How to Get a School Grant: What's In It for Them?

In our county there is a foundation called Total Philanthropy (name changed to protect the generous). For years, I wrote grant applications to Total. About half the time they were successful for amounts under $1,000. I always assumed that Total was a group of businesses that had banded together to do good works.

One year I decided to invite the grant coordinator at Total to lunch. Public relations are part of my job and my plan was to show her some of the projects that Total has funded over the years. It was at this lunch that I learned a valuable lesson; don't assume anything. It turns out that Total is one person. In fact, the one person was sitting right in front of me. This person is very successful in business and wants to help schools. He has dreams and aspirations just like anyone else. The coordinator/philanthropist told me that in general, he doesn't like to fund special education projects. No prejudice there, he just felt they were easier for schools to find, so he'd specialize in other areas like science and math. A quick scan of my list of Total awards over time showed that many of the unsuccessful applications were for SPED projects. I could have saved myself time and increased our successful attempts if I had known this sooner.

Lesson Alert:

  • Never assume what a grantor will do, or who he is
  • Find out what his needs and wants are
  • Bond with him on a personal level, if possible
  • Repeat the successful applications year after year to make a greater and more consistent impact on learning in your school

There are four main types of grants available for schools;

  • Federal government (competitive and allocations like Title I)
  • State government (which usually passes through funds from the federal government)
  • Foundations
  • Corporations

Sometimes businesses and individuals provide grant money to schools without setting up a foundation for that purpose. Although this is rare, schools should always be on the lookout for sources like this. Total Philanthropy is in this category and it pays to find out if there are more like him out there. The way to do that is get personal with them, or at least his staff. To start, drive through town and look for company names like Smith Widgets or Francini Lumber. Make phone calls to the companies and ask if there is a Smith or Francini Foundation. You'll be amazed at what you learn.

Every organization that gives grant money has a purpose. The better you understand that purpose, the better your chance of getting some of their money. Fortunately, most organizations that give grant money to schools have websites. These websites tell you everything you need to know about these philanthropic entities, including their philosophies with regard to education. They also generally list the types of projects supported by that foundation or government agency. Find out if you are eligible for these awards, sometimes they will not fund projects from cities or towns (public schools).

Why do the state governments, the federal government, foundations, businesses, and wealthy individuals give grant money to schools?

They want to:·

  • Provide equity in education
  • Encourage new, innovative programs that can be replicated
  • Bolster the overall quality of education in the nation, in a state, in a region, or in a city
  • Take advantage of tax breaks (this one is very important)
  • Promote a love and appreciation of art, music, science, history, or reading

As a grant writer, you want to know exactly why grantors are making their grant funds available to schools. It does not matter whether the grantor is the federal government, a state government, a foundation, a business, or an individual. By understanding why they are giving money and the results they expect, you will be better able to position your application as a highly competitive document.

Tell me about your community, are there any hidden funding jewels where you are?