Finding extra funds

Do you have any suggestions for grantwriting? I’ve just been told that the budget may be very lean next year, and I’d like to try to get additional funding for the science department.
—Shug, Stillwater, OK

External funds can be very helpful in supplementing school district budgets, and competition for these funds is getting more intense. Are you looking for grants or donations/gifts? Grants from foundations or government agencies are usually focused on projects for a particular purpose or audience and come with strings attached in the form of a contract. There may be requirements for progress reports, a formal evaluation component, student achievement results, and an itemized budget. As a grantwriter, I found that the more funds you ask for, the more hoops there are to jump through! Donations or gifts usually do not have such requirements.

If you decide to seek grant funding, you’ll have to define and refine your goals and needs. Few grants will fund “brick and mortar” projects (construction or remodeling) or items that schools/districts should provide: textbooks, classroom furniture, or consumables such as workbooks or markers (unless these supplies are part of a more comprehensive project). Few grants will provide funds for resources not directly related to student learning (e.g., faculty room microwaves or water coolers).

One problem in grantwriting is looking too narrowly at a need and not seeing the big picture. I had this conversation with a teacher as we worked on a proposal (my questions are in italics):
“I need more microscopes.” Why?
“Because I don’t have enough.” What do you mean?
“I have 4 microscopes and 24 students in a class.” So what?
“It takes forever for the students to share them.” And so…?
“ If I had additional microscopes I could do more hands-on investigations.” So your point is..?
“We want to include more hands-on learning in science to help students achieve the standards.” Bingo!

This statement put the microscopes into a larger picture and was used in other proposals by the science department for professional development in inquiry science, science kits, technology applications, and attending conferences. Too often I’ve seen schools take a patchwork approach to grants, with no focus or master plan. Their projects may even be at cross-purposes and create extra work for teachers. If you align your goal and proposed activities with the school/district/department strategic plan, you’ll have a coordinated rationale for further proposals.

Give yourself enough time to gather data, create a budget, assemble resumes and letters of commitment from other agencies (if required), and get the correct signatures on the forms. Ask someone to proofread the proposal and be sure to follow any guidelines on length, formatting, the submission date, and the inclusion of extra materials.

Attend grant writing seminars sponsored by foundations, county/regional educational service agencies, or a college/university. NSTA conferences usually include sessions on grant writing, too. Check with your state department of education for any opportunities to be a grant reviewer. Training is usually provided (and sometimes a stipend), and this is a great way to see how others write proposals. Some grant projects have summaries of approved proposals and projects on their websites. Some agencies have pre-grant workshops for potential applicants.

Above all, don’t be discouraged if some of your proposals are “rejected.” (I have a whole collection of unfunded proposals.) You’ll have a lot of competition, but when your proposal is funded and your work pays off in good things for students, it’s a great feeling!

Good luck!

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