Business Practices

Capitalizing on Grants

It always starts with an idea. Sometimes, the idea is small, building momentum over time. Sometimes, the idea is so large, it is more like a vision...a vision to change an ailing school, to create a program that will help students learn, or to introduce new technology into existing classroom practices. As the idea begins to take shape, the visionary begins to realize how much work will go into pulling it off—so much work that it may seem overwhelming with insurmountable obstacles.

Teachers and administrators face those obstacles daily when exploring new ideas: How will they create buy-in among their colleagues? How will they assemble the right team to launch the new initiative? How will they ever find the resources to fund the project?

All education leaders are familiar with grants in some way, whether they have used them to purchase computers for classrooms, professional development for teachers, or new programs or services. School districts typically think of grants as mechanisms for funding temporary solutions or often larger problems, and they tend to work in isolation to apply for and implement the grant award.

Yet grants have the potential to be used in much more creative and interesting ways. Grants have the power to transform and create lasting change. Grants have the ability to affect students and learning in ways that go beyond prescriptive teacher training and technology.

By creating meaningful partnerships between school districts, universities, and community-based organizations, the potential effect of a grant initiative transcends the traditional school day and influences how students access services, interact with their families, engage in learning, and grow into productive adults.

Although grants cannot usually be viewed as a permanent source of funding, they can be used as a catalyst for putting the programs, personnel and resources in place to sustain successful initiatives long term. By developing partnerships with universities and community organizations, school districts can distribute responsibility and combine resources for maximum effect.

Establishing relationships with potential partners

A certain amount of mistrust may arise when a university enters a community or school setting with an offer to help or to “fix” problems. Building trust and recognizing that each partner brings a different set of knowledge and skills are crucial elements of establishing a productive partnership.

Grant professionals can be instrumental in helping establish a partnership and identifying potential collaborative funding opportunities. However, the best partnerships are often created by the people who have a mutual interest in working toward a common goal. Identify the common goal first, create the partnership, and then bring in someone with grant expertise to help identify potential funding opportunities.

Leveraging new or existing partnerships

Adding the responsibility of screening potential grant opportunities to an already-harried school administrator with numerous other responsibilities might not move projects forward quickly. If your school district is not large enough to warrant having a full-time grant professional on staff, there are excellent freelance grant writers all over the country.

Finding someone who specializes in educational grants is important; ensuring that they also have experience in managing large-scale federal and state proposals with multiple subcontractors or consultants is vital to success.

Schools and communities are inextricably intertwined; if one is struggling, the other will struggle as well. Locating a grant professional who understands those nuances, who is familiar with a broad range of funding types, and who is flexible and adaptable regarding the needs of each project — such as switching the lead applicant on the basis of eligibility is important.

Grant professionals can be brought into the process strategically and at the right time, to cement relationships and to do the work most people do not want to do or do not have the time to do, including identifying funding opportunities, developing the idea into a fundable project and preparing proposals.

Grant seeking should be a collaborative process, with each member of the team bringing complementary knowledge and skills, including someone to seamlessly weave that collective knowledge into a fundable proposal. Imagine the tremendous effect on the students when everyone comes together (school administrators and teachers, university colleagues, families and community organizations) with the goal of not just educating them but raising them, supporting them and caring for them, so they develop goals and aspirations and believe that they can do anything they set their minds to. How can they not succeed under those circumstances?

Excerpted from the December 2014 issue of School Business Affairs, published by the Association of School Business Officials.

About the Author

Anne R. Sisk, MS, is the assistant dean of Grants and Contracts for the School of Education at the University of Rochester in New York.