It is increasingly true that foundations and corporate giving departments are drowning in grant applications. There are thousands of articles that help you fill out grant applications. Most applications are online now (thank goodness), and there is little room for error. Sometimes though, you are asked to submit a big document with many sections and requirements. Government grants through Grants.gov have improved but it is still an arduous task.
So how do you make your application stand out? My suggestions are going to seem like "duh" but you'd be amazed at how many applications are submitted to grant review professionals with glaring errors and problems with grammar and spelling.
Here are three steps you can take to make your grant application rise above the rest:
1. Link your goals and objectives to academic achievement and standards
2. Use data to support your goals and objectives
3. Proofread, proofread, proofread
In the last 15-20 years, there's been an effort to develop standards for the skills students will need to lead productive lives. The important fact is states were marching to their own drummers. The level of Math and Reading in Alabama was expected to be far different from achievement expectations in New York. Standardized tests were showing gaps in learning that are unsustainable in the 21st century. Enter: Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). Not all states have adopted the Core, some educators and critics say it is the governments attempt to dictate what is learned in classrooms. It's not about what is learned, it's about the level of achievement that can be expected from all children.
Your grant narrative and budget must be tied to new goals and objectives for academic achievement, and you must show that your test scores support the need for a project to address deficiencies. It's that simple, and it's that complex. An after school program for your slow readers will need funding and support to continue, but why? What standards will you choose to work on? How did you select those areas of learning over others?
Don't turn up your nose at the word "data". It's all right there, your test scores tell a story, your state department of education will have a website that crunches your school's test data from every possible angle, I guarantee it. As tests have matured and data collection and analysis has become more sophisticated, your state has found ways to communicate it to you. You don't have to be a mathematician, but you will need to be able to read graphs and charts.
Testing companies have also risen to the challenge and they send massive data reports to your school district each year after they administer the tests. The lag time between the test and the data is always getting shorter, so the relevance of those numbers is supported.
I picked Massachusetts for your review. There is a breakdown of district scores, and it is easy to drill down to your own school. Don't make this difficult; follow your nose through the data, the story will begin to tell itself. You'll see grade levels that are struggling in Math and Reading. Have you targeted the right group of kids for extra help? If not, go back to the drawing board, any funding you may be requesting will depend on your ability to prove your need. Remember, the funding organization looks at this data also.
When they review your application, they'll use a rubric. Study the rubric ahead of time so you know what they emphasize. Your application will stand out from the rest if you know you have addressed the categories in the scoring rubric they provide. I give you a sample rubric from REEF (Riverside Educational Enrichment Foundation in Riverside California). Notice that academic achievement is the first category they score.
Number three on my short list of how to make your application rise above the rest is "proofreading". You would not believe the error-riddled stuff that crosses the computer screens of grant evaluators. The number of applications they receive requires deletion of materials that are not right in every way. Take the time to have someone else look at your work before you submit, many eyes will find tiny errors. Get rid of them.
Here are some tips from other grant writers and grant makers:
Best Practices - Monsanto
Let me know your writing tips, I'd love to share your ideas!
Current Grant Opportunities
Shakespeare in American Communities Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts- Annually, selected companies receive grants of generally $25,000 to support performances and educational activities. The funds allow more performances to middle and high school students and conduct educational activities in the community. Initial approach is an intent-to-apply email sent to Shakespeare@artsmidwest.org.
States: All States
Average Amount: $25,000.00
Address: 2908 Hennepin Ave, Ste. 200, Minneapolis, MN55408
Website: Shakespeare in American Communities
Eligibility: Public School, Private School
Program Areas: Arts, General Education
Smart from the Start from Together Counts- the Together Counts “Smart from the Start” Contest provides teachers an opportunity to win cash to be used to improve the school’s Pre-K program and a selection of books appropriate to the Pre-K curriculum. Entrants must develop an action plan identifying a need, write a goal statement, do background research, develop an action plan, explain how the plan will be implemented and how its success will be measured, and describe how the Entrant would use the prize to create long-term improvements for balancing nutrition and physical activity within their school community, if selected as a winner.
States: All States
Average Amount: $2,500.00 - $25,000.00
Website: Together Counts
Eligibility: Private School, Higher Education, Other
Program Areas: Early Childhood, Health/PE