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 website 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 websites. 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. The Milken Educator Awards is an initiative of the Milken Family Foundation that awards $25,000 to several outstanding teachers from dozens of states every year. Be sure to review eligibility requirements carefully. Grants Alert lists educational grants from all types of foundations as well as government grants.

Government funding for education

With more than 80 percent of school funding coming from local and state government sources, another way to support your school is to become an advocate for education funding. Access Quality Education offers education issue overviews and state-by-state details on current legislation. The Ed Tech Action Network focuses on issues and funding for technology in schools. If an issue matters to you, get informed and tell state and congressional legislators what you think.

More resources

Education programs and organizations such as Graffiti Hurts, Teaching Tolerance, and Do Something provide funding to support specific activities. At DonorsChoose, teachers describe class projects or activities and donors can search for a project they’d like to fund. To save time searching online, check out educational newsletters and grant-listing services, such as eSchool News and Grant Wrangler. Finally, associations like the National Gardening Association, PTO Today, Inc, International Reading Association (IRA) or the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) sponsor grants and awards programs. Check their websites to learn more.

What to do after you’ve found a grant

Once you’ve found a few prospective grants, give your child’s teacher a short list of available funding and offer to help write the application. Include the name of the program, the sponsoring organization, deadline, eligibility requirements, and a link to the application information. Most important, stay positive. If your school doesn’t get a grant on the first try, learn from the experience and help your school apply again.