As we wrap up our series on philanthropy this week, it’s time to talk money. Ironic, since we’ve been focused on volunteering, but projects that help others often require cash. As a teacher, I have received grants on several occasions to fund publishing and robotics programs for students. My colleague, Sharon Carino, has written countless grants and opened up whole new worlds for students. How do we as educators, community volunteers, and philanthropists access these available funds? Here are five things to think about as you try to connect your project with funding.
1. Start Small.
Don’t try to change the world right away with a grandiose project that is tough to explain on paper and harder still to define. Keep your goals and ideas simple because clear-cut projects are more likely to gain funding.
“Find something that’s doable for you,” said Carino. “Set goals for yourself to accomplish each step of the way—create a timeline and be realistic.”
2. Use Catchy Language in Your Writing.
“I think of the title first, then I actually write the grant. The title has to catch someone’s attention—members of grant boards see so many grants, and I want my projects to stand out,” Carino explained. She has created her own list of buzzwords to use in her writing to help entice grantors to fund her projects.
She also advises potential grant writers to keep their proposals short and sweet.
“Don’t give too much overwhelming information,” she said. “Tell what you want, tell why you want it, and explain why it’s beneficial.”
3. Check Out Crowdfunding Sites on-line.
According to the Social Media Examiner, “crowdfunding” brings together a group or community to fund a project via the Internet. Anyone can log on to a fundraising site such as DonorsChoose.org, Kickstarter.com, Indiegogo.com, CauseVox.com, or FirstGiving.com and set a fundraising goal and timeline.
Most of these sites will help users write their grants with their own specific format. Carino uses DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding site dedicated solely to educators. She has had much success gaining funding for a variety of projects through this site
“It’s a really teacher-friendly site, and it only took me about 15 minutes to request funding for my project,” Carino said. She has gotten dirt and seeds for a class garden, tablets for her students, and specific school supplies.
“If you can think of it and find the time to write it, you can probably get the money,” she said. If your project has a price tag under $500, she estimates that you have about an 80% chance of getting it completely funded on DonorsChoose.org.
4. Private Grant Boards Can Help With Larger Ticket Projects.
Teachers should explore grants through their local educational foundations. These organizations often provide funding for projects. For other types of funding, non-profit organizations can look into more mