In my 22-year career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with thousands of grantseekers, and I’ve met some really competent professionals. However, along the way, I have noticed that there are several misunderstandings about grants development and the grantseeking process that crop up fairly regularly. Here are the most prevalent myths:
10. We can pay the grantwriter a percentage of the grant. Some grantwriters do work for a percentage of awards they obtain, and it makes sense that grantwriters should be paid based on their success.
But every association with a code of ethics that covers grantwriting, from the Grant Professionals Association to the Association of Fundraising Professionals, expressly forbids compensating grantwriters from the proceeds of a grant or as a percentage of the award.
Grantseeking is an up-front expense, and vetting grantwriters before engaging them is a critical factor in getting a return on your investment in grants development.
9. Grant programs have lots of money left on the table. Nearly all grant programs receive far more requests than they have money to award. That’s why your request must be well constructed and competitively aligned with the parameters of the program.
8. Wealthy districts can’t get money. Some grant programs focus on poorer districts, as defined by census data or free/reduced lunch rates, but many do not consider economic factors as the only way of establishing the need for a project. For these programs, wealthier districts may emphasize any number of areas of need they want to address in their projects, including the need to provide their students with further opportunities to study advanced subjects or explore emerging career pathways.
7. If I tell a compelling story, I’ll get funded, even if the project isn’t a perfect fit with the program. Except for local foundation requests, all proposals are scored by reviewers, which means that they are evaluated based on how well the project fits with the requirements of the grant program. A compelling story may earn extra points on the needs section of the review, but if the project doesn’t mesh with the intent of the grant program, you’re not likely to be funded. Before you begin writing, make sure the project you’re proposing aligns with the grant program requirements.
6. An expired grant isn’t worth my time. Most grants have annual deadlines. The key to making your grantseeking as effective as possible is in applying to the right program. Don’t ignore good grants just because their deadlines have passed recently. Instead, use the time until the next round to plan a competitive project.
5. Grants are too much risk to be worth the work. If you have a competent grantwriter, your investment in grants development should see returns within a year. Any one grant can get rejected for lots of reasons, but a consistent approach to grantseeking that integrates grants development into your district’s ongoing operations will almost always pay dividends.
4. You have to be “connected” to get a grant.Most grant requests are evaluated by independent reviewers against an established set of scoring criteria, and the scores are used to determine which projects get funded. Occasionally, a senior executive from the funding agency may exercise discretion, often to ensure equitable distribution of the money across a geographical range or a mix of urban, suburban, and rural districts. But high-scoring proposals get funded for the vast majority of grants, with no “connections” needed.
3. Even if I get a grant, I’ll have to do all the administration. Most grant programs do pay for post-award expenses. That includes the cost of staffing and professional services required to spend the money appropriately and develop the reports the funder requires.
2. My friend the state legislator will make sure we get funded. Although state officials may want to join you in taking credit for a big grant win, they don’t have much pull in determining who gets an award. Your time would be better spent giving your proposal a thorough review than trying to get help from a legislator. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to send all your elected officials a summary of the project and the funder(s) you’re soliciting.
1. We should only apply to one grant at a time for our project. Funders will not be offended if you apply to more than one program to fund the same project. Just be sure to be transparent. If you’re fortunate enough to win an award from a second funder after all or part of your project has already been funded, let them know you’ve already received a commitment from another funding source, but you could still use the additional funding to support the intent of the program, if the funder is willing to consider it. They won’t always agree, but you’ll double your chances of getting funded and have a chance to get double the funding.
Partnering with Grants Office, the NJSBA Grants Support Program provides grants development support to New Jersey schools and their affiliated educational foundations. To learn more about ways the NJSBA Grants Support program can help your district visit the website or email the help desk.