We recently sat down with Elizabeth Evans, Senior Grants Development Consultant for Education at Grants Office LLC, to discuss tips for first-time grant writers. In this discussion, Evans offers insider knowledge into the grant selection process as well as shares the best places for educators to find grant opportunities.
Today’s Modern Educator (TME): Where are some of the best places/resources for educators to find grant opportunities?
Elizabeth Evans (EE): If you’re interested in finding grant funding options, where you go largely depends on the type of funding you are seeking. Grants.gov is the centralized clearinghouse for almost all federal grant opportunities. Rather than navigating to each of the 26 federal grant-making agencies’ individual websites, you can see every forecasted, currently open, and recently closed grant opportunity in one place.
State grants are a bit trickier. Some states have a central grant funding page for opportunities offered by their various departments, while others do not – thus requiring you to scour individual state agency/department websites. If you’re interested in knowing how your State Education Agency stacks up for grant-seeker friendliness, you can actually check out our latest issue of Funded Magazine. It will be available here starting August 9, 2019.
Foundation funding options are the hardest to uncover and vet. I often hear clients lament about how difficult it is to find relevant foundation funders without sinking hours upon hours into a deep-Google dive. Beyond Google-searching aimlessly there are a few grant databases out there for grant seeker use, but I find that the old adage – you get what you pay for – often applies. The free access databases are rarely curated to the specificity needed for efficient foundation grant seeking efforts.
Personally (and I think many other grant professionals would agree), I am a huge fan of the Foundation Directory Online by Candid. Foundation Directory features search filter parameters not seen on many of the free databases – searching by areas of funder interest, funder location, awardee location, award size, award type, population served, etc.! It is a subscription service, but the money you pay for its use is goes towards improvements in database search functionality and staffing to keep the information contained within up to date. Since the price tag can be a bit of a shock for especially cash strapped education organizations, I always advise folks to first check with their local library. Many library systems maintain a subscription to this database, and your research librarian should be able to help you navigate its contents to find the best funding options for your community’s needs.
TME: Any other knowledge to share with grant seekers?
EE: Know that grant seeking is a long-game approach for organizational growth and community improvement, but not a silver bullet cure-all for poor planning. If your district or school is having financial issues, that may be a red flag for the funder and make them unwilling to consider supporting your project. Grant-makers – be they federal, state, or a foundation – don’t want to be treated like an ATM, nor do they want to bail out a sinking ship. Grants are not “free money”.
Instead, think of grant funders as project investors or long-term partners. Grant opportunities are offered at their discretion and made available to address specific problem areas of society or needs within a community. Therefore, grant seekers who are going to have the greatest likelihood for success are those that can tap into the funder’s motivation for offering funds in the first place, and are further able to articulate how they – as the boots on the ground – can help that funder accomplish their goals for offering the funding in the first place.
So, for example, a lack of planning for end-of-life classroom equipment does not imply an emergency on behalf of the funder. Instead, it says to them that this organization doesn’t have the propensity for long term planning and any investment on our part would be a waste of resources because the applicant will just be back to ask for new equipment in a few years’ time again. However, repositioning that need for equipment within the context of supporting a STEM education initiative could instantly make your request more appealing (e.g. you need new equipment because the current classroom devices don’t have adequate RAM for an innovative, new STEM online curriculum that the school would like to implement).
If the funder has an interest in supporting STEM education, you’ve just connected the dots for them as to how your personal organization’s need aligns to their mission and reason for offering grant funds. Letting them know that you also have a sustainability plan in place (e.g. will set aside a percent of IT budget funds for so many years to ultimately replace this grant-funded equipment at end of life) will also show them know that you are a competent, safe pair of hands for their money.
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