Grant Guru Tip #7 by Gary Carnow: The Getting of Good Ideas

The business of going about the getting of ideas is really the cornerstone of the grant writing process. Becoming proactive at identifying needs will serve you well. When a grant Request for Proposal (RFP) becomes available, the grant seeker with good ideas up front will be ahead of the game. So what is a good idea? How do you go about getting these ideas?

My last several posts discussed creative thinking and brainstorming. Taking what we’ve learned, let’s apply this to the grant idea process. There are two ways to go about this, the first brainstorming process is when you don’t have a clue what you plan to write a grant for and no RFP is available. The second way will assist you when you have an RFP.

I like to put together a grant-seeking team, whether or not we have a specific grant in mind or not. Although I may end up writing the proposal, the group process will greatly enhance my ideas and increase my ability to get the job done in the time frame given.

Developing Grant Ideas Before the Request for Proposals
Find a time when you and your colleagues can relax and dialogue. Ask your colleagues to identify problem areas that might benefit from a new program or a new way of doing things. The needs you identify may suggest a solution or set of activities to solve a problem. Some ideas may come from looking at student achievement trends. For example, your fourth grade writing scores may consistently trail fifth grade scores. What are some of the reasons this may be happening?

Other ideas may come to you from pressure within your school community. For example, parents of your school may be satisfied with academic gains, but may wish to see a stronger arts program. Sometimes brainstorming will take you to the getting of good ideas. The best way to identify problems is to ask a lot of questions. At the idea generating stage, asking questions of many stakeholder groups will lead to grant and program ideas.

Here are some sample questions to get you going. Do standardized test scores suggest that some identifiable groups of students are falling behind their classmates? Are girls scoring as high as boys on standardized mathematics tests? Do boys predominate in elective science, math, and technology classes? Are boys testing as high as girls in reading and language arts? Are identifiable groups of students more prone to drop out of school than their classmates? Are teachers using available technology and media? Are minority students adequately represented in college preparatory classes? What about the school or school district reduces your effectiveness as a student/parent/citizen/school district employee? What questions might you ask?

Ask existing groups what problems they have identified. These include: PTAs, faculty committees, department chairpersons, administrator groups, parent advisory councils, student organizations, and civic organizations.

Hopefully, these questions will suggest other questions for you to ask. I also recommend professional reading as a source of ideas.

Proposals can be developed to meet many needs. What kinds of staff development programs are needed? How might you improve your math and science programs? What kind of parenting education would assist your students? You don’t have to look far to explore issues and problems that will lead to proposal ideas. In most public school districts, the general fund is already stretched to cover basic needs. Are there curricular areas that have not kept pace with changing theory and technology? Are there emerging social concerns not addressed by our school?

I like to welcome ideas whether they are worded as needs or as solutions. For example, a teacher recently stated, “the problem is that we don’t have a child care center.” To the proposal writer, the childcare center is the solution, whereas the problem or the need may exist for a variety of factors. For example, many students may come from single parent families where parents work late and many children are unsupervised after school. This may be the real problem. The childcare center becomes a solution. At the idea generating stage I welcome ideas whether they are worded as needs or solutions. When I draft my narrative, I will develop the needs and program activities to get to the solution.

Developing Grant Ideas When You Have a Request for Proposal

Once you have the RFP in hand, I suggest you make at least ten copies of the proposal. I tend to keep one at home, one at school, and one in my car. The others go to my grant writing team members for our brainstorming and work sessions. The first time through the proposal, I read quickly to get the big ideas. The second time through I highlight the proposal’s action sentences. This will give me a good overview of what is in store for me as I prepare the proposal.

Getting my grant team together early on will help me through the process. With RFP in hand, and copies for team members, I record the program mandates to share with my team. I get their suggestions as to what we may already have in place. Then we look at the gap. What is and where we would like to be becomes the work of our grant program.

I have tried working with teams to write the actual narrative. This usually doesn’t work. The grant tends not to have a clear focus and a single voice. However, I do have my team members fulfill valuable tasks. Next week we will explore the kinds of tasks that team members will complete as the grant narrative writer tries to beat the clock and get the grant completed by the due date.

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