In Part 4 of this series, we talked about the process of applying for state and federal grants. We hope your major take-away was to read the agency’s request for grant proposals very carefully.
It might surprise you to learn that grant proposals are often turned down simply because they:
- Fail to meet formatting requirements like font size, line spacing, or pagination
- Do not provide all of the information required by the grantor
When you make that kind of mistake, it is easier for reviewers to quickly disqualify your proposal and reduce their workload. To win a grant, you need to first make sure your proposal is actually read.
In Part 3, we discussed various resources for finding state and federal grants. Now we’ll look at how to apply for grants from private and corporate funders.
Make Sure You’re Eligible
Some private foundations only fund projects of organizations classified as non-profits under section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. If you work for a school or a district, you’re not eligible to apply under those circumstances. However, if your school or district partners with a non-profit organization, such as an education foundation, they may agree to apply on your behalf. If they win the award, they’ll be responsible for managing the grant and providing any reports to the funder, so don’t be surprised if they ask for a fee in exchange for these services.
Let’s assume that you are eligible to apply. Before you begin writing your application, filling out an online application, or writing a letter to the funder, you will need to be very clear about your project, what you intend for it to accomplish, and how much funding you need to implement it.
The Concept Paper
If you have a well-developed concept paper already written, you should be in good shape to apply for a grant or write a letter of inquiry. If not, you should give serious consideration to writing one now before you proceed. Why? It is much easier to respond to grant opportunities if all of the information you need, including your budget, is there and ready for you.
Also, in the event that this grant is not funded – which is possible, given the large numbers of applicants for each opportunity – you will want to keep looking for other grants and apply for those as well. That task will be a lot easier if you already have your concept paper done.
Filling Out an Online Application
Many funders require you to apply, or submit an initial inquiry, via an online form. Once you complete the form, you can usually see the entire application in order to verify and edit it as needed. However, we strongly recommend that you compose your responses in a separate document, then copy the narrative and paste it into the form. This will allow you to carefully edit your application before you submit it.
Consider this excerpt of an online form:
In this instance, you have just 200 characters in which to summarize your need or problem, or approximately 100 words. If you have written a 500-word (or longer) explanation, this will definitely test your editing skills. Character or word limits are common practice with online grant applications, so beware.
To count the number of characters in Microsoft Word, highlight the text you want to count, go to Review, then click on Word Count. A box will pop up that lists the number of words and characters in the text. Spaces are usually counted as characters. There are a few character counters available online as well.
Also, it helps to save your narrative as a plain text (.txt) file, or in Rich Text Format (rtf). That way, when you copy and paste your text into the form, it won’t read formatting as additional characters and reduce the number available for your use.
Online applications sometimes require you to upload documents. Follow their instructions very carefully about the formatting and size of these documents.
Writing a Letter of Inquiry
Many funders ask you to submit a letter to either request an application or make an inquiry. Writing a letter to ask for an application is simple. All you need to do is provide your mailing address and email, but we recommend that you include a brief description of your organization and project. For example:
Dear Ms. Funder:
My school district, Sample Public Schools, is seeking funding support for a project to enhance the skills of our teachers in developing standards-based lessons in science for elementary school children. As we understand that your foundation is interested in funding programs to support education, we request a copy of your application.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
Providing this kind of information in your letter serves two purposes:
- It will introduce you to the funder so that they will (you hope) remember something about you when your application arrives;
- If your project is not consistent with the funder’s priorities, this will give them an opportunity to let you know. It could save you a lot of time and trouble if you are barking up the wrong tree.
Funders often require a letter of inquiry first for this very reason. It allows them to understand the general purpose and goals of your project without expending the effort and time that it would take for them to review – and for you to write – a full proposal. If your project is consistent with their priorities, they will invite you to apply for funding.
Some funders are quite vague about the content of the letter of inquiry, and simply ask that you send one. Some limit your letter to one page, but provide no other guidance. Others are very specific about their expectations. For example, these guidelines for a letter of inquiry are from a foundation that supports education programs in the western United States:
- Provide a statement of your organization’s goals, mission, and a history of your accomplishments.
- Explain the relationship between your project to your mission.
- State the purpose of your project and the amount of funding needed to support it.
- State the anticipated outcomes of the project.
- Provide a plan to evaluate the project.
The first and second bullets are really an invitation to you to introduce your organization and make the case that you can be entrusted with grant funds. However prescriptive your funder may or may not be about the letter of inquiry, it is always wise to include some verbiage that demonstrates to them that you can be trusted to carry out your project, if a grant is awarded to you. The remaining bullets should certainly be familiar to you by now. If the funder has not provided any specific guidelines for your letter, your best approach is to briefly summarize your concept paper.
Yes, We Know!
We keep bringing that concept paper up, don’t we? Hopefully now you can see how valuable it is to your grant-seeking efforts. It is literally your source document from your initial search for funders to the submission of your application. It will keep you and your project team focused, help you find suitable opportunities (and prevent you from applying for unsuitable ones), and provide most, if not all, of the content you need for your application. Pretty good return on your initial investment of time and effort, don’t you think?
This brings us to the end of our series of tips for grant seekers and writers. We hope this information has been useful to you, and that you feel encouraged and empowered to write grants to support the important work you are doing.
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Dr. Lyons is a Grant Professional Certified (GPC) and a member of the Grant Professionals Association and Association of Proposal Management Professionals. She holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University, a master’s degree in education with a specialization in teaching English to speakers of other languages from Regent University, and a bachelor of science in languages and linguistics from Georgetown University. With 15 years of experience as an elementary and secondary teacher, and as school and district administrator, Dr. Lyons deeply understands the needs of our clients.
Retired Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy, Dr. Lyons earned two Navy Achievement and two Navy Commendation medals. During her naval career, she served in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Washington, DC; Chesapeake, Virginia, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Omaha, Nebraska.
She volunteers with the Heart of Florida United Way as a member of their Healthy Children and Families Cabinet, providing grants to non-profit social services organizations in the Orlando area.
At Learning Sciences International, Dr. Lyons assists and advises schools in formulating grant narratives and applications in pursuit of grant funding.