10 tips for successfully getting a school grant

Do you want to help your child's school pay for the science fair or buy playground equipment? Here's how to find and get grant money to help.

By Karen Greenwood Henke, Founder of Grant Wrangler

Did you know that teachers spend an average of almost $500 of their own money on supplies for the classroom each year?

Yet, foundations in the U.S. give away billions, yes, that's right, billions of dollars to support education. There are grants and awards for almost everything: classroom projects, technology, curriculum development, field trips, school gardens, educational travel, teacher recognition, and more.

As a parent, you can help your favorite teacher find these opportunities and make your child's classroom a rich, welcoming place full of wonder and excitement for learning. Here are 10 tips for finding funding for your school.

1. Meet with your child's school principal or other administrator to determine what the school needs.

Grants and awards are typically made to the school, so it is important that you search for grants that match the school's needs. The school or district may already be pursuing grants. You can help review proposals or identify new sources. School districts used to hire a grant writer to help with this process, but those jobs are far and few between today. You'll want to find out about your school's resources so you can coordinate your efforts.

2. Meet with your child's teacher to determine what the classroom needs.

Some grants are made directly to classroom teachers. Grants fall into several categories: classroom supplies, subject area support (science, history, government, arts, literacy, etc.), lesson or curriculum development, and awards for past projects. Ask the teacher about upcoming activities and plans to brainstorm what the class needs. Grants often come with obligations so it's important to work closely with the teacher to determine which ones might be best.

3. Identify keywords to narrow your search.

Before you start googling "classroom grants," save some time by making a list of keywords to narrow your search. Some typical grant topics to use in your search:

  • Subject area (math, science, literacy, arts, history, etc.)
  • Grade level (elementary, secondary, third grade, etc.)
  • Grant type (classroom grant, after-school grant, recognition of a science teacher, etc.)

4. Use a grant listing index to search for grants and sign up for alerts.

Even though there are billions of dollars out there, many opportunities are hidden deep within grant-giving Web sites. Educational publications and grant listing services can help you search for grants without trolling the whole Internet. Many of these services have alert emails you can subscribe to for updates. Some sites require a subscription, but there are plenty of free resources as well.

5. Gather information on potential opportunities.

Grant-giving Web sites are often tricky to navigate. Look for the most critical information first: the deadline, eligibility requirements, and judging criteria. If you can, take a look at the application. Do you think the amount of time required to complete the application is in proportion to the amount of the award? If not, move on to the next grant.

6. Determine who is offering the grant or award.

Several different types of organizations offer grants for schools and classrooms. Grants and awards from associations like the National Gardening Association, International Reading Association or National Science Teachers Association may require membership to apply. Corporate foundations often give to their local community, but many offer national grants such as General Mills Home Town Helper grants and Oracle's ThinkQuest program. Many communities have community foundations and family foundations that give based on their particular areas of interest.

7. Stay focused on small one-time grants.

These are grants that your school can easily incorporate into their planned activities. Unless you are on the school board or in a community leadership position, avoid multi-year, major reform projects. These grants require significant support and organizational resources.

8. Give the teacher a short list of a few grants and offer to help write the application.

Most teachers are pressed for time. Don't send them every grant you find, but give them a short list of the most relevant grants. Include:

  • The name of the program
  • The sponsoring organization
  • The deadline
  • Eligibility requirements
  • A link to the application information, not just the top-level page of the grant Web site

Offer to help, but let the teacher decide how to proceed.

9. Offer to review the application or help research information.

You can help with the application by conducting research or reviewing the teacher's draft. Use the judging criteria or last year's winners to make sure that the proposal is a good match. Other things to look for:

  • Is the application specific enough? The judges might not know anything about your community or classroom.
  • Is it memorable? The teacher's excitement should shine through the text.
  • Is the spelling and grammar correct? Double-check the budget to make sure everything adds up.
  • Is the teacher's voice coming through? Avoid the temptation to do heavy rewrites.

10. Support your teacher and your school.

Most grants are competitive, which means there will be winners and "non-winners." If your teacher wins, help implement the grant by volunteering your time or researching bargains on the items to be purchased. You could even notify the local press about the award (with the school's permission). If your classroom doesn't win, acknowledge the effort and encourage the teacher to try again.

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.