Strengthening Your Grant Proposal – Emulate Successful Programs
The grant proposals with the greatest chance of being funded are the ones the grant readers believe have the best chance of being successfully implemented. In other words, if you are able to convince those reading and evaluating your grant proposal that you will actually be successful in correcting the problems you address in the proposal, you are much more likely to be awarded the grant money.
Any grant program is essentially a change program. There are two ways to increase the likelihood of success in any change program. The first is to copy a program that is already successful as closely as possible. The second is to pilot a small change program of your own first and then seek grant money to expand it based on the success you achieved in your pilot program. When I was principal of a middle school in Northeast Texas, we were able to capture grant money in both ways. We copied what neighboring schools were doing successfully, and we also set up successful pilot programs that we later expanded with grant money.
If you are going to write a grant based on the success of another school, it is important that you have similar populations and similar problems to overcome. It doesn’t help to say you are going to improve your reading scores just like an adjacent school when that school’s students were one grade level behind in math and yours are two grade levels behind in reading, and that school has 20% at-risk students when you have 60%. The problems don’t match, and the student populations don’t match. A grant reader would have no reason to believe you would achieve similar success.
On the other hand, if a neighboring school has reading scores very similar to yours and their student population is similar, too, you have every reason to believe you can achieve the same success the other school did if you base your grant program on the same program they did and implement it in the same way. You should include that school’s positive results in your grant application, stressing the similarities in the two schools. Sell the idea that you can implement a similar program and get similar results.
We implemented a number of highly successful programs in the middle school I mentioned above when I was principal. In a three year period, we had more than 150 different schools visit our campus to get information about our successful programs. Many of those educators went home and implemented similar programs. Many applied for grants and used our statistics to strengthen their grant proposals.
Many visitors viewed us as great innovators. They were amazed at our successes with the difficult populations we served. The truth is that we rarely initiated a program on our campus that had not already been proven successful with a similar population in one or more other schools in Texas.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you apply for grant money to help solve a problem at your school. Find a successful school with a population similar to your own and use that schools success to help strengthen your own grant proposal. I strongly recommend this approach. I’ve used it myself. It works.
Another Way to Strengthen Your Proposal – Set up a Pilot Program
When a grant reader feels that your grant project is likely to successfully address your school’s problems, your application will normally rank high in the final selection process. Above, I discussed referencing a school with a similar population and a similar problem as a model for your own grant program. That is one way to strengthen your grant application.
Another somewhat similar way to strengthen your grant proposal is to use a successful pilot program in your own school as a model for a larger program funded by grant money. To do this you obviously have to do two things first: 1) set up a pilot program that addresses the problem you’re having in your school, and 2) make sure it is successful and can be replicated on a larger scale.
Let me give you an example. When I became a middle school principal, our math scores were poor to say the least, especially at the seventh grade level. After looking at many, many alternatives, we decided that the Saxon Math program might very well benefit our students. On average they were almost two years behind according to their standardized math scores. We didn’t have a lot of money to spend to fix the problem, so we decided to pilot the Saxon Math program in one classroom. At that time Saxon had a pilot program of their own that gave us fifteen math books for a classroom when we purchased fifteen books at the regular price.
We made sure the pilot classroom was representative of our larger population. We made sure all of the classes were taught in a similar fashion except the pilot class used the Saxon Math program exclusively. You can rest assured we monitored results throughout the year. When our students were retested in the spring, the progress of the pilot class was far superior to the other classes. In fact, they had almost erased their two year lag.
You may not agree with using the Saxon Math program. At the time it was fairly controversial. That’s not the point. The point is that it worked for us as a pilot program, and we were then able to use that success in a grant application that netted us thousands and thousands of dollars to implement the program in all our other math classrooms. It worked very well in those classes, too. We knew it would from the results of our pilot.
We used our pilot for math, but you can use a pilot program for anything: early childhood, discipline, reading, science, PE, or social studies. The subject of the pilot doesn’t matter, but your pilot should be representative of the population with the problem, and it must be scalable. If it is, and you can show success with it for at least a semester, you have a very good chance of getting grant money to expand your program.
You can strengthen your grant application by referencing the success of a program in a similar school with similar problems, but the best way to strengthen your grant proposal is with the results of a successful pilot program in your own school. This method takes a little longer to develop, but it almost assures those who evaluate your grant proposal that your expanded program using grant funds will also be successful.
Thoroughly Addressing All Grant Areas
To consistently win competitive grant money, you need to get an edge on your competition. One easy way to do that is to make sure you thoroughly address every part of a grant application. If you leave out a part or simply put fluff in to meet the application requirements, it is likely your grant application will not be competitive, and you will not receive money.
