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Grant-Writing Tips for Lutheran Schools

I’ve had visions for a variety of things for my school, yet it usually defaults to one thing holding me back. We simply don’t have the funds.Have you ever imagined how great it would be if you could add a new program or offer new resources to the families and students you serve? I’ve had visions for a variety of things for my school, yet it usually defaults to one thing holding me back. We simply don’t have the funds. Many times, there are wonderful ideas out there, yet meeting the day-to-day operational expenses of the school leaves few financial resources available for new sports equipment or new hand bells or technology, or other things that schools need to stay current with education in today’s world.

The good news is that, when it comes to money, there’s a lot out there to be had. We simply need to ask for it. In the past few years, I’ve spent some time researching grant opportunities for schools. Something I initially believed was that we are ineligible for grants because we are a Christian school. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, our identity as a Christian school opens up many opportunities for grants from foundations and corporations throughout the United States. As I continue to research grant opportunities, I’m learning more about how to write grants. The following article includes tips and tricks that I’ve found successful for writing grants and suggests a few ways that you can work with a team of people in your own school as grant writers. I’ll also share a list of things that you will want to have ready when it comes to applying for grants.

12 Tips for Writing Grants

Tip 1: Dream big, but have a vision.

As you begin to research grants, you’ll find a grant for anything and everything. Know what the vision is for your school, and write grants that are in line with that vision. Identify what a specific grant suggests, and write it with the hopes of implementing it in your school. If you don’t do this, you’ll end up writing a lot of grants, and many of them will be unsuccessful. Know what you need, know why you need it, and clearly articulate those needs.

Tip 2: Demonstrate your “skin in the game.”

Some funders will be generous and grant your request for an entire project. However, many like to see that you are also committed to the things for which you seek funding. Grant applications are likely to require a budget. If you’re not specifically asked for a budget, it’s still a good idea to include one. Show what your school is already doing to fund your initiative. Do you have staff members that are carrying out your plan? They count as part of the school’s commitment to your program. Do you provide a facility where your program takes place? You can include the facility costs as part of your contribution. Feel free to think outside the box to show that the school is also committing finances to whatever you intend to fund.

Tip 3: Show how your grant fills a need.

Typically, grants fund a need, rather than a want. If you can demonstrate a true need for what you are requesting, you will likely be considered more than if you just share your desire as a dream. Grant funders like to know that their money will be used immediately and not simply sit in a fund that may or may not be used. Needs typically include programs that are partially implemented or struggling. They may also include programs that you are running with less than adequate supplies or without things that would make it most effective.

Tip 4: Show how the grant will have impact beyond your school community.

Funders like to see their impact reach beyond your organization, so demonstrate how this funding will reach beyond your school. Do you rent your buildings or resources to other groups? They may be direct beneficiaries of the support received through the grant. Would receiving this grant make your location more community friendly and oriented? You can list the community as a beneficiary. Would the grant allow you to meet the needs of other groups within your community (e.g., Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc.)? Make sure to highlight that in your application.

Tip 5: The content of your application is important!

Grant funders are specifically looking for a few things in an application. Make sure that you include the fact that you are a 501 (c) 3 organization. Many grant funders will require you to submit your IRS determination letter. (If you’re unfamiliar with this letter, contact your LCMS district office for help.)

Make sure to include your non-discriminatory statement. Funders are eager to provide grants for organizations that are open to all people regardless of race, creed, color, religion, or any other defining factor. This will demonstrate that the funder’s dollars will have an impact beyond just your school.

Tip 6: Know what you can promise to deliver to the funder and state it in your application.

In writing grants, you are essentially inviting the funder to become a partner in your school. Partners are those who support one another and walk together. As you invite a funder to become a partner in your school, answer this question: “What will they get out of it?” This is something you will likely want to consider with your school board. Are you willing to name a building after a funder? If so, how much must the funder contribute in order to receive those naming rights? Will the funder become a business partner? Will you add a link to the foundation’s website from your own? Will you write a press release and invite the media to see this new partnership? Foundations like to hear these ideas. They need to know that they will receive public recognition and thanks.

Tip 7: Use the language of the foundation in your application.

Do not take the easy way out and simply substitute the name of the respective foundation and submit the same grant application to multiple places. This doesn’t work with resumes, and it won’t work with grants. It’s important to tailor your application to the foundation itself. Show how your mission statement is in line with the mission statement of the foundation. Make sure that you go through the foundation’s website, identifying their mission, vision, core values, areas they fund, and pillars of belief. Then, when you write your application, include these things in it. It will demonstrate that you’ve done your homework, and the likelihood of funding increases. Nothing frustrates a foundation more than receiving an application from someone who is ineligible to apply or applies for something they do not fund.

Many grant applications state that they do not fund religious organizations. However, as a school whose mission includes all those in the community regardless of religion, you may still be eligible to apply for some of these grants. When funders talk about not funding religious organizations, they are typically referring to churches or to organizations whose sole purpose is to support their members. As a school, you can demonstrate that you educate a variety of children, and some funders will still consider your application.

Tip 8: Know the deadline, and meet it.

In some cases, you must submit grants online. The funders will close the online application on the day when grants are due. In other cases, you must mail or fax documents. Some funders will state that applications must be postmarked by a particular day. Others say that the foundation must receive the application on a particular day. Meeting these deadlines is key. If you miss the deadline, the funder will likely not consider your application, regardless of the merit found in it.

Tip 9: Know and be able to communicate everything about your school.

