In this day and age of dwindling funding for education, school districts are looking for alternatives to making staff cuts or slashing programs. Grants have been an under used remedy to this situation due to an intimidating process. It doesn’t have to be this way.
In the past grant writing has been a daunting undertaking for school districts, especially small districts with limited staff. The Illinois State Board of Education observed, “Grantseeking and writing are, in fact, time-consuming endeavors that require concentrated effort, commitment and persistence on the part of the grantseeker and grant writer.” Recently, Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) have streamlined the grantseeking and grant writing process by offering grant writing services to component school districts. Component districts can contract with BOCES to have grant writers develop grant proposals. Although services provided by BOCES can help with the application process, the preliminary work needs to be completed by the school district before a grant or Requests for Proposals (RFP) can actually be written. The following is an overview of what needs to be completed before a school district contracts with grant writers to develop a proposal.
1. Assess the needs of your school district
The very first thing that needs to be completed in the grantseeking process is for a school district to complete a needs assessment. To do this, districts should solicit input from a variety of stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, community members, etc.). Due to the bureaucratic nature of school districts it can expedite applications if preliminary approval from the Board of Education is arranged. Another important reason for conducting a needs assessment is that grants are typically designed to address a specific need, and have detailed guidelines, which outline how grant funding maybe spent. It is important to understand your district needs so that during the grant search portion of the process that you can match the school district’s desired improvements with grants that target those areas.
2. Research Grant Opportunities
Just like so many things in the technological age that we live; the process of searching for grants will probably begin with an internet search. Two useful websites for finding grant opportunities are www.grantsalert.com and www.grantwrangler.com. Although districts new to this process will probably require more guidance until they have a working understanding of the grant writing process. Until school districts are more adapt at navigating this process they will probably want to consult regional foundation libraries. Most regional foundation libraries are associated with major universities. A major benefit of regional foundation libraries is that they are free and contain comprehensive information on grants and other funding sources. Sometimes the grant writing services that BOCES provide also include grant research or leads to potential opportunities.
3. Select Grant Opportunities that Enhance your District’s Vision and Mission
As with any other major decision that occurs within a school district two principles should provide guidance when selecting which grants to submit proposals. The first should be reflecting back on the school districts mission statement and reflecting on whether specific grants align to those values. Secondly, district leadership and stakeholders need to ask themselves: what is in the best interests of the students whom attend their school district? If a grant passes these litmus tests then a district should progress to the next stage of selecting which funding to apply for.
4. Brainstorm ways to make the project sustainable
A grant by definition is something given, such as a privilege or right, a sum of money, or a tract of land. Grants are intended to be a short term funding source to produce a desired outcome. As with any venture it is important to discuss long-term planning that will sustain progress achieved by the grant once the funding has been exhausted. In some cases, sustainability must be demonstrated in order to qualify for an award. This can be accomplished by establishing partnerships with agencies that have similar existing programs or expertise in the community.
Make sure as a school district considering applying for grant funding that you allot plenty of time to plan for your project and are able to develop a grant proposal well in advance of grant deadlines. Keep in mind in some cases it will be necessary to allow several months to complete the grant proposal process.
The quality of the grant proposal is directly dependent on the quality of the research and the amount of preparation the school district has put in ahead of time. Think of the grant proposal as a meal that a chef is preparing. In this analogy the grant writer would be the cook and the recipe ingredients are research information provided to the grant writer. No matter how good the cook is at preparing a particular recipe, they’re going to be limited by the quality of ingredients at their disposal. In the same manner the grant writer is limited by the thoroughness of the preparation that is turned over to them by the school district.