Writing Your Grant Application

Last time we discussed deciding what to ask for with grants in Need Macs for Your Classroom? Write a Grant. today we talk about writing the application. Next time we’ll look at finding support from stakeholders and making your application stand out.

Your grant application should do three things:

  1. Follow the rules of the grant making organization.
  2. Tell a cohesive story.
  3. Show that you know how to manage money.

Writing a grant

Don’t Be a Rule Breaker

Imagine if you are a person reading grant applications. Your first task will be to sort through dozens or hundreds of applications and find those that simply follow the rules. If the grant organization’s application says “please type,” don’t write by hand. If you’re in too much of a hurry to retype an application, you’ll also be in too big a hurry to do a good job with the funding you receive.

Just suppose you’re sitting there with hundreds of applications for the small amount of money you have to offer. What’s the first thing you’re going to do? Reject all the easy ones, such as applications that are incomplete, handwritten instead of typed, late, missing the required duplicate copies, missing a signature from a principal or superintendent, too long, too short, off topic, asking for too much money, not on the appropriate topic (such as a math grant requested of a literary foundation), too far from a local contact (many corporations only donate in towns where they have employees), has only one teacher when teams are required, is too ambitious, too limited, impossible to achieve on the timeline specified, or simply is not possible to do with the budget available.

Tell Them a Story

If you can write an application that doesn’t easily and automatically reject itself, you might survive long enough for someone to actually read it. You heard me right. You might have spent 40 hours working on an application only to have it rejected for something as trivial as using blue ink instead of black. Read all the directions carefully and follow them.

If someone reads your application, they have to see that you have a compelling idea. No one can really help you with this; it’s the same sort of skill needed to persuade students that what you’re teaching is of the utmost importance. If you believe it, most of them will, too. If you say the work isn’t that important, the grant readers will as well.

If you’re asking for computers and technology equipment, you must remember to tell a story that has one and only one inescapable point: What it is that you can do with the computers that you can not do without them.

It helps if you read your application aloud to a third party not involved in its development. If the third party is an intelligent but uninformed person, such as a spouse, so much the better. Another educator might be comfortable with your edu-speak, but an ordinary citizen – such as might be found on a grant selection committee – needs plain language that is clear and jargon-free.

You should study the grant making organization’s committee information carefully. Are they educators, technocrats, or just rich people wanting to spread the wealth? Be sure to address the audience.

Finally, remember that nothing succeeds like success. Every grant you win is a magnet for drawing more money in. Just cite each completed grant as a source of support for your work, and clearly show why that amount is inadequate. Grant readers like winners and want to support a project that will show results.

Managing Money

The main thing here is that you include enough detail to show that you know how to think a problem through – but leave enough slack so that you can fix things that don’t go according to plan. For example, if you budget $46.33 for supplies and need another box of paper clips, you’re going to have to take it out of another budget line, and that’ll be messy. Don’t calculate anything to the penny. Round off and estimate, but provide justifications.

Also, get someone in your district knowledgeable about grants and budgets to look over your proposal. Beginners typically forget to include two things in budget estimates: benefits and indirect.

If you are paying anyone’s clock time with your grant, tack on an additional 25% for benefits. Even better, get an exact number from your personnel office and use that percentage.

Indirect costs are more mysterious. Usually, indirect costs are the costs your hosting organization (that’d be your district) charges for managing your budget, processing purchase orders, maintaining inventory, etc. Some indirect rates are set by the granting agency. Some grants specify that indirect costs must be donated by the district; others allow the standard state rate (typically 5-10%); others don’t restrict indirect.

The largest indirect I ever saw charged was by a private education-based nonprofit that required 100% indirect. That’s right – half of incoming grant money was used for administrative purposes, and the project manager got exactly half of the funding.

Find out what the indirect rate is for your district and work it into your budget estimates. A budget reader who sees a line item for indirect will respect you for it. If the rate goes much higher than 10%, you may be asked to verify that the indirect rate is standard for all grants.

Don’t complain about the indirect rate. The indirect funds are your leverage to gain support for your project at the administration level. All districts are always looking for ways to leverage indirect costs from grant funds. It’s a fact of life. So pony up your portion and smile while you do it. Every dollar you bring in is another bit of argument for your point of view.

Next time we’ll cover stakeholders.

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