Knowing everything is a big job. Many grants ask you to provide the history of the school, the background, the story of the place. They’ll ask you to provide a list of your board of directors, along with their affiliations. You’ll need to have your school’s Federal Tax ID number. You’ll need to answer a lot of questions about your school and why you’re writing the grant you’re writing. It may take some time to gather this information, but have it compiled and ready to go before you begin.

Tip 10: Perseverance is key!

I was excited when I started writing grants. I thought that this may be the silver bullet to getting everything my school needed. I thought foundations and contributors would be lining up to give me their checks after I showed how passionate I was about the school and the need it was fulfilling. However, I received 20 letters saying that I did not receive the grant before I received the first letter saying that I did. Persevere! Don’t give up! You may wonder if writing grant proposals is an effective use of your time or the time of your volunteers. I was thankful even for the grants I didn’t receive, because they made more people aware of our school and set us up for applying again.

You can apply more than once. In one instance, I received a letter back from a foundation saying that they would not be able to fund us in their current fiscal year. I took note of that, learned when they ran their fiscal year, and at the beginning of their next year, I’m sure my second grant application to them was the first one on their desk. We were blessed to receive a grant from this foundation through our second application.

Tip 11: Send a thank you, even for a no.

If you are so blessed to receive a grant, thanking the funder is critical. Letters, pictures, testimonials, newspaper articles, and other media show the funder that you are truly thankful. It makes them feel good! Along with a thank you, you may choose to (or be required to) submit receipts for tracking the expenses. Make sure you track every single dollar that comes in from a grant.

Even if they did not fund your application, they still took the time to review it, along with the countless other applications they received. Thanking them for their time, and thanking them for the applications that they do fund, demonstrates your gratitude and puts your school’s name in front of the foundation another time. This may help you if you decide to apply to the same funder another time. It works to build good will and a relationship with the funder.

Tip 12: Celebrate your success!

No matter how big or how small a grant, celebrate it! Communicate to your school’s community that you have received outside funding for a program or initiative. When you write future grants, you can also include the names of foundations that have funded you so far, showing that you met their criteria, and you’ll likely meet the criteria of the foundation to which you are currently applying. There is a huge level of excitement that builds when grants start coming in. Make sure the excitement is contagious!

Finding Grants

The next big question that you need to face is where to look for grants. There are several ways to find grants, and you will need to do the leg work. Here are a few helpful places to start.

You can always begin with a simple Google search. I’ve been surprised how many times Google has pointed me in the right direction. However, this is a broad search and may end up wasting time if you’re unable to narrow it down to the specific grants you’re seeking.

I maintain a subscription to the Monthly Education Grants Alert (MEGA) For an annual fee of $395, I receive a monthly newsletter with tips for grant writing, along with over 40 pages of grant opportunities. Most of the grants I’ve received have come from this newsletter, making the annual fee well worth it!

One other place I use is The School Funding Center. They provide a customizable grant search engine, allowing you to specify what you’re looking for. I’ve seen robust results in this engine. In a number of cases, both MEGA and The School Funding Center point you to the same grants.

These ideas are by no means an exhaustive list for finding grants. However, it has been a functional starting point for me, and they remain my primary go-to places for seeking grants.

Finding the Time and Volunteers

Many people have asked me where I find the time to write grants. Honestly, I just squeeze it in when I can. I have chosen to make grant writing a priority for the school I serve, and as it yields results, it proves to be a good use of time. However, there are more prospective foundations than time to write applications, so I’ve asked for help.

I have established a grant writing team at my current school. I’m blessed to have parents on staff that are full-time professional grant writers, and they have committed their volunteer hours to write grants for the school. There are those on the team who are not professional grant writers, but they have the passion for the school that clearly comes through in their writing. They understand the need and are able to express it. I also have people on the team who serve as proof-readers and editors. These people are vital to ensuring that no application goes out with grammatical or spelling errors. They also ensure that the content of the grant matches the requirements of the respective foundations.

I have hand-picked those on my team, and I completely trust them when it comes to this sensitive information.In establishing the grant team, I needed to ensure that I could trust those who serve alongside me. They need access to some sensitive information for the school—tax documents, audited financial statements, budgets, and other documents required by the foundations. I have hand-picked those on my team, and I completely trust them when it comes to this sensitive information.

To make it easy for my team to write, we have established a Dropbox folder where we store a lot of information. We keep documents in this folder—ones that most grants ask for. We also share all of our grant applications with one another through this folder. Additionally, we maintain an Excel spreadsheet that shows the grants for which we’ve applied, whether it was a full application or simply a letter of intent (LOI), along with the amount, the purpose, important deadlines, and whether or not it was funded. As grants are submitted, the sheet is constantly updated. In this way, we can see the foundations to which we’ve applied, so we don’t duplicate an application or miss a deadline.

Overall, grant writing is a complex procedure. Funders are specific in what they will fund. With limited time, you must decide how to approach grant writing and identify the funders to whom you will apply. In the end, be bold. Demonstrate your need. The worst that they can say is “no,” but receiving a “yes” is such a blessing. This very well could be the tool that God uses to provide for your school’s ministry.

Mike Schiemann is currently the principal of Forest Hills Lutheran Christian School in Cornelius, Ore. He has served there since October 2014. Prior to serving at Forest Hills, Mike was principal of Hope Lutheran Christian School in Port Coquitlam, BC, Canada. He also taught at two other Lutheran schools. Mike and his wife have three children ages 7, 5, and 3.

Photos © iStock/blackred, Yakobchuk, Renee Keith, justsolove.