Competitive Grant Writing
Some would say competitive grant writing, like most creative writing, is an art form that awards the visionaries who have impressive vocabulary, new ideas, and refined keyboarding skills. I, on the other hand, would disagree with those people. Anyone can achieve success with competitive grant writing by following the steps outlined in this article.
Finding Grant Opportunities
The first step in competitive grant writing is to identify grants that suit the needs or wants of your school. You can spend time searching through listings on websites like GrantsAlert.com (https://grantsalert.com/ ). However, if you have a little bit of money, you can pay for notifications that are emailed directly to your inbox. The Monthly Education Grants Alert (https://rjma.com) is a monthly e-publication that is well worth the $395 annual subscription price. Receiving just one small grant from the 12 months of publications would more than pay for the subscription cost. Lastly, another way you can find grant opportunities is to ask others. Two of the largest competitive grants our district received were learned through word of mouth.
When choosing the grant for which you would like to apply, prioritize your goals, but remain flexible with what is available to you. Many of the grants available are based on the priorities of the grant giver, not the receiver. Take a look at the grants that are available to you and see if you can fit any of your priorities within the realm of the grant opportunity. For example, if you want to start a school garden but cannot find any grants specifically available for gardens, you could look for grants based around school nutrition or STEM opportunities. All avenues could bring you to your goal of receiving funds for a school garden.
Another thought to consider when determining which grant to pursue is to not let fear of large dollar signs hold you back. Many people feel comfortable applying for the smaller grants or are only allowed to apply for grants that improve one classroom. This means there can be less competition for larger opportunities. Though the methods of competitive grant writing are the same for smaller and larger grants, it may be a better use of your time to search for larger opportunities.
Suggested Components to Include in Your Grants
All competitive grants have their unique process for applying. They will ask for certain information about your organization and want you to follow their application format. However, there are three main components I recommend ensuring you include in your writing process to give your application a competitive edge. They are: research your audience, have a voice and enthusiasm, and provide your grant credit score.
Each institution offering a grant has a mission, core values, and a message they are trying to send out into the world. By researching the grant institution, otherwise known as your audience, you can identify ways receiving the grant can help spread the message and mission of their organization. In addition, your district may have values that align with the grant provider and highlighting those similarities can make your school more appealing in the grant process. It is also helpful to have your demographics prepared and ready as you research. There are grants supporting equity, inclusion, literacy, and STEAM, just to name a few. Having your demographics ready will help you identify key pieces of information to include in your grant application.
Next, it is very important to include your own voice and some enthusiasm when writing your grant application. Many of these grants have a committee of people reading over a pile of submissions. If you cannot get a smile, chuckle, or are not able to pull any type of emotional response from the committee members, your application will blend into all the others they read. Providing a voice, making your application personal, and putting enthusiasm into the application is the best way to make your application stand out. As an example, I once created a letter of support for a grant and had all school employees, school board members, and other members of the community sign it prior to the submission. We received the grant and were told that our application was the most enthusiastic and fun to read.
Last, I recommend including something I like to call your “grant credit score.” Basically, a grant credit score is how you can let the grant provider know that there will be a return on the investment provided to your school or district. I cannot even begin to imagine how terrifying it must be to award a large amount of money to an organization if you do not completely trust them to do exactly what they promise. Since there is no credit bureau for schools, you will need to be the one that provides that information in your application. My favorite way to provide a grant credit score is by stating a grant you received before and the positive outcome that occurred due to receiving the grant. Here is an example: “When our school received a blended learning grant to implement the research based program Fast ForWord, we saw a 10% increase in reading proficiency as measured by our benchmarking program in one year’s time.” If you have not received a competitive grant in the past, you can use the same formula but substitute how you have been a good steward of your own resources to get measurable outcomes.
These final thoughts are not new, but it never hurts to be thorough. After you have found the grants for which you will apply, researched the organization to find commonalities, provided your demographics, used your voice, included some enthusiasm and your grant credit score, please ensure you take the time to edit for mistakes and that you meet all deadline requirements. Having sloppy grammar and missing deadlines may throw your application out of consideration, but even if it doesn’t, it sends the message that you will not be careful with their gift of funding.
Good luck and happy grant writing!
Kristin Turner is the Superintendent of the Paloma School District and the Past-President of the Arizona Rural Schools Association.