Let’s say you are going to fill out an application for a reading grant. The grant application has seven parts, and one part deals with community involvement. You are trying to write a grant for a reading lab that, in your initial planning, would not require community involvement. The other six parts of the application are worth 95%; the community involvement part is worth only 5%. You decide to simply not fill out the community involvement part of the application. You figure the rest of your application is strong enough that the 5% won’t matter.
This would be a devastating mistake. Many grants are so competitive, the applications that are funded have scores of 97% or higher. Those other grant writers know you have to get every single point they can if they are going to be competitive.
But you say, “I’d never leave a section of a grant application blank. I’d put something in there whether we intended to implement it or not.” That’s the second biggest mistake you could make. Believe me; grant readers are pretty good at sniffing out the fluff and the disingenuous.
Now for the solution. In the planning stages, even before you begin to write your grant, make sure you have a good, strong, balanced program that more than meets the criteria for every required section. Make sure that every required area actually enhances your program. Be sure the community is involved in your reading lab in a way that will make your reading scores go up and will also make the community feel as if they are partners in the new program.
In essence, regardless of the requirements of the grant, you should write each section as if it were the only section the grant readers will score. Make each section that good and that vital to the overall program, and you will get the points you need to win most of the grants you write.
Writing Grants Is a Numbers Game
Any school can win grant money. Writing grants is a numbers game. To get large amounts of grant money, you just have to understand how numbers impact your chances of submitting successful award-winning grant applications.
First, you should do multiple needs assessments each year to find the problem areas in your school or classroom. The more problem areas you identify, the more grant money you are likely to need. The more grants you find that apply to your problem areas, the greater your chance of getting grant money. That’s where a good grant database comes into play. You should use a grant database regularly (www.ssww.com/grants) until you find several grants that match the needs of your school or classroom. The closer you can match your needs to the grantor’s purpose for giving a grant, the greater your chance of getting the grant money. You probably need to increase all of these numbers – the number of needs assessments you do, the number of problems you identify, the number of grants you need to fix the problems, and the number of grants that you match to the problems you have.
Second, the greater the number of quality grant applications you submit, the more grant money you will receive. Once you are sure that your request for grant funds matches well to the donor’s reason for giving grant money, the only thing that will prevent you from getting grant money is that you allow someone else to complete a higher quality application than you do. You should recognize that two important keys are at work here. You should submit several grant applications for each problem area you identify to different grantors, and each of those grant applications should be of the highest quality. You may need to submit multiple grant applications to get just one of them funded for a project, or if it is an expensive problem with which you are dealing, you may need to submit several applications to get all the money you need – a few thousand dollars from each of several sources.
Third, the more statistics you use in your grant application the better. These statistics need to apply directly to the problem you are having. They should show exactly what the problem is and how bad it is. By using the data from your last standardized test, you might show that in math 55% of your 5th graders are 1.2 years below the national average. You might also include that the at-risk students from this group are 1.9 years below the national average in math. These statistics show that you know your problem, and you know that you have to fix it. Quality grant applications use relevant statistics to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your problem.
Fourth, you will use numbers in the budget you submit with your grant application to show that you understand the solution to your problem and that you know what it will cost to fix it. The budget will detail the materials and/or personnel you will need to get the type of growth you expect. Not only will this show the grantor that you thoroughly understand the problem you have but that you also understand what you will need to do to fix that problem.
You may not have been the greatest math student in the world, but you should be able to use numbers well enough to understand how greatly they impact your success in getting grants. Use regular needs assessments to find as many problems in your school as possible. Use a database to find as many grants as you can that match those problems. Submit several high quality grant applications to address your problems. Use statistics to show the depth of your problems. Use the budget in your grant application to show you understand what you will have to spend to correct your problems. Writing grants is a numbers game. Use those numbers to garner more and more grant money each year.
Pour your heart and soul into completing grant proposals. Remember, you are writing grants to benefit the students and teachers in your school. When you approach a grant competition aggressively and with enthusiasm, you have laid the path to successfully winning that grant money. Competition is a good thing. Grant competitions make grant writers put their skills on the line against other quality grant writers. When schools have similar problems, similar eligibility, and similar ideas to fix their problems, it often comes down to the skill, the enthusiasm, and the very will of the grant writer to make that grant proposal just a little better than the competition order to win that grant money for his/her school.
Be sure to check out our Free Grant Finder at www.ssww.com/grants. You can search hundreds of current grants by state or topic.
Source: “Write Successful Grants for Your School: A Step-by-Step Guide” by Don Peek. Published by The School Funding Center. Copyright © 2010 All Rights Reserved