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Writing Your First Successful Grant Application

Grant writing for local public schools

By Dr. Stan Levenson

Originally published in Teacher's Planet, 2002

Writing your first successful grant application takes time, understanding and effort. I have been writing grant applications for more than 30 years. A number of my applications have been successful, and some have gone over like a lead balloon. I will focus in this article on the things that I have learned along the way that will encourage a funding agency to part with their money in your behalf.

Don't be intimidated by the task at hand. There are plenty of resources out there to assist you. Before attempting to write an application for a big grant (over $10,000) or a federal grant, I would suggest that you first learn how to write a smaller-type grant or a mini-grant. I think of a mini-grant as any grant under $1,000. Many schools and school districts have mini-grant programs. Corporations and foundations have mini-grant programs as well. Accessing web sites of funding agencies in your city, county and state will alert you to the funding opportunities that are out there for the asking.

If your school district does not have a mini-grant program, there are three good reasons for applying for corporate and foundation funding at this time. First, corporations and foundations are interested in providing grants to schools and very few teachers know about these valuable external funding sources. Because of this, you will have less competition when applying for grants. Second, most corporate and foundation funding agencies require applications of just 1 to 10 pages. This is a lot easier than government grants requiring 50 to 100 pages. Third, corporations and foundations usually fund more than once a year. This allows you to reapply in the same year or go elsewhere with your proposal if you are turned down.

You should understand that many corporations and foundations provide their own grant applications, while others ask you to create your own application. It is important to understand this when you get ready to start writing.

Regardless of the size of the grant opportunity, there are six basic components to any grant applications. These are:

  1. Needs Assessment. Analyzes the extent of the problem and the conditions you wish to change. The statement of the problem or need is a representation of the reason for your proposal.
  2. Goals. Are general in nature, broad-based and overarching. They summarize what you want to accomplish in your grant application. It is recommended that you state just one or two goals in your application.
  3. Objectives. When writing the objectives for your project, divide them into "program objectives" and "process objectives." Program objectives specify the "outcomes" of your project—the end product. Program objectives should be measurable and time-specific and become the criteria by which your program will be evaluated. Process objectives are also measurable and are written to assure that the program objectives are carried out. Here are examples of each:
    • Example of Program Objective
      At the conclusion of the project period, at least 80% of the target students will gain at least one month academically for each month of instruction in reading vocabulary and reading comprehension, as measured by a standardized test selected by the school or district.
    • Example of Process Objective
      At the conclusion of the project period, at least 80% of the target students will have visited the school library at least once a week to select books for leisure time reading, as measured by records kept by the school librarian.
  4. Activities. The activities (methods) section of your application will explain in detail how you are going to achieve the desired outcomes stated in your objectives. Activities explain what will be done, who will do it, and when it will get done. Several activities are presented for each objective. The activities section should flow smoothly from the needs statement and the program objectives.
  5. Evaluation Specifications. This part of your application should help the funding agency determine the extent to which the objectives of your project will be met and the activities carried out. Be certain to describe your evaluation plan as clearly and succinctly as you can. First, take a look at the overall project. Study the goals, objectives, and activities. If the objectives written are truly measurable, then it should not be difficult to evaluate each objective. The objectives should have built-in evaluation criteria. (See objectives above.)
  6. Budget. The budget that you present to the funding agency delineates the costs involved in carrying out your project and expresses what you are trying to accomplish. It is important that you prepare this section carefully because it has an impact upon your credibility with the funding agency. You might want to consult with your principal or district business manager on this section as you break out your costs. A number of funding agencies have their own budget page that they want you to complete. Others ask you to prepare your own budget page. For a mini-grant, the following budget categories will suffice with most funding agencies:
  1. Project Budget
  2. Personnel
  3. Fringe Benefits
  4. Travel
  5. Equipment
  6. Supplies
  7. Contractual
  8. Other
  9. Total Costs

Writing your first successful grant application will excite and thrill you. It will bring you much recognition and acclaim. Once you learn how to write a mini-grant, you should have little difficulty with major grants. Hopefully, the ideas presented will assist in making this a reality. Good luck along the way and keep in touch.

About the author and his writings

Dr. Stan Levenson is a fund-raising consultant to the public schools. He has raised more than $40 million over the years and his students have raised more than $50 million. He is a former teacher, principal, district-level administrator and university professor. He is the author of two books on fundraising for schools.

Dr. Stan Levenson, Big-Time Fundraising for Today's Schools, published by Corwin Press in 2006.

Dr. Stan Levenson, How to Get Grants and Gifts for the Public Schools, published by Allyn & Bacon in 2002.

A number of Dr. Levenson's articles appear in our fund-raising and grant writing section. More information is also available on his website,

This article is © 2002 Stanley Levenson, Ph.D. Permission is granted to make individual copies for your colleagues provided that credit is given to the author. Teens2Teams warmly thanks Dr. Levenson for his permission to republish the article.

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