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Free money to buy what you need for your classroom! Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, foundations across the country hand out millions of dollars to teachers each year. You can’t get what you don’t ask for, though. The teachers who find themselves with new classroom libraries and technology carts are the ones who know how to put together top-notch grant applications.
If you’ve never done it, grant writing can seem intimidating and mysterious. We’ve talked with experts, and with teachers who have snagged grants of their own, to help you make the pitch.
1 | State Your Need
Donors don’t want to see a shopping list. They want to know what problem you’re looking to solve and how they can help. So, instead of simply begging for books, document your students’ struggles with reading and put together a plan for how you’ll use new materials to boost their literacy.
“If the teacher has done a good job of identifying a need that’s not being addressed and has developed a program to address that need, that increases the chances of being funded tremendously,” says Bruce Sliger, author of Grant Writing for Teachers and Administrators.
Denine Torr, director of community initiatives at the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, which awards more than 700 grants yearly, says the proposals that get funded are those that clearly outline measurable success. “We want to be sure we’re using our dollars wisely,” she says.
2 | Start Small, Start Local
Your community may have an educational foundation that gives out grants of a few hundred dollars, just for district teachers. Another place to begin your hunt is with local businesses.
“Even though we want to think big, the smaller grants have simpler applications and are more likely to be awarded,” says Fred Ende, a science coordinator in suburban New York who received thousands of dollars in grant money during his years as a classroom teacher.
“Don’t try to get everything in one grant,” advises Jennie Magiera, a digital learning coordinator in Chicago. When she was a teacher, she built up her classroom library through small grants, and she has colleagues who have amassed a collection of iPads one grant at a time: “If they waited for that one grant that got them 10 iPads all at once, they’d still be waiting.”
3 | Do Your Homework
“One of the most important lessons to learn is, you have to do your research on the grant funder,” says Ende. “What do they represent? What do they hold in the highest regard? What have they funded in the past?”
If a foundation focuses on science and math projects, for example, don’t come to them with your arts and
“We call it ‘Cinderella Syndrome,’ ” says Torr, referring to instances when applicants’ proposals just aren’t the right fit for her organization’s mission. “Do the research to find the perfect fit for you,” she says. “It’s out there.”
4 | Be Creative
Donors will usually balk at funding mundane purchases like lightbulbs, says Sliger. But if you can find a twist, like a new type of lighting that reduces students’ eyestrain, you just might convince them, he says. “The funder is more likely to say, ‘Hey, that’s a new idea. Let’s do that.’ ”
Get creative as you write your grants, too. Laura Reed, a PreK special needs teacher in Lee County, Florida, needed items ranging from chewy necklaces for her students’ oral fixations to role-play costumes designed to alleviate anxiety about going to the doctor. So she wrapped them all up under the heading of “Little Student Solutions” and got funded. “Everybody on the grant committee said they love when teachers come up with catchy titles,” she says.
5 | Collaborate to Win
“Seek a colleague to team with and throw ideas around,” says Lynne Piotrowski, a Williamsport, Pennsylvania, instructional coach who teamed with other teachers to write grants when she was a reading specialist. Veteran grant writers can guide newbies through the process—and gain inspiration from novices’ fresh ideas. “I don’t know if I would have been successful solo,” Piotrowski adds.
You can even get your students in on the action. Ende, the science coordinator in New York, says the successful idea for a $25,000 grant that funded a weather station at his school came from his kids. He advises: “Ask your students, ‘What’s something you think our school or classroom really needs?’ ”
6 | Mine for Data
Donors love to see results, so brainstorm ways to quantify student growth. That might mean giving a pretest and posttest, or tracking before-and-after data on student discipline or homework completion rates. You’ll want hard data for grant reports, but you can also document the success of your program through videos, photos, and letters from parents and students.
Magiera, the digital learning coordinator in Chicago, was able to show year-over-year numbers on attendance and grades after she received a grant for iPads. “Everything had an up curve,” she says.
7 | Watch Your P’s and Q’s
Nothing tanks a grant application faster than typos, missed deadlines, or flowery fonts. Even if you don’t receive funding, a professional application makes a good impression and can help you the next time you apply.
Have a colleague or an eagle-eyed friend or family member read through your grant before you submit it. Or better yet, attend a grant-writing workshop to obtain feedback.
Lauren Italiano, who has written grants as a school librarian in one Boston suburb and sits on an educational foundation in another, says local foundations often offer free support and workshops. Most of the attendees, she says, end up with
successful grant applications.
8 | Build Relationships
“Take a picture of whatever the funding has been able to provide and send it to the funder” along with a thank-you note, suggests Theresa Lewallen, ASCD’s managing director of constituent programs. You can even invite the donors to the school to see the results of their contribution. “Smaller funders in particular like to get kudos and see their work in action,” Lewallen says.
Even if a funder rejects your grant, continue to cultivate the relationship. Ask for feedback and inquire about working together in the future. “Don’t see ‘no’ as the end of the conversation,” Lewallen says.
9 | Tap Your Social Network
James Walter Doyle, a teacher at Thurgood Marshall Academy in New York City, says he’s received around $150,000 through DonorsChoose.org, a website that allows individuals to help fund teachers’ projects.
He’s had success with sharing his requests with friends and family on Facebook. “I don’t phrase it in a way that I’m asking for money,” he says. “I’m inviting them to see what’s going on in my classroom, and if they choose to give money, that’s fantastic.”
Doyle has snagged funding for a classroom printer, copies of Romeo and Juliet, and student trips abroad.
10 | Don’t Give Up!
Even experienced grant writers face rejection. Use it as a learning experience, and move on to the next grant.
Also, don’t let grant writing become something you do when you “have the time.” Put deadlines on your calendar and hold yourself accountable.
Sliger, the author, notes that teachers already possess skills that make them natural grant writers. “They already know how to write goals and objectives, and a lot of folks in nonprofits have to learn how to do that. The money is out there.”
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