Taking It For Granted, Part 4: State and Federal Grants

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By Dr. Merewyn “Libba” Lyons

In Part 3 of this series, we talked briefly about seeking state or federal grants. Before we launch into the specifics of developing applications for these government grants, here are a couple tips to ensure that you stay informed about upcoming and currently announced grant opportunities.

  • Your state department of education probably has a website dedicated to grants and grant management, and these offices generally send notices to districts when grants are announced. These announcements may only be sent to your superintendent, or they may be copied to your professional development department or other departments. Regularly check both the state’s web site and with your colleagues to learn of new opportunities.
  • For federal grants, Grants.gov provides several ways of receiving notifications when new grants come out, such as email, RSS feeds, and social media. Visit this page for more information. Also see the U.S. Department of Education’s Forecast of Funding Opportunities.


Once You’ve Found a Grant

Scan the announcement looking for information about eligibility of applicants. If your school or district is ineligible to apply, there’s no point in reading more closely. If only a district may apply and you’re looking for a school-specific grant, check with your district’s grant department (or other appropriate department) to see if they intend to apply for it. Your school may be able to participate in the district’s proposed activities.

If you determine that you are eligible to apply, download the announcement and read it carefully in its entirety. Make careful notes to answer these questions:

  • When is the grant due?
  • How much funding will it provide?
  • What is the period of the grant (e.g. 12 months, 2 years, 5 years)?
  • What are the requirements?
    • Absolute Priorities are requirements that must be addressed in your application in order to receive a grant award.
    • Competitive Priorities are requirements that, if addressed, will potentially result in additional points to the scoring of your application (more about scoring later).
    • Invitational Priorities are not required but are desirable aspects that you might include in your proposal. They do not result in additional points by the reviewers, but indicate a preference or special interest of the agency.
  • Is any match funding required? Sometimes, particularly with federal grants, the applicant must provide a percentage of the cost to implement the proposed activities. Sometimes, that match must be provided by organizations or other entities outside of your district. Take note of this requirement and make sure that your district is in a position to provide match funding before you apply.
  • Are there page limits to your application?
  • Are their formatting restrictions (e.g. 12-point, Times New Roman, double-spaced)?
  • How are you required to submit the grant application? Is it electronic? What format should your documents be in (e.g. Adobe PDF, Word)? Paper? How many copies? How should they be prepared and bound? To which address should the application be sent? If your application is in paper form, remember that it will take time for it to be delivered and received at the grantor agency, and plan on shipping in plenty of time for you to meet the grant deadline.
  • Do you need to download and read a separate grant application form?
  • Does the agency accept questions about the grant? If so, to whom should you send your questions? Where will responses to questions be posted?
  • Will the grantor agency provide any technical assistance or webinars to assist applicants? If so, when and how do you participate?
  • How soon will you be notified if the grant is awarded? If awarded, how and when will you receive grant funds?

Create a Timeline

It’s always best to plan on your grant arriving at the grantor agency at least one day before the deadline. Why? Remember Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong (and usually at the worst possible time).

If your grant is due by 4:30 p.m. on Grants.gov and you sit down at 4:00 p.m. to transmit, you are out of luck if your computer crashes or your Internet server goes down. If you plan on sending your paper application via FEDEX to arrive the next day and there is bad weather in the city where your application is going, you may miss your delivery deadline.

Stuff happens. Plan on it and submit ahead of schedule.

Complete, Revise, and Submit

As you review the grant application with your grant-writing team, assign sections to each member. Try to complete your first draft at least two weeks before you’ll need to transmit the application, and give it to someone to review who is not involved in writing it. If you have a rubric for scoring the grant, give that to your reviewer and ask him or her to score and give feedback to the writing team.

Revise the application, create your final draft, and, if time permits, ask someone to review your application again, checking to make sure that you have adhered to all requirements.

Submit your grant according to the instructions provided by the grantor agency. Remember: submit early enough that you can be absolutely certain that your application will arrive in time to be accepted. For electronic submissions, print and save confirmation of successful transmission. For paper applications, be sure to get a receipt indicating the signature, time and date that the package was delivered and accepted at the grantor agency.

Breathe a sigh of relief and wait for good news.

Stronger Narratives, Fewer Errors

Often, grants arrive with very little lead-time and you may not always have the luxury of these reviews. However, try to get someone to read your application at least once before you submit it.

People who routinely follow this practice have a much higher rate of grant approvals than those who don’t because they submit applications with stronger narratives and fewer errors.

Start Early!

Remember how we recommended that you create a concept paper before you start looking for grants? We hope you can see now that having a concept paper at the ready will save you time in drafting a strong response to a government grant opportunity.

You will know with certainty whether or not the opportunity is a good match for your project, you will already have a grant writing team who knows the proposal very well, and you will already have a substantial piece of the narrative done. You will probably already have a large portion of the budget done, too.

Remember also that many government grants come out at the same time each year. If you miss this year’s deadline, start working now on next year’s application.

In the next and final part of this series, we’ll explore how to write a Letter of Inquiry and apply for grants from private foundations and corporate funders. We’ll also discuss how Learning Sciences can help you find, apply for, and win your next grant. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it!


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