Grant Guru Tip #3 by Gary Carnow: Grants Fund Ideas

Hopefully you have had a chance to review the blog and read some of the ways our grantwriting community members are motivated to be creative. Are they similar to some of the ways you tap into your creativity? Did you find an idea that you would like to try? As of this writing, the blog is a bit hidden, so it may take a few weeks for people to find us.

For me, creativity strikes when I least expect it. Some mornings I am reading the newspaper and what I am reading sparks some thoughts or ideas. Out come the scissors and I’m clipping an article or a paragraph or a picture. I drop it in a manila folder for later. When I’m away from home I have more time to devour a newspaper from front to back. When I’m traveling, the USA Today at my hotel door seems full of ideas. Back at home, I often will drive to work without the radio on. While driving in silence, ideas and new ways of doing things come to me. Some people like to jot down these random ideas on file cards. I like to use file cards (and sometimes scraps of paper) and tape these odds and ends in a loose-leaf notebook. These notebooks become my idea and inspiration books. When I’m looking for a spark, I turn the pages of my notebook. Now with the Internet it is very easy to follow-up on my thoughts, ideas and notions. How did we ever live without Google?

Next week we will look at the parts of a grant proposal, but his week, we will start to explore how to take your ideas and begin to develop proposals. I’ve given a lot of grant writing workshops over the last twenty years and I always ask participants “What do you hope to gain from today’s workshop?” The number one response is always money, followed by where is the money and how do I get the money. This is where my job as grant workshop facilitator gets tough. How will I get this group off of money dreams to fundable grant proposals? So we begin our work. I usually ask people to list what ideas they have that might make good grant proposals. Because I am working with technology using educators, the laundry lists of ideas tend to read more like shopping lists. For example: I would like a new computer lab. I want video projectors for each of my classrooms in my middle school. I would like at least six video cameras so that I could have teams of five students working at one time. Do you have your wish list already developed?

The bad news is that grants fund ideas, not stuff. Now you might be able to make a really good case for why you need six video cameras, however, it is almost impossible to receive a grant based on need alone. Your job is to learn how to take your needs and express your needs as creative ideas.

Now don’t get me wrong, creating a shopping list is not a bad idea. In fact, I recommend that you talk to your colleagues, students, administrators, and community members. You might have a sense of some of the needs at your school and others will provide affirmation and enhancements. Informally asking colleagues what they really need is a great way to get the ideas flowing.

A few years back, in a conversation with a group of teachers, we began talking about the needs of the students at one of our local elementary schools. Most of our children come from single parent families or families where both parents work. School is out at 2:30 in the afternoon and many parents don’t return home until after six. There are very few alternatives for our students after school. One colleague suggested we look at community-based after-school programs. Another thought our students would gain from an after school homework help and sports program. Another teacher thought that an arts education program would be a really good fit for our kids. And then someone blurted out “What we need is a swimming pool!” I’ve given the swimming pool idea a lot of thought. Yes, a swimming pool would be a great idea, but it is not a need. It is however, potentially, a solution to a need. That’s when it clicked for me. You need to welcome ideas whether they are worded as needs or as solutions. Asking people what they need may lead to some really wonderful solutions. Your task as a grantwriter will be to take the solution to a need and turn it into a really creative, fundable proposal idea.

Grant proposals address pressing educational issues and problems. Your need for updated technology, although very real and legitimate, is just not a grant idea. But it could possibly be part of a solution to a need. How could you turn the need for updated computers into an idea? Perhaps students at your school are English language learners. You might create a language acquisition project that incorporates the use of computers for writing and publishing. Or perhaps you are interested in creating a media literacy project. You might be a fifth grade teacher looking for a new way for your students to do a “state report.” Using the Internet, your students surf the nifty fifty for resources and use publishing software to create a travel brochure for the state tourism office. Your creativity will turn your need into an idea.

Let’s get thinking about fundable ideas. Read the need that follows and share an idea with our group.

Although our school uses technology to enhance the curriculum, many teachers feel that if they had an projector that would hook up to a desktop or laptop classroom computer, they would be able to better serve their students.

What are some of the ideas that you can come up with that will link this need with a creative idea? For example, my students are studying advertising techniques. We are looking at various television and print ads to see if we can come up with a list of techniques that will lead to later research. I would use the projector at all phases of this unit of study. We would review television commercials as a group with a VCR plugged into the projector. We could brainstorm as a group while using a computer and projector as our chalkboard. Near the end of our unit of study, students would work in groups to create fifteen second commercials that illustrate one of the advertising techniques we have studied.

Dr. Gary A. Carnow serves as the Director of Technology and Information Services for the Alhambra Unified School District. Dr. Carnow is the co-author of two software products published by Knowledge Adventure. He is also the co-author of three books, Prolific Thinkers (1986, Dale Seymour Publications), Software-in-a-Book: The Cruncher (2001, Teacher Created Materials), and Software-in-a-Book: KidWorks Deluxe (2001, Teacher Created Materials). He has authored numerous publications and learning resources for Apple, IBM, Scholastic, and others.