The best things in life are free, that's true. But a few extra dollars in your pocket sure makes things a whole lot easier.
That's where Jim Quick comes in. For more than twenty years, Quick has written successful grant proposals for hundreds of projects, with cash awards ranging from $10,000 to nearly $10 million. He's also CEO of Polaris, an Inman, South Carolina, company that helps money seekers attain grants, and coauthor of Grantseeker's Toolkit (John Wiley & Sons, 1998).
Quick says the odds are not in your favor when you write a grant proposal -- because so many organizations apply, fewer than 5 percent of submitted proposals get funded -- but there are several tricks that can increase your odds of snagging the loot. "Grants are not charity, but investments," he says. And Quick offers good news: "K-12 funding is going up, up, up."
1 Every education project must focus on students. Even if the project is for professional development or to improve administrative processes, the ultimate end is to improve student achievement.
2 Tightly define your problem, and avoid circular reasoning in describing how you can solve it. The absence of your solution cannot be your problem. A doomed proposal: Educator: "I want laptops!" Grant maker: "Why?" Educator: "Because we don't have any!"
3 Design a solution. Remember that your problem is not that your staff or students don't have books or computers. It's their low reading scores or that they don't know anything about how to use technology, not the lack of some beyond-the-budget materials or services.
4 Remember: Buying things (software, computers, books) is not the same as solving problems. They are just tools for a better learning environment. It's what you do with the gear that counts.
5 Find a compatible grant maker or funding source interested in solving the same kind of problems you are. Everything you do to research funding sources should focus on compatibility of goals. For example, check out Grants.gov, a simple, unified electronic storefront for interactions between grant applicants and the federal agencies that manage grant funds.
6 Obtain application literature and directions directly from the grant maker. No directory or publication gives you enough information to apply for funding. If you apply based on the scant information provided in some blurb you find in a professional journal, you'll wind up with a generic proposal.
7 Follow directions precisely. Organize your proposal's components in whatever order the grant maker specifies. Call them exactly what the funding source calls them. If you normally refer to a timeline but the grant maker calls it a project calendar, change your wording. And stick with its presentation parameters: If the grant maker wants the project narrative first, lead off with that, even if you're used to putting goals and objectives first. Grant readers often have a grading rubric set up in a certain order. Make it easier on them, and increase your chances of qualifying.
8 Remember that your proposal is read by a person. Not the federal government, or the Ford Foundation, or the Pew Charitable Trusts, but an individual. If your proposal is full of acronyms and complicated jargon, you'll lose his or her interest. If it bores you, it will bore the reader.
9 Follow the publishing directions. There are always limitations on the number of pages and words, and specifications about type size. Don't cheat. Follow them. The idea is to have a level playing field for all applicants. Grant readers are really strict these days.
10 Always obtain the reader's comments, and, if you are turned down, rewrite and resubmit according to those remarks. Everybody applies once, but not everybody takes criticism constructively. Redo your proposal and reapply.
Victor Rivero is the former editor of Converge magazine; he lives in Los Angeles. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.