Big government grants (we'll use National Science Foundation NSF as an example) are scary for several different but well-deserved reasons:
- They require a huge investment in time and planning.
- You will probably not get your grant the first time.
- The outcome of the application will shine a light on you (for good or ill) for a long time.
I have been lucky in my grant-writing years to have shepherded several big grant applications through government mazes that would challenge any professional, veteran grant writer.
I think my key to success is having patience. I enter into each new venture with the solid conviction that I'll need to sequester myself from other projects for a while, and I'll need to prepare for hearing the word no a few times before I succeed. My first big government grant success was instrumental in making my move into professional grant writing. I learned a great deal from the experience, lessons that I've carried through the years. I've even survived a federal audit of a big government grant—hand me the Tylenol please.
First of all, the investment in time. Be clear with your principal and superintendent that this grant application is unlike anything you've worked on before and that you will need some latitude in your schedule. You may even need a travel allowance; some big applications benefit from a trip to the funding agency to meet with a liaison. For a great bonding experience, ask your principal to accompany you. Matching names to faces is still the best way to make an impression with the government grant liaison, and in this instance Skype just won't be enough. It will be helpful later on, but in the formative stages stick with face to face.
Familiarize yourself with some technology tools that will save time. Use Dropbox or Google Docs to store documents you will want to share. Skype is useful for when you just can’t make the trip in person, and it can create a nice personal touch for collaboration. Learn about Microsoft Word's many capabilities for editing, creating a table of contents, footnotes, bibliographies etc. Use a single memory stick. Get a brightly colored one and save your work to it religiously, never to the computer at school. You can post it for others to see in Dropbox, but your original work belongs to only you. This is all very important especially for grants like the NSF.
In my first read-through of an NSF grant application many years ago, it was completely lost on me that the application I was planning to write was for SEA's. What's an SEA? A State Education Agency, as opposed to an LEA, or Local Education Agency (your school district). Read every grant opportunity with an eye to detail, make sure your school or district is eligible to apply and learn the terminology. Many SEA grants will eventually trickle down and become LEA opportunities, but be sure you know the difference. Make sure your principal and superintendent are aware of what you are doing. It's possible that the district is hiring this one out; there are consultants that specialize in NSF grants. It may be worth the cost of hiring one instead of creating a narrative and budget from within. I have reservations about that; what will be learned from a project written by outsiders? However, for a big city district, it may be the way to go. Because of steep learning curves, you will probably not get the grant the first time through. Keep your application for next year; there is no rule against applying again. After your first no letter, you'll be tempted to quit altogether. The whole experience can be exhausting. My advice? Don't quit, your grant-writing reputation may have a bruise just now, but if you persevere and are finally successful, the boost to your reputation will be worth it. Be prepared to have neighboring districts call and try to hire you for theirs next year. The benefits of a prestigious grant like the NSF go far beyond the project completion for your kids (although that is your overriding mission). It will open doors from unlikely sources and create a funding stream for years to come. If you collaborated with a college or university in your community, you'll have a permanent friend in Higher Ed. So, pick your project carefully. Make sure it's aligned with standards and data and can be scaled up or down and tweaked to become sustainable over time.
Grants.gov - spend some time here
So, boys and girls, be brave; but most of all, be patient.
Current Grant Opportunities
Foundation Grants from the American Honda Foundation- The American Honda Foundation engages in grant making that reflects the basic tenets, beliefs and philosophies of Honda companies, which are characterized by the following qualities: imaginative, creative, youthful, forward-thinking, scientific, humanistic and innovative. We support youth education with a specific focus on the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects in addition to the environment.
States: All States
Average Amount: $20,000.00 - $75,000.00
Total Amount: $1,000,000.00 - $2,000,000.00
Address: American Honda Foundation 1919 Torrance Boulevard Mail Stop 100-1W-5A Torrance, California 90501
Website: American Honda Association
Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other
Program Areas: General Education, Math, Science/Environmental, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology
Foundation Grants from the Calvin K. Kazanjian Economics Foundation - the Foundation has an abiding interest in elevating the nation's understanding of the need for economic education. It will support programs that: raise various public's participation in economic education and/or create a demand for greater economic literacy; the application of new strategies for teaching economics including on-line and web-based instruction is of interest to the Foundation.
States: All States
Average Amount: $3,500.00 - $22,000.00
Address: P.O. Box 300, Dallas, PA 18612-0330
Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other
Program Areas: Math, Social Studies