School districts face many challenges associated with identifying external funding sources for educational programs and creating successful grant applications to foundations, state and federal organizations to fund those programs. With little to no formal training on grant writing in their undergraduate or graduate coursework, educators are left without the skill set to write the grants for their own teaching programs.
When addressing funding, educators need to understand:
- how to identify sources of funding;
- strategies for analyzing the Request for Funding Proposal (RFP); and
- technical writing tips.
Identifying Funding Sources
Foundations provide money to applicants who support their particular mission. When the project goals match the mission statement of the foundation, then applications are given serious consideration. Foundation applications are less complicated than state or federal grant applications, and many only require five- to seven-page applications. The applications are usually reviewed monthly or quarterly with a typically fast response. You will be amazed at how many foundations there are and how much money is available for distribution to qualified applicants.
the rfp: Where to Start
The RFP is the document that funding agencies create to guide the grant application process. It is the official document that grant applicants review to guide their grant application preparation. A federal RFP can be as long as 80-100 pages of new terminology in 10-12 point font. RFPs are like bad relatives. They come at the wrong time. They require incredible attention. They stay too long, and they can’t be gone soon enough. In short, they can be hell.
There seem to be two groups of grant applicants; the people who don’t know how to manage an RFP and the people who do.
For the novice grant writer, a state or federal RFP can be overwhelming and discouraging. But, for the experienced, successful grant writer, the RFP is a familiar roadmap to guide project vision building, grant writing team selection, grant application design, narrative construction, and text choice and submission accuracy.
Public school certification or administrative licenses almost never include courses on grant writing. Included below is a successful strategy for writing grant applications.
Getting Your Computer Desktop Ready To Write. Open a folder on your desktop and give it a project name like “Project Inspiration.”
Download the RFP to this new folder. Use this folder as the “go to” place for any grant-related documents.
Move existing district documents into the folder, including the district continuous improvement plan, building continuous improvement plan, district technology plan and staffing/personnel lists. Somewhere there is a description of your school district demographics. Find it and make it a separate document. Download the text of any former or current district grants that have been funded. This folder will eventually hold the three pre-writing documents that will help the novice applicant find better success at funding, and make the experienced grant writer more efficient.
Creating Three Pre-writing Documents: These three pre-writing documents will increase the quality of any grant application.
First, create and label three new Word documents:
- Action Summary,
- Grant Writing Guide and
- Key Vocabulary List.
Put them in the Project folder. Then open the RFP and the Action Summary documents on your desktop. In the case of all three documents, you will be copying text from the RFP and pasting it into the appropriate pre-writing document.
The Action Summary. The Action Summary includes information such as: Grant contacts, due date, page limits, font size and margins, letter of intent requirements, online application requirements, review dates, award dates etc.
Read the RFP for anything that sounds like something you have to do to complete the grant. It all goes on this page. The Action Summary gives everyone on your team one place to find all the grant requirements. One person can construct this document. Position this hardcopy document so you can easily refer to it later.
Wait, you aren’t grant writing yet. You are preparing yourself to write.
The Grant Writing Guide. Somewhere in the RFP is the “Grant Narrative.” The grant narrative is usually organized into sections and includes headings like abstract, vision, mission, need, goals, objectives, actions, action timeline, participant experience, budget, budget narrative, evaluation plan and summary. Once you find the narrative section, copy and paste it to the Grant Writing Guide document.
Every RFP has guidelines, suggestions for content and in some cases even evaluation rubrics for sections of the narrative. Copy and paste any information that looks relevant to each section of the narrative under the narrative headings in your Grant Writing Guide. Look carefully as the rubrics for narrative sections can sometimes be 74-pages deep in an RFP, but the language of the rubrics can help with your writing. Put the phrase WRITE TEXT HERE under the information found for each narrative section. This is where you will do your writing. The requirements for each section should be right above where you create text. Now, you have a guide for to circulate to everyone on your grant writing team.
Key Vocabulary List. Novice grant writers use their own words while experienced grant writers use RFP key words and phrases. When reviewing the RFP, copy and paste all-important words and phrases into one, easy to reference list. By enlarging and bolding these critical terms and phrases so they stand out, it will help simplify the process. If you need a word, look at the Key Vocabulary List. If the phrase “systemic integration of technology” appears time and again in the RFP, then it should be on your Key Vocabulary List and appear time and again in your grant application. Evaluation rubrics are often constructed from the language of RFPs. Put this list close to your computer.
This process will prepare you for grant writing. Begin by identifying sources of funding, particularly foundations that often provide local or regional foundation support. And finally, there is a method for analyzing the RFP that results in three pre-writing documents. Creating these three pre-writing documents will support the development of a successful grant application.
Then you start the writing process.
Douglas Brooks is a full-time professor in the Department of Teacher Education within the School of Education, Health and Society at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He teaches a system for creating successful applications for state, federal and foundation funding called GRANTSUCCESS. This system guides novice grant writers in the preparation of successful grant applications. He teaches GRANTSUCCESS as an online graduate course and at professional meetings. Dr. Brooks regularly partners with technology companies, school districts and individual schools on topics of strategic planning, grant writing, teacher effectiveness and classroom management systems.