Scholastic Administrator

10 Great Ways to Get a Grant

By Susan Mandel

Grant writing is seldom easy. As anyone who has applied for technology funding knows, a lot of schools are chasing the same pot of gold. With fierce competition for the technology dollars offered by corporations, foundations, and state and federal government, there's no room for mistakes. Yet pitfalls abound: For example, many grant seekers make the mistake of applying for the wrong grant. If the giver's goals and objectives don't match yours, you're wasting your time. To discover the secrets of successful grant writing, Scholastic Administr@tor spoke to several experts who gave us their best advice on drafting grant proposals that work.

Follow these 10 simple guidelines and your next grant proposal may stand a better chance of getting you the funding you need.
  1. Assess your needs
    Figure out your instructional technology needs before you write your grant proposal. Ask teachers for ideas about the kind of technology or training they need, how they'd use it in their teaching, and how it would help their students or in their jobs. Then, document your school's most compelling needs in your grant application. If you're asking for computers to improve teacher proficiency with technology integration, show the percentage of the teachers at your school who are at the beginning, intermediate, and proficient stages.

  2. Think locally at first
    Persuade local businesses and organizations to help support your project with matching grants, equipment donations, or volunteers. Form a technology advisory committee made up of teachers, administrators, business leaders, and parents to help formulate the grant request. If you haven't completed a technology plan, that should be the committee's first step. Next, undertake your own pilot program. Demonstrate its success and ask for help in expanding or enhancing the project. Find an impartial evaluator to analyze the pilot program, and then cite the results in your application. Establishing a baseline of success with technology will increase your odds of winning the grant.

  3. Do your homework
    Find out what kinds of projects the prospective funder has awarded in the past. Contact those schools and ask for a copy of their winning proposals. Analyze their content and style, and use their proposal as your model, personalizing it to fit your school or district.

  4. Make it personal
    Human contact can make a big difference when you're competing for a grant. Call the program officer and ask him or her to clarify anything in the request for proposals (RFPs) that you're unclear on. (You need to follow their guidelines to the letter. Even something as minor as the wrong font size can kill your chances.) And ask who'll be reading the grant so you can tailor your proposal to that specific audience. Speaking with the grant administrator can also give you a much better understanding of the funder's agenda. You can even mention your project idea to get an initial reaction.

  5. Show passion
    Show some excitement about the project in your proposal. Personalize it with a couple of brief one-sentence anecdotes, such as a comment from a student if it seems appropriate. Be upbeat. Study past grant winners' proposals for the tone you should use. Finally, be concise and avoid jargon, especially overused buzz words like paradigm and rubric. Use the informal, second-person you rather than one and include a few Is or wes.

  6. Focus on learning, not the technology
    Don't write as if you're asking for hardware and equipment. Emphasize what you intend to accomplish with the technology rather than focus on the technology itself. If you want five computers to help students improve their writing skills, focus on the need to teach writing skills. Create a realistic scenario describing how the students and teachers will use the technology to improve in this area.

  7. Think long-term
    Draft a time line of when you plan to achieve your goals and objectives. The time line should include plans to build on accomplishments after the grant runs out. Sustainability is crucial for a successful proposal, because funders like to see that the activities they're financing will continue beyond the life of the grant. For example, indicate your plans to start replacing the equipment in the third year of a five-year grant, and explain how you'll fund the upgrades.

  8. Don't forget professional development
    At least 30 percent of the funds you're asking for should go to professional development. Funders won't assume you'll be able to meet your goals and objectives if you don't intend to train your faculty or administrators to use the technology your requesting.

  9. Spread the technology around
    Show the ways you plan to share the technology you're requesting. Funders like to get the most bang for their buck. That can mean including in your grant plans to partner with another school and ways for students from both schools to use the technology for joint projects. Or tell about your plan to open up your school's new computer center to the community and have students teach residents how to use the equipment. Funders also like projects that can be replicated.

  10. Ask for constructive criticism
    If you're rejected, call the grant administrator and ask for a copy of the reviewers' comments on your proposal. If you can't get it, ask what the strengths and weaknesses of your grant application were and how you could improve it. That feedback will enable you to write a better proposal the next time you apply. Once you develop a strong application, you can submit it to different funders with only minor changes to fit each one's specifications.

Susan Mandel is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Virginia. She has written for USA Today, USA Weekend magazine, and The National Law Journal.