Education Technology

Successful Grant Writing Strategies

Competing for grant dollars in the current education funding climate is both an opportunity and a challenge. Many state and local education budgets have been altered in response to accountability and achievement requirements or reduced because of funding shortfalls. In response, government and foundation grant programs are trying to assist schools, districts and community agencies in developing initiatives that increase educational opportunities for young people. At the same time, all sectors of our communities are calling for increased accountability in education and academic success for our students.

To win funding in this highly competitive environment, grant proposals must be well planned, complete, compliant and persuasive. This guide provides some important tips on how to develop a winning proposal.

To print these Successful Grant Writing Strategies, download here our Grant Writing Guide for Large Scale Grants PDF document

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Define the need

This may not be as simple as it sounds. At first, you may think that your need is to provide technology to students and teachers for a mathematics course and professional development for teachers about integrating that technology. That need is too small to win funding from a major foundation or government agency. Most granting organizations look for a comprehensive program that has strategic impact and sustainability beyond the granting period.

If you have a small need, you should look to frame it as part of a larger need with a vision and outcomes beyond technology purchase and integration. An example of such a project would be to revamp 7th and 8th grade mathematics curriculum to increase the percentage of students who successfully pass algebra 1. As part of that project, you will integrate graphing technology into the instruction, provide extensive professional development to the mathematics teachers, develop an after-school tutoring program in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Club, and evaluate the program at various points during the year.

The first step in creating a comprehensive project plan and proposal is defining your need, or what you want to accomplish. This is the most important step in developing a proposal, and it will take the most time and effort. As you define your need, you should start by asking some key questions:

  • Why are you requesting funds? (This will become your need statement.)
  • How will this funding improve the school and community? (This will become your mission/goal.)
  • What will it take to reach this goal? (This will drive the budget and the partners you look to bring on board.)
  • What will your community look like when this need is addressed? (This will become your vision.)
  • Who else in the community supports addressing this need? (These people and organizations will become your partners.)

You will quickly realize that you need a variety of community stakeholders to answer these questions and gather information to communicate your need. Stakeholders may include representatives from some of the following groups:

  • School and district administration
  • Teachers
  • Students
  • Parents
  • School board
  • After-school programs
  • Local education groups
  • Local business groups (e.g. chamber of commerce, Rotary Club, business roundtable)
  • Museums and other cultural organizations
  • City and county agencies
  • Mayors or county executives

Once you have these stakeholders around the table helping to define the need, garner their support for the project and proposal. Granting organizations will want to see your stakeholders support your proposal in these ways:

  • Donating matching funds
  • Supplying volunteers & expertise
  • Supplying materials or space for project activities
  • Incorporating portions of your project into theirs
  • Writing letters of support for the project
  • Promising support beyond the grant period

Granting organizations want to see collaboration among groups and pooling of resources to support program goals. They want to see their grant being used as part of a larger effort for school and community improvement.
Proposals from stand-alone agencies with no partners, and proposals without a viable plan for sustainability beyond the grant period are rarely funded.

Identify and Contact Potential Funders

Platform: TI-83 Plus, TI-84 Plus, TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition

Once you and your stakeholders have defined the need, the next step is to identify potential granting organizations. Alignment is the key word in this effort. Find an organization that supports the vision or goal you have identified, e.g., if you seek funding for a math improvement program, do not submit to a foundation that concentrates on social studies and visual arts. Most foundations and corporate giving sources make grant awards based on some combination of the following: (1) geographical location; (2) mission; and (3) type of support (scholarships, program grants, matching funds, etc.).

If the grant guidelines state that the foundation prefers to fund community-based organizations, you may want one of your community partners to be the lead organization on the proposal and have the school or district written in as a major partner. Alternatively, you may want to find another foundation that funds school-based programs.

The following resources provide information on federal, foundation, and corporate giving sources:


In the foundation and corporate arena, relationships are a key component to successful grant proposals. Once you have identified potential foundations, contact them to talk about your project BEFORE you begin writing your proposal. A foundation grant officer can be a great advocate for your project and an excellent resource for developing a strong proposal.

If your organization has a contact with the foundation's Executive Director or a board member, set up a meeting to discuss your proposal. If your goals are aligned, this person can become an influential advocate for your application.

Some grant guidelines state that the foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals. This does not mean that you should not try to work with this foundation. It may mean that the foundation wants to develop a relationship with potential grantees before accepting a proposal from them. Pick up the telephone and talk to a grant officer. That is the best way to get your foot in the door and build a relationship. In addition, the grant officer may be able to steer you toward other potential funders for your project.

Craft the Proposal

Platform: TI-83 Plus, TI-84 Plus, TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition

Once you have identified your need; gathered your stakeholders and solicited their support; and identified and contacted potential funding sources, it is time to begin crafting your proposal.

First, determine what kind of proposal the granting organization(s) want. Foundations will have unique guidelines for proposals, so make sure you have the most updated guidelines and any forms they may require. Federal and state agencies will have strict content and format guidelines. It is very important to work with the program officer to make sure you meet eligibility requirements and have all required forms and content. Tips on submitting proposals to federal and state agencies are supplied in a separate section below.

Second, identify a proposal manager. This person will be responsible for organizing and managing the entire proposal effort from your first kick-off meeting to the delivery of the application.

Third, identify a writer, who also may be the proposal manager. If you do not have grant development funds, ask a skilled staff member or stakeholder with expertise in the area of the proposed project to be lead writer. If you do have grant development funds, you may want to consider hiring a grant writer to serve as a lead writer or a reviewer of your proposal.

Basic Proposal Elements

Platform: TI-83 Plus, TI-84 Plus, TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition

The following sections typically are required in foundation proposals, often in about five or six pages:

a. Executive Summary/Abstract

A summary of your entire proposal

  • This is the most important section of the proposal. It must be well organized, concise and self-contained.
  • A reader must be able to understand the work you propose, your strategy for implementing the project, your passion for the project and your capabilities to make it successful.
  • You should write this section last.

b. Statement of Need

Why the project is needed.

  • This section describes the problem you want to address and should be illustrated with statistics/demographic information that support the need; narrative description of situation; and stories of individuals who will be affected by the program.
  • Write as if your project will serve as a model for others to follow.
  • Answer the following questions: 1) Why is this project unique?; 2) How does it fit into larger community goals and needs?, and 3) What other organizations support addressing the need?
  • Tie the need to a school, district, or community vision or mission for enhancing education.

c. Project Description

This section should explain, in detail, the purpose and importance of the project. Include detailed information about what the project will accomplish and how it will be implemented. A timeline, staffing chart and other graphical information are good ways to illustrate the project in a succinct and engaging way. Be sure to include:

  • Goal-the resulting change that this project will create (e.g. "I will be able to run 3 miles because I will have lost 20 pounds.")
  • Objectives - These are measurable, time-framed outcomes. They must be specific, tangible, measurable, and achievable within a specific time period. (e.g. "For the next month, I will eat healthy meals, walk 2 miles every day, run 2 miles on Tuesday and Saturday.")
  • Milestones-The short-term accomplishments that keep the project on track (e.g. "Every week, I will plan healthy meals on Sunday and eat them throughout the week to keep me on my diet.")
  • Administration - Describe the personnel involved in this project and their specific assignments. Be sure to submit a biographical statement or résumé for each individual. You should indicate which personnel will work full time or part time and which consultants and volunteers will be used.
  • Partner Roles-Incorporate information on the specific roles of partner organizations in achieving the objectives.


The goals, objectives and milestones should be defined in depth; staffing requirements should be mapped closely to each activity; and necessary resources and support should be included.
If you are attentive to mapping milestones and objectives to your goal, your proposal will be understandable to the reader, and a detailed budget that anticipates all possible costs should be very easy to prepare.

d. Evaluation

A detailed financial description of the project.

Granting organizations require more rigorous evaluation now than they did in the past. Therefore, you must have an evaluation plan as a tool to measure how well you have achieved your stated objectives. Most evaluations include (1) a process evaluation that describes the implemented program and determines the extent to which the program has been implemented as it was defined; and (2) an outcome evaluation that determines whether the program achieved its goals and objectives.

It is generally recommended that you partner with an outside organization for evaluation and include the cost in your proposal. Examples of an outside organization might be a college or university, a nonprofit or for-profit organization that evaluates education programs, or a state department of education or other agency.

e. Sustainability

Discuss how this project will continue after the funding period ends. You may cite additional funding sources, matching funds and external partnerships that will be developed to provide continued financial support.

f. Budget

Be sure to look closely at your project description and evaluation sections as you develop the budget. It will help you anticipate and include the funding you will need. Keep these points in mind as you develop your budget:

  • Your budget should be clear, concise, and easy to understand.
  • Include budget justification, in-kind contributions, matching funds from other groups (if any) and indirect costs, if applicable.
  • Adhere to all guidelines from the granting organization and double-check the figures.
  • Cover the follow categories: personnel; fringe benefits; equipment; supplies; travel; and other costs.

Remember that the funding organization may not be familiar with jargon or acronyms that seem self-evident to you. Use plain language and define any terms specific to your community, state, or the field of education.

Writing and Formatting Tips

Platform: TI-83 Plus, TI-84 Plus, TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition

Successful proposals must be well written, well organized, and follow the principles of good informational design. Follow these tips to submit a clear and easy-to-understand proposal:

  • Write in the active voice whenever possible.
  • Be very concrete and specific. Answer the classic journalism questions: Who? What? Where? How? And Why?
  • Keep your sentences and paragraphs short.
  • Use plenty of white space. Page margins should be at least one inch on all sides.
  • Use bulleted and numbered lists to make your points.
  • Use page numbers, headers, and footers.
  • Break your proposal narrative into small units.
  • Use pictures, charts, graphs, and tables to display information.
  • Organize your proposal to reflect the grant guidelines.
  • Include a table of contents, frequent headings and sub-headings, and topic sentences at the beginning of your paragraphs.
Federal and State Grant Funding

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US Department of Education has grant programs for schools and districts. Some of these programs are funded directly from the US Department of Education (discretionary grants) while others are distributed to state departments of education for local competition within the state (block or title grants). If you are applying for discretionary grants, you should be aware of the stringent guidelines associated with them. Before you apply for a grant from the US Department of Education, keep these points in mind:

  • Find out what upcoming federal opportunities are available by reviewing the "Forecast of Funding Opportunities" from the US Department of Education and print out information on programs that match your defined need.
  • Plan many months in advance to apply for a federal grant. Although the grant guidelines are likely to be released a couple of months before the application deadline, the Forecast of Funding will list the grant 6-12 months ahead of time.
  • Be sure you are eligible to apply for the grant.
  • Federal grants are evaluated according to strict scoring guidelines. Be sure to understand the evaluation criteria and give appropriate attention to each of them in your application.
  • Understand the content requirements and the weight each section has on scoring. Make a clear connection in your program description to the required element in the grant guidelines.
  • Contact your state department of education to find out when the block or title grant competitions will be open and what the requirements are.
  • Include key community partners in your proposal. Solicit letters of support from them and include them in your proposal.
  • Give yourself adequate time to develop and submit the proposal. Set your internal deadline for submission 4-6 weeks ahead of the grant deadline.
  • Many federal grants now require proposals to be submitted through the US Department of Education's e-Grants Application Process. To ensure that you apply properly using this system, look at the e-Grants Web site early and allow yourself enough time to complete the online process.
Keys to Success

Platform: TI-83 Plus, TI-84 Plus, TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition

  • Include community stakeholders from the beginning and solicit their input.
  • Plan for your project well in advance of grant deadlines. For federal grants or other large dollar grants, consider allowing yourself at least several months to complete the application.
  • Develop a vision and mission around your project.
  • Follow the grant guidelines very carefully. Make sure your proposal is complete, compliant, and persuasive.
  • Determine ways to make the project sustainable after the grant period.
  • Find existing programs in your community with which you can partner for infrastructure, resources, funding, and expertise.
  • If you are seeking funds from a foundation or corporate giving source, contact the grant officer PRIOR to developing your proposal.
  • Use personal contacts whenever possible with foundations and corporate giving sources.