It is no longer enough for a school grant writer to approach grant seeking as a series of projects, one at a time. It's time you knew something about the big picture.
Your school is part of a larger community. Private schools are the only exceptions, and this blog article is relevant for those too. So, don't stop reading. For discussion, let's say your school is an elementary school in a small district (two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school). When you are writing a grant, you need to look outside of your school's narrow K-5 perspective.
For starters, you need to be sure no one else in the district is applying for the grant that you are seeking. When people act in isolation, there is a chance this can happen and several different applications will be sent to the same grant maker, who will think that you don't know what you are doing. This happens all the time, so beware and research thoroughly before submitting. If one is not already established, develop a central grant-approval process at the district level. Do not pass go without having it signed by the superintendent.
A good grant-seeking program in a district of any size has a committee (perhaps your curriculum committee) that meets on a regular basis to look at total finances and availability of resources for all the programs you will launch this year. Of course, you have a district budget from the city or town, yes? Do you know how this budget is created and administered? Your school business manager will be someone you need to know so you can understand this picture. The district budget is never enough to cover all the expenses a school will face in a year. It's some kind of law. Let's call it Neva's Law: there's never enough.
That's where you come in, but you must be a bird flying over your school district, looking at all the pieces (not a vulture, just a sparrow). You'll see that the district budget has many categories that you never knew existed. District leaders need to pay for building maintenance, school security, teacher salaries, school supplies, and on and on. Unless you plan to supplant (which is illegal), your grants will be seeking resources for a discrete project or program within one school, or sometimes two or three. I've provided a budget-planning guide for your convenience so you can be sure you won't miss anything.
In your committee, you'll talk about data-based decision making, using student test scores to help guide budgets and planning for programs. Notice the persistent reference to "standards" (Common Core State Standards) that are the overarching guide for all planning. Weaknesses in your test scores need to be addressed and corrected. Grants become extremely important in meeting these curriculum needs, so you must be well versed in the issues at hand. You may be interviewed by a grant evaluator and you want to be knowledgeable.
This is the year you think about setting up a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization for your district. You might call it "Friends of Sunnydale Schools" or something similar. Your PTA or PTO may have done this already. It provides a way for you to apply for grants from companies that only fund these organizations.
It's all part of the big picture. As you gain experience in planning and preparing grant applications, these big issues will automatically become part of your thinking. Get to know the players in your district, including community members from local businesses; these folks will become good friends if you play your cards right.
I'm starting to sound like a poker player, and grants management is not a game. It will take several years to set up the infrastructure for an effective grant-writing program. If you're only going to write one online application for $500 from a company to pay for t-shirts for the cheerleaders, you may not need all this information. However, if you're like me, you'll start out that way and then become addicted. You'll want to see the big picture and understand how the district works. By the way, if you harbor any secret desires to become a school administrator, there is no better way to prepare than to write grants.
Some resources to help you see the big picture:
- The Big Federal Picture for 2015
- AASA American Association of School Administrators
- One District's Budget: Information for Community Members
- Breaking Down School Budgets
- Children First Budgeting in Cherry Creek, Colorado
- Budget Development and Connection to the Strategic Plan
I hope this article hasn't scared you off; schools desperately need people like you, the enterprising people who see the big picture and want to provide solid assistance. It's hard work, but something worth doing is worth doing right, right?
I'd love to feature your school in one of my blogs. Let me know if you have a good budget planning and management protocol in place.