects that did win and analyze why they won. If you think your plan has merit, find another grant offering and propose it again. Maybe the proposal just needs tweaking to succeed or is easily adapted to fit another grant. Don't give up!
If the idea is important and the staff is committed, begin whatever parts you can without the outside funding. Maybe the groups that said they'd contribute funds will help you anyway.
Whether you are starting a project or thinking about the next one, always remember that seeking funds is a journey. Once you embark, there’s no return. You’ll always think about great ideas of how to improve education. And you’ll also have your grant seeking hat on and want to know what is possible.