Taking It for Granted, Part 2: First Things First

image_pdfSave as PDFimage_printPrint this blog post

By Dr. Merewyn “Libba” Lyons

Last time, we provided a brief introduction to grants and why you may or may not want to apply for them. If you’ve read that article and decided to proceed with your grant seeking, you should begin by asking yourself three important questions:

  1. What is the need?
  2. How do I know it’s a need?
  3. How do I plan to address this need?

If you can answer these questions, you’ve begun to develop a concept paper—the first and most important step you’ll take to get your project funded.

Why Write a Concept Paper?

Most grant developers recommend developing a concept paper for their projects long before they begin looking for grant funding. A well-crafted concept paper will:

  • Give your district’s grant department a clear picture of your project so they can match it to potential funders
  • Help your district’s grant department better understand your project so they can work with you to develop a strong grant proposal
  • Help you narrow your search to funders whose interests and priorities align with your project, and concentrate your effort on the best prospects
  • Provide an outline and essential content for your proposal so you’ll be ready to begin writing when the grant opportunity arrives, saving you time and stress with tight deadlines


If your district has a grants department, they can probably give you a concept paper outline or template to help you organize your ideas and ensure that you address all the typical requirements for a grant application. If not, you can do a Google search using the terms “concept paper for grants” and find templates and other examples of concept papers. Choose one that best matches your situation and needs.

Whatever outline you use, it will probably include some variation the following elements:

  • Need Statement – succinct description of the problem you’re trying to solve, supported by data
  • Goals – the intended outcomes that will result from full execution of your project
  • Objectives – measureable outputs that will provide evidence of project execution
  • Activities – methodology or approach you will use to accomplish the project goals, including all stakeholders who will be involved in delivering the project
  • Target Population –the students, teachers, school, or other group whose problem will be solved as a result of the project
  • Evaluation – how you will measure the effectiveness of your project in solving the problem
  • Budget – estimated cost of resources needed to execute the project


Keeping Everyone Informed

Consider adding a communication plan to your concept paper. Funders are increasingly concerned about risks to projects they fund, and often those risks arise from poor communication with external stakeholders, such as your school board, PTA, families, or others who will be affected by the success of your project. You may need to prove to your funder that you’ve communicated with external stakeholders and provide a communication plan that ensures that they are kept in the loop.

By nature, grants involve change, and change brings with it resistance. Resistance can torpedo a project before it begins. It is far better to inform people ahead of time about the project and win their support than to spring it on them after the grant is written.

Consider your school board. If the grant you’re requesting will benefit a school, might it be a good idea to inform a board member about the project and keep him or her informed?

Involving Key Stakeholders

To ensure that all elements are fully addressed in your concept paper, you will need to plan ahead and make sure that all key stakeholders have a voice in developing the project narrative.

Key stakeholders are your colleagues who are also experiencing the problem and want to solve it. To develop a strong concept paper, you’ll need all of these people at the table and working together. With clarity about the need, this team will be able to collaboratively determine the best way to communicate:

  • A way to identify the problem, based on data
  • A clear need statement
  • The potential solution
  • How to measure progress toward a solution,
  • Who needs to be involved
  • What resources the team will need


Creating a strong concept paper is hard work and requires time and attention from very busy people. The good news is that, without a grant deadline bearing down on you, you have time to plan this work when everyone is available. Once your concept paper is done, you’re ready for any grant opportunity that comes your way.

How Much Funding Should We Request?

Calculate as accurately as possible how much funding you’ll need to carry out all project activities. The amount you should ask for depends on the source of grant funding.

If you’re applying to a private donor or philanthropy, determine how much of the project funding you can cover from your existing budget. As we mentioned in Part 1, most private funders will be willing to support a portion of your budget, but usually not all of it. This amount might be 10 to 20% of your budget, especially if this is the first project they’re supporting for your school or district.

If you’re planning to apply for a federal or state grant, you might be able to budget for the entire cost of the project, or the grant may require you to find “match,” which are funds or in-kind donations from private or corporate philanthropies.

Ready to Start?

Your concept paper is the first step toward a successful grant application. If you now feel ready to start this creative process of problem solving with your colleagues, subscribe to receive an email when Part 3 is published next week. We’ll be sharing tips for finding funders to support your project. In the meantime, enjoy the journey and take good care of each other.

Did you find this article helpful?

Reignite your passion for education. Hone your skills. Amplify your impact at your school or district. Join us in June at Building Expertise 2018 in Orlando, Florida.