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Who gives to schools: A guide to foundation funding

Does your child's school need play equipment or musical instruments? Here's how to find and get grant money to help pay for it.

By Karen Greenwood Henke, Founder of Grant Wrangler

Finding the perfect grant to help your favorite teacher is not as hard as you may think. Thousands of organizations support all kinds of educational programs with grants large and small. This guide to foundation funding will help you learn more about who gives to schools and how to find them.

Is the money really out there?

According to the Foundation Center, more than 26,000 grants went to education in 2005. That adds up to just over $3.9 billion in a single year. Of course some of those billions were large foundation grants that require significant administrative support and should be coordinated with school or district administrators. However, thousands of foundations give smaller grants ($100 to $5,000), the type a classroom teacher might request.

Community foundations: Local support

Your community may be one of the lucky 700 with a community foundation to support local initiatives. These organizations consolidate donations from local companies and individuals to support programs in a specific geographic region. A community foundation's Web site will specify the area of eligibility and the issues of focus. To find the community foundation in your neighborhood, check the Fundsnet listing for Community Foundations and Regional Funders.

Corporate foundations: Giving back

Corporate foundations typically focus giving where employees live and work. With more than 2,600 corporate foundations in the U.S., the best place to start is with the companies where you or other parents work. Most companies describe philanthropic programs in the "about us" or "company information" sections of their Web sites. They may have a separate foundation or handle giving through community relations, human resources, or public relations departments.

Corporate foundations also dedicate resources to support specific issues with a broader reach-across the country or around the globe. Several retail and consumer goods companies offer national grants to educators and schools such as General Mills Home Town Helper, Lowe's, Dollar General and Best Buy.

Independent foundations: Almost anything goes

The largest number of foundations, more than 63,000 by the Foundation Center's count, fall into a third category: independent foundations. General purpose foundations may fund a wide range of programs. A quick review of their past grant winners will give you an idea of the amounts they give and the types of programs they favor. Grant Wrangler lists grants for teachers by category and points to many independent foundations.

Family foundations and specific purpose foundations like the Lisa Libraries Foundation, an organization that donates books to nonprofits that support children, often have very narrow requirements for their support. Be sure to review eligibility requirements carefully. Grants Alert lists educational grants from all types of foundations as well as government grants.

Karen Greenwood Henke is the founder of Grant Wrangler, which helps teachers find cash for their classrooms and encourages more groups to give to schools. She got interested in technology and funding for schools when she led efforts to wire classrooms in Silicon Valley, California, in 1996 as project director for NetDay.

Comments from readers

"This is interesting. are there grants for private pre-schools and primary schools in Africa?"
"This is a wonderful website! Are there similar grants available to private/Christian educational institutions?"
"Thanks for this article, this is very valuable information that I have passed on to some who can really use it to help a school in need. Keep the information coming!"
"Thank you so much for this information. We are a small catholic school with no money and our kids are in great need of almost everything. This is a great start for a parent who wants to get involed to try to help get the resources the kids desperately need. Any information that you have would be greatly appreciated. Look forward to hearing from you."
"THanks very much for the infomation as regards ther Grant for schools. are we also eligable for this grants. We are an orphanage school from one of the village in Uganda E.Africa, i would love to hear from you soon. John mukuya. organazation director"
"Thank you very much for your articles on 'Help your school: go get a grant' and 'Fund raising Ideas'. It helps us on our school's fund raising project."
"Hello! I am a officer on the booster club for the Coral Springs Charter football team. We are in the process of developing the booster club and is in need of funds for the Varsity and Junior Varsity football team. It will help to find out more information for applying for a grant to help the teams with uniforms, equipments, and securing a permanent place for the teams to practice and have games. Please forward me all information that I would need to persue this task with the booster club committee and parents."