TIPS FROM T&L GRANT GURU
Funding from grants is often at the core of a successful technology plan, but writing proposals requires a bit of magic and a lot of time. Grants can be a good way for educators to collaborate on building strong programs, but some creative thinking is also required. Here are eleven hints that can help you rake in the funds.
#1 Find a brighter idea
#2 Get better organized
#3 Prepare an elevator spech
#4 Get a support group
#5 Set your watch
#6 Fill in the holes
#7 Judge for yourself
#8 If you got it, share it
#9 Known when to stop
#10 Make it a practice
#11 Party and give thanks
TIP #1 FIND A BRIGHTER IDEA
Becoming proactive at identifying needs will serve you well. When a grant Request for Proposal (RFP) becomes available, the grant seeker with good ideas will be ahead of the game. This is really the cornerstone of the grant-writing process. So what is a good idea? How do you go about getting these ideas? 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 a 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 possible reasons for this?
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.
Other ideas may rise from pressure within your school community. For example, parents of your school may be satisfied with academic gains, but want to see a stronger arts program. Brainstorming is an excellent way to track down good ideas. At the idea-generating stage, asking questions of many stakeholder groups will lead to grant and program ideas. Be sure to involve students as you search for needs. (See Barbara Bray's article for more on developing your ideas.)
TIP #2 GET BETTER ORGANIZED
Many years ago I found myself drowning in scribbled notes on paper napkins, journal articles that I wanted to save, and reams of paper that just didn't fit into a heading in my filing system. I started saving these odds and ends in a lateral filing system. These half-baked ideas and random inspirations are great as grant starters. When I can't figure out how to file something that I may want to access later, I simply place the material in a file folder and give it a number. I number my folders sequentially, then write a few key words on the folder, and enter the information into a database or spreadsheet. When I need to get my hands on that favorite article, I simply type in a keyword and I easily can find which numbered file folder to look in. As things in the file are no longer wanted or needed, I throw out the contents, recycle the numbered file, and change my electronic file with new key words. If you really like this method, you can invest in an automatic sequential numbering machine (a hand stamping device) with five or six digits that will stamp your folder with a number and rotate to the next number in sequence.
TIP #3 PREPARE AN ELEVATOR SPEECH
First you must have a sound idea that makes logical sense. What is the problem that you are trying to solve? What specific activities will kids do? How will you know when you have achieved your goals? Can others replicate what you did? Answer these questions and create your own elevator speech. This sales presentation should take less than a minute, the time it takes to ride an elevator in a tall building from the street to the penthouse.
TIP #4 GET A SUPPORT GROUP
There is nothing like a support group to make a grant application actually happen. Getting a grant team together early on will help you through the process. With the RFP distributed among team members, highlight the program mandates. Determine from the group what you have in place and what you would like to accomplish. Take a look at the gap. The work of your grant team will be to identify what is now and where you would like to be in the future.
Team writing of the actual narrative is not recommended. A group-written grant tends to have neither a clear focus nor a single voice. The narrative writer should use the support group as a sounding board. Discuss whether or not your proposal makes sense. Is it doable?
Keep group members involved by involving them in authentic tasks—developing partners for the project, creating required forms, and proofreading.
TIP #5 SET YOUR WATCH
A grant proposal takes time to develop and write. Estimate how long you think it will take, and then multiply by five. This is an accurate reflection of how long the process will actually take. Scheduling your own time and that of your support group can keep you on track. It is not uncommon to put in long days throughout the process, so plan for the unexpected. The copy machine will go on the fritz the day you need to make five copies. Your mailing service closes early the day the proposal has to be in the mail. Schedule, plan ahead, and have a back-up plan.
TIP #6 FILL IN THE HOLES
Take the time to read and re-read the RFP thoroughly. Make several copies and carry one around with you. Highlight action verbs. Follow the guidelines of the RFP, and create a tabbed notebook with a section for each part of the proposal. Most proposals follow a similar format and your tabs will probably look something like this: abstract, introduction, assessment of needs, goals and objectives, activities, key personnel, evaluation, and budget. As you complete a section, place it behind the appropriate tab and fill in the holes. I like to begin with the budget. This forces me to think through all aspects of my project, and it helps to determine if my project will be doable given the available funds.
TIP #7 JUDGE FOR YOURSELF
Many RFPs include a scoring rubric to guide you in the preparation of your proposal. If one is included, write to the rubric. It's also a good idea to offer your services as a grant reader. This invaluable experience will help you to recognize what grant readers see. You will gain experience in the grant writing process by reading outstanding proposals, and learn even more from reviewing mediocre ones. You will see first-hand how readers scored each component of a proposal and find examples of how different grantseekers tackled the same RFP.
TIP #8 IF YOU GOT IT, SHARE IT
Grantfunders like to invest their money in projects that take on a life of their own. In planning your proposal, pay particular attention to how you will share your project with others. Will yours be a model visitation site? Will your project produce reports or products that others may want? Will others be able to adopt and adapt your project? Will you create news releases, a project Web site, or have other ways to share what you have accomplished?
TIP #9 KNOW WHEN TO STOP
Getting started on a proposal is the easy part. Knowing when to stop is less clear. After writing and rewriting, at some point you need to let go and place your energy elsewhere. Go with your gut feeling. You do not need to make every correction that others may suggest. Use suggestions that make sense to you.
TIP #10 MAKE IT A PRACTICE
How do you become a grantwriter? Most people don't start out to be grantwriters, but opportunities present themselves, and they jump at the chance. There are many books, workshops, and conferences devoted to grantwriting. The winning grant writer will write well, will have a flair for organization, and will draw readers into the writing. Grantseekers may benefit from taking a community college class in journalism. Learning how a reporter crafts and organizes a story translates directly to grantwriting. Practicing journalism skills will help you succeed at proposal preparation.
TIP #11 PARTY AND GIVE THANKS
Celebrate all your hard work and the work of your team. Plan milestone events that mark your progress. Remember to take lots of pictures, tape video interviews, and gather testimonials along the way. Make sure to thank your funders, partners, and participants. Give credit to those who make your project a success. Throughout the grantwriting process, you will need to gain new skills and take on jobs that may be unfamiliar to you. You will soon become a skilled publicist, social director, author, researcher, and tour guide.