The Grant Application Process
Step 1: Free Money? Yes, Please
Teachers and other school staff, often guidance counselors and librarians, contact the Resource Development office when they see a grant for which they would like to apply. My supervisor, the director of Resource Development at JCPS (Jefferson County Public Schools), sends out notices to schools when she sees grant opportunities to which schools may be interested in applying. Many of the requests we receive come from replies to these notices.
Lucky me! I’ve been designated as the grant writer in charge of overseeing a grant for which a teacher would like to apply. The first thing I do is create a template of the online grant application in Word. This will be easier for both the teacher to fill out the application and me to revise the application. In addition, our policy is to not have the school staff person fill out the application online because we want to make sure everything is accurate (especially the data) before the application is submitted.
I ask the teacher to fill out as much of the application as possible. For smaller grants, the person applying is usually asking for funding or supplies for a project. That person knows better than I do what they want the funds for and why they need them. I make sure it’s clear, though, that I’m happy to help out in whatever way I can. Sometimes a person has written a couple grants before and they send me a near-perfect application. Sometimes a person will write two sentences for a question that has multiple components…I meet people wherever they’re at.
Step 3: Revise, Rewrite, Reconsider Why You Accepted a Grant Writing Position
Depending on how big the application is, it could take the teacher two days to two weeks to send the completed template back to me. Now is when the grant writing, or grant editing, begins. Anyone who has ever revised another person’s writing knows it can be frustrating. Writing can be difficult to learn, especially purposeful writing. Most people can throw together a grammatically correct sentence, but far fewer can throw together a lot of those sentences to convince their audience to do something. And that is the exact purpose of a grant proposal – to make a convincing argument to the grantor that your school or organization needs the money and will make good use of it.
The revising process could involve anything from moving around a few sentences and fixing a run-on to rewriting whole sections and using bits and pieces from the first attempt. Again, because the teacher knows their project better than I do, I often send them the template back with my edits and suggestions so they can revise. Then we’ll repeat the process until there’s a good final draft.
I will say that grant writing is formulaic. However, that does not mean anyone who can read instructions can write an effective grant proposal. Grant writers must have excellent editing and argumentative writing skills. And if you think argumentative writing means using a lot of exclamation points and demanding the grantor give you money, this probably isn’t the job for you.
Step 4: (Some Witty Title about Getting Approval)
Preparing a grant proposal is not the only part of the process, at least not for a school district. Before submitting the application online, it must be sent to the district’s finance department for approval. In addition to the application, a grant application summary sheet, a budget, and evidence of the assistant superintendent’s approval must be included. I work with the teacher applying on preparing these materials.
As the name implies, the grant application summary sheet provides the finance department with an overview of how much the teacher or school is requesting and what they are using the funds for. It is filled out by the teacher and signed by him or her and the school principal. The teacher also creates the budget, with assistance as needed on my part, using an Excel spreadsheet. I am responsible for getting the assistant superintendent’s approval, which can be done via email. There are four superintendents in JCPS so I have to make sure to contact the correct one. I print off the email, and all of the other materials, to put in a folder and send to our Finance Office.
Step 5: The Finish Line
Once I receive approval from Finance, I officially submit the application online. Hooray! It’s done. Now I just have to wait…and wait…yeah, I’m gonna be waiting a while. The whole process is like a race where you may take frequent stops to walk and when you finally finish you don’t know whether you’ve won or not until several months later. So I guess it’s a race where walkers actually have a chance of winning? Like a golf race…the slowest wins? This metaphor is making less and less sense. But yes, it’s going to take a couple of months to hear back from the grantor, depending on how large the grant is (federal grants take a long time to review all the applications) or when the deadline is (rolling applications may take less time).
On any given day, I am in various stages of the grant application process with one or two grants at a time. In the spring, another major responsibility of my position will be leading trainings in grant writing, and the process I just explained, for JCPS school staff. The trainings are my effort to fulfill the sustainability component of my job as a VISTA. If staff are more knowledgeable on how the process works and how to write effective grant proposals, it will relieve some of the work Resource Development staff has to do because they won’t have to spend as much time revising applications. Resource Development is responsible for all the grants that go through the district, but they have a small staff, which sometimes makes it difficult for them to address each grant request. Increasing the grant writing knowledge of the staff, then, will allow the Resource Development department to complete more grants for the district.
So, that’s my job in a giant nutshell!
If you any questions about grant writing or being a VISTA with 55,000 Degrees, Contact Us or follow Stephanie on Twitter: @fluffyskunk. Also, follow @The55kVISTAs!