The reason for this subtitle is an ongoing frustration for many education organizations that put in for different kinds of grants that are often, competitive, or what we call specialized grants. These are grants from many sources that often tend to select two out of ten, or at the most five out of ten applicants. In highly competitive cases, only one out of the many dozens or hundreds of applicants receives grant money.
Organizations put a great deal of work into applying for these grants and individuals who do that work often wonder why their applications were not selected, especially when they know they had a good case and believe they demonstrated need and a plan for using the grant money and measuring its impact.
There is an answer and a mindset to how we balance the “things” we want, including things we want the ability to do, and the “concept” or how we plan to use that desired thing or capability.
To make it easier, I here are nine tips that can increase your chances of obtaining an education grant. This tip list also provides a foundational understanding of how the education grants system works and how those who seem to get all the grants continue to do that at several levels. These tips are not secrets, but they're often overlooked. They’re based on common feedback I get as a funding advisor on why the grant award was given or why it was not given. Let’s look at this list of suggestions and then assess how they can be put into action.
1) Read the grant request carefully from beginning to end.
The first tip may be the hardest to follow. Before filling out paperwork, make sure you can answer all the grantor’s concerns. You should know in advance whether you will be able to explain in detail how and why your project is the right fit for the grant program you’re applying to. Carefully evaluate whether you want to do what the grant program calls for before devoting time to a lengthy application process. Too often schools have a great idea, but it does not match what the grant program was established to accomplish.
Remember that grant programs exist with their own agendas and make sure you can align your project with the program’s purpose before you commit to applying. The professionals who manage grant approvals are ultimately accountable to the people who financed the grant program, so think of them as your target audience when drafting your grant application.
2) Identify and clearly state why you want the thing or capability you are asking for.
What’s your challenge? What’s your proposed solution? And what are your expected results? Clarity of presentation is paramount, which is why we recommend delegating or hiring an editor, someone who can be relied on to clarify information and present it concisely and compellingly. With this step, you also need to identify a person in charge that Project Manager (PM) who takes the reigns in the future when the grant money is received.
Collaboration is important, especially for refinements and generating new ideas, but make sure it is clear who can make the final call on application decisions. The easiest way to miss grant application deadlines is to deliberate and debate all month over some point that you just need to decide and move forward. That is also why that PM makes a schedule when you decide the funded project is ready to launch.
3)Validate your problem.
You have already defined your challenge, proposed solution, and expected results. Going back to the first part of the first tip, it’s important to have an extra layer of depth on the part of the challenge-solution-results triangle that is already known, the first part, which is the easiest because you don’t have to build a case for it. You can just describe the problem with details that justify a need for the grant money. Validate your problem as much as you show how you are going to validate the impact of the change with the grantor’s financial assistance. This may also be the most important of the three pillars because if you don’t make a convincing case for needing the money, then it may not matter how brilliant your proposed solution is.
4) Determine metrics for evaluating and validating how your grant money is spent.
Before you apply for grant money, decide on performance metrics. Set Key Performance Indicators (KPI). How will you demonstrate success? What progress can be quantified and tracked? Set up a spreadsheet or other tracking mechanism for the PM that can be refined and expanded when the grant money is received. Before submission, have your team try to poke holes in the grant application to verify If the plan for spending the funds will help the students and faculty you are working with.
5) Identify an application "hook” with proven success.
What persuasion point have you seen used in some way successfully for a grant project that has won grant money in the past? Look for an angle or approach that can be tailored by your organization. Find a hook paragon you can emulate by reading about successful grants in your field. Search online for reports from reputable organizations.
Many successful grant applications use what is called “transference” as a hook, meaning they borrow and customize some idea that has shown a high level of merit in a similar project, transferring it to yours. By emulating a proven grant application hook, you’re building a selling point into the application right at the beginning. Other good ideas that shown promise can be used to refine, expand, or adapt your grant application. Sometimes you can just take a good sales pitch and apply it directly to your specific grant project.
6) Outline and rank all the great things your organization can do with the grant money.
Make a list and summarize the actions you want to take using the grant money. This exercise will be useful in filling out grant paperwork. The list generated will also help you test, validate, and execute your grant project concept. You’ll notice, I did not say you execute the grant concept by purchasing those desired things, whether they’re new tools or another type of resource. It could be that the new educational tool or resource funded by the grant would allow you to implement your existing project concept more effectively or more efficiently. In such a case, the focus is on the process of realizing the concept—the how, not just the what— and its effect as a change agent in addressing the challenge at hand.
7) Do your homework and include research references.
Education research from reputable sources adds tremendous value to your grant application if you can show a clear connection between your project and the research. Citing trusted and reliable research sources reinforces your case while showing that you’re serious and committed to success. Research institutions may include a university or college, a collaboration of academic researchers, a respected nonprofit organization or think tank, or a consulting firm that employs professional education researchers.
Proof of concept should be a factor in not only how the project is pitched but also how you are going to define success. Be clear and convincing when showing that your team knows what a “good outcome” is.
8) Gather relevant funding records and be transparent.
This tip is analogous to applying for a loan. Be prepared to provide financial documents. It’s like a bank wanting to know why you need the loan money and whether you’re likely to pay it back. You’ve got to show them you are not too much of a risk. If your organization has any financial issues, a grantor needs to know what has happened in the past and how you plan to improve in the future.
9) Make the review process a team effort.
Have more than one person rolled into the review. To refine and optimize your grant submission, a team of stakeholders should read the grant application. In this vein, have a trusted person outside your team also read the application who has no idea of what you are trying to do. See if your argument makes sense. Do they find it compelling? Excellent suggestions can come from anyone.
This multistakeholder review process elevates quality. If someone has a better way of making a point, you can marry the power of collective knowledge with overriding input from the subject matter experts. Involve decision-makers early in the process by sharing plans.
Make sure your supervisor or whoever has approval authority on the final grant submission agrees with what you are trying to do from the start. You should also involve a finance staffer early in the grant submission review process. Having these people on your side increases the likelihood of success. Many grants are for projects that span two or three years, so having buy-in and collaboration with these folks also makes for a smoother long-term experience.
Go Get Grant Greens
Using these nine tips, you can gather the team and walk through the concept. Discuss and decide on the tools you need to carry out the project in the most efficient way you can. You then need to move through the process with a schedule and settled expectations.
To acquire grant money, in most cases it starts with an idea and ends with innovation, but what makes the difference is focused action, which requires consensus on grant project direction, intent, and major decisions along with cooperation and collaboration. At the end of the day, you and your team must be happy along with your supporters, but the grantor also needs to see the impact they will be able to claim if they fund your project. If you can put all of that together, you’re well-positioned to gain that set of things you want in accordance with that concept or vision of an improved reality for your students and often for your faculty— and if your project is truly impactful and your team is aligned, for your community also. Most of all, you will gain a new ability to capitalize on the grant funding assets that are out there waiting to help your students thrive as lifelong learners.
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Dr. Don Gemeinhardt, Bluum Grants and Funding Advisor
Don Gemeinhardt, Ed.D has extensive experience and expertise in successfully applying for education and training grants and submitting winning proposals. Dr. Gemeinhardt has hands-on knowledge of project proposal development in several grant areas, from STEM and advanced learning methods to student safety and security. His experience includes developing educational training tools and conducting applied research and simulation efforts. His roles included Principal Investigator, Senior Project Manager, and Director and Division Lead. Dr. Gemeinhardt, or “Dr. G,” as his students still call him, has also held a variety of teaching positions, including a full range of adult education and curriculum developer roles for higher education institutions.