A bevy of grant opportunities exist that allows educators the funds needed to enhance their teaching practice. This tutorial was created to help you, the educator, navigate your way through a grant application. Whether this is your first foray into the realm of grants, or if you’ve applied for (and received) grants in the past, we hope that this guide will enable you to draft a grant proposal in the most effective and efficient way possible.
The NEA Foundation offers a free, online course to help educators navigate the process of applying for a grant.
Grant Writing for Educators, one of 19 online courses available on our website, introduces participants to all facets of grant research, writing, and stewardship. This self-paced course can be completed by individuals or small groups and is a valuable asset for both first-time grant writers and educators who are looking to sharpen their grant writing skills.
A few tips for unfunded applicants when moving forward:
Why Do You Want A Grant?
Before you sit down to begin filling out a grant application, ask yourself some questions. “Why do I want a grant?” “What are my long term project goals?” “What am I looking to accomplish?”
If you can clearly and articulately answer these questions, you most likely have spent a great deal of time thinking about this grant project. If not, sit back and determine what it is that you (and your colleagues, students, etc.) wish to achieve in the event you receive a grant. Once you have determined both the short and long range goals of your proposed project, you can begin transcribing them through the grant application.
Ultimately, one must realize that grant makers are in the business of funding ideas, as opposed to merely providing funds for materials. A properly conceived project idea is the foundation for any successful grant proposal.
How Should You Apply?
Depending on the grant making entity, you may have to specify if you’re applying for a grant as an individual or as part of an organization (school, school district, part of your local association, etc.). Regardless, be sure to read and fully understand the guidelines on the grant application when determining your plan of action.
Also keep in mind that, if you receive a grant, the project will typically last 12 or more months. With that in mind, be aware of the individuals with whom you’ll be working through the duration of the grant project. You’ll want to build and maintain relationships with the colleagues and administrators who will be instrumental in assisting you through the entire process.
What Is Your Common Ground With The Potential Funder?
Although it may sound obvious, be sure to apply to organizations that specifically have grant guidelines that align with the work you are proposing for funding. Investigate to ensure that the organization’s mission shares a common ground with your work and that your proposal matches up with the posted guidelines of the grant.
Relationships and research
Network within Your Community
When starting your search for grant opportunities, it’s smart to first look to local organizations (corporations, nonprofits, government entities) since they are the easiest group to which you can show immediate results if/when you receive a grant. Furthermore, these organizations will likely have a direct interest in the work you’re proposing; your project will benefit students local to them (some funders may even have students in your classroom).
Establishing a rapport with local funders may also allow you to get your foot in the door with national organizations, since you will be able to prove that you have built a track record with funders in the past and possess the contacts and results to prove it.
Build Relationships with Potential Funders
Since you will likely be in regular contact with the grants officer(s) at the organization(s) to which you’ll be applying for grants, be sure to learn the names of the people with which you’ll be communicating. Conversely, let them know who you are. This won’t necessarily increase your chances of being funded, but it will almost certainly allow friendly correspondence between you and the potential funder.
Consult With Colleagues, Administrators, Companies, and Individuals
Seek advice first and funds second. Do not go into the grant writing process without consulting knowledgeable people. Pick the brains of any colleagues who have applied for and received grants, any educators who have done work similar to what you are proposing, and any grant administrators who might be willing to provide advice while your assemble your proposal. It is imperative to have a sound proposal drawn prior to requesting funds.
Research, Research, Research
Conduct research on Regional Associations of Grant makers (RAGs) and donor forums. By being on this website, you have already proven that you are savvy in using the internet to identify grants available to public school educators. Continue searching in that vein to ensure that you are familiar with all of the grants for which you may be eligible. Keep an open mind and be sure to look at any possible funders, including private, corporate, and government funding sources.
Utilize Websites and Listservs
Sign up for listservs from various nonprofits that provide education grants information. This is an easy way to keep abreast of current grants news with the added benefit of simply regularly checking your email. For example, the Public Education Network publishes an excellent weekly newsletter that contains updates on grants available to public school educators.
Also be sure to regularly visit websites that contain grants listings. The NEA Foundation provides a useful guide to several grants available, and grantsalert.com is a comprehensive searchable grants database.
You are your best salesperson. As an educator you are doing valuable work that funders want to support, so be sure to articulate that and use it to your advantage.
Always remember that the job of any grants administrator is to give away money. Don’t be intimidated; as much as you may need grant funds, those providing grants equally need you.
Writing a grant proposal
Have a Good Reason for a Grant
Always remember that you’re not just asking for money; rather, you’re requesting an investment into a project that will change students’ lives. Current trends in philanthropy have shown that there is an expectation that the grantee is held accountable for providing the grant maker not only a solid reason for a grant, but also regular updates on the progress of the project.
Ensure that you are descriptive when defining the work you plan to do if you receive a grant. Vaguely asking for $5,000 for 10 laptops is one idea; it’s an entirely different (and stronger) idea to submit a proposal describing the need for $5,000 for 10 laptops for a middle school writing project that will strengthen students’ language skills. Funders wish to provide grants for innovative projects, not simply for materials.
Know the Research and Best Practices in the Field
Be familiar with any possible work that has been done in your field similar to the project you are proposing. If similar work does exist, be sure to reference it to bolster the validity of your proposed work. Be aware of relevant education research and know if it supports the strategies you propose.
If possible, establish partnerships with experts in your field of study, colleagues, community members, parent-teacher organizations, etc. Grant proposals often look strongest when there is evidence of buy-in outside of the core group presenting the proposal.
Pay Attention to the Quality and Feasibility of Your Project
Make sure that your project is realistic and doable. Ensure that the work you describe can be completed within the timeframe of the grant period (which is usually one year). Also make sure that the proposed work is grade relevant to your students and can be realistically accomplished.
Assemble a Proposal Preparation Team
Prior to commencing grant writing, you’ll want to assemble a proposal preparation team consisting of key colleagues and associates with whom you’ll be working throughout the course of the grant. This team should include administrators (be sure that your principal/dean is aware of and has signed off on your proposed work), school/district financial employees, colleagues, experts in the field, etc. Be sure to solicit advice from members of the team, since they will likely be instrumental in carrying out the project should you receive the grant.
Establish a Timeline to Complete the Application
Realize that the process of writing a grant proposal takes time. Draft writing (and rewriting), proofreading by colleagues, budget creation, and signature gathering will all need to be factored in to the process. Be prepared for delays, since one or more of these steps can take longer than you expect. For example, getting required signatures from your principal/dean and your school finance director/accountant (who will likely act as the point person for the fiscal sponsor) can take weeks, so be sure to give them plenty of time to respond to your requests. Do not wait until the last minute (i.e. the date of the application deadline) to procure necessary signatures.
Read and Follow Guidelines Precisely
Most organizations do not accept unsolicited proposals, so it is imperative to follow the guidelines of the grant to which you’re applying. Address everything that is asked of you in the application. Conversely, do not add superfluous items to your proposal if they are not asked of you. Depending on the grants program officer, failure to follow any of the simplest rules could lead to the rejection of your proposal.
Include an Evaluation Plan
In the narrative of your proposal, be sure to include a carefully constructed evaluation plan. Establish how you’ll measure the project’s success by identifying interim and final benchmarks. Make sure that growth throughout the course of the project can be measured.
Write in a manner that would make your proposal understandable to educators not necessarily familiar with your subject, grade, or geographic area. By all means, avoid using field and geography specific jargon and/or acronyms, since these things may be completely lost on certain audiences (members of the review panel). Keep your audience in mind and have a non-specialist review your proposal to flag jargon with which s/he may not be familiar.
Keep Long Term Goals in Mind
Ultimately, the program officer determining whether or not your proposal is funded is concerned about your long term goals. Make sure that your goals are clear, achievable, and measurable. Give careful thought about sustainability issues, and address the impact your project will have beyond the life of the grant.
Scour your proposal and make certain there are no typos, blank information sections, missing signatures, etc. Inability to proofread your proposal may lead to its rejection on technical grounds, regardless of the strengths of the project idea.
Ask a Program Officer to Review a Draft of Your Proposal
If you have completed your proposal in advance of the deadline date (see: Establish a Timeline to Complete the Application), inquire with the grants officer of the organization to which you are applying to see is s/he would be willing to read your proposal and submit feedback. Bear in mind that most grants officers are extremely busy, so you may not always receive feedback. However, grant officers are an excellent resource when it comes to grant writing (after all, their job is to review hundreds or thousands of proposals each year), so there is absolutely no harm in sending a copy of your draft to them prior to your formal submission.
Prepare Attachments Early
Again, you do not want to wait until the last minute to acquire additional information that may be beneficial to your proposal. Have attachments (notes of recommendation, lesson plans, newspaper articles, etc.) ready weeks in advance so you can include them when submitting your proposal.
Do Not Pester the Grant Maker
After you’ve submitted your application, be patient in waiting to hear back regarding your funding status. Announcement deadlines are usually posted on the funder’s website, so familiarize yourself with them and be sure not to contact the grants officer prior to the announcement date.
Know the Required Content
The content in an application will vary depending on the funder, so be sure to thoroughly read through each section of the application for any grant to which you’re applying. To take a look at the required fields in the NEA Foundation’s Student Achievement Grant application, click here. The required fields for the NEA Foundation’s Learning & Leadership Grants can be found here.
All grant applications will ask you to provide a budget. Be sure to relate all budget line items with the learning objectives presented in your narrative. Be specific, but not restrictive. Give yourself room to maneuver within the budget (providing a line item for “two laptop computers” is preferable to a line that reads “technology,” which is far too vague, or a line that reads “two Acer Thinkpads, serial number #00058779,” which is too specific).
Your budget should be practical -- do not ask for items that don’t directly pertain to the project you’ve proposed. Reviewers give scrutiny to all line items, so be sure that the expenditures you’ve presented are essential for achieving the objectives described in your proposal.
The Process Depends on the Funder
The specific process for review and notification will differ depending on the funding organization. The following review process steps refer to the process that is used by the NEA Foundation. Although this process is similar to those used by other grant making entities, be sure to investigate which methods are used by any particular organization to which you are applying.
In this initial review step, an organization’s grants officer will read a proposal to ensure that all required areas have been addressed. The officer will be examining your proposal to ensure that, among other things, word limits have not been exceeded, required signatures have been submitted, partner contact information has been included, etc. It is of utmost importance that you properly review your proposal prior to submitting; basic mistakes may lead to your proposal being dismissed during the preliminary review.
Peer Review and Committee Recommendations
Proposals that pass the preliminary review are subject to a peer review. In this stage, the grants officer will distribute all proposals to a committee of objective educators who will review each proposal according to a uniform rubric. The committee, upon completing and scoring each proposal, will return the scored rubrics to the grants officer and provide recommendations regarding the projects they feel should be funded.
Board Review and Approval
Taking into consideration the recommendations made by the review committee, the grants officer will prepare a docket containing the projects the Foundation intends to fund. This docket will be subject to the review and approval of the Foundation’s Board of Directors. Upon receiving Board approval, the Foundation will make public the grant recipients.
Applicants who have been chosen to receive a grant can be notified in a number of ways; via email, phone call, letter, or announcement on the grant making organization’s website. Regardless of the method of notification, the grantee will shortly thereafter be sent a grant agreement. The agreement is a legally binding document that explicitly states the requirements and expectations of both the grantee and grant maker and must be signed by both parties. Once both parties have signed the agreement, the grantee will receive the grant funds and may begin the funded project.
Applicants whose projects are not funded will receive notification from the grant maker in conjunction with announcements sent to funded applicants. Depending on the funder, this notification may include details regarding why the proposal was not funded, information on other sources of funding, encouragement for proposal resubmission, etc.
Educators should in no way interpret an unfunded application as an indictment of the quality of the proposed work. Most grant makers (including the NEA Foundation) receive far more quality proposals than they could ever realistically afford to fund and therefore must deny funding to countless innovative ideas.
For a comprehensive list of other grants resources available to public school educators, view our Other Grant Opportunities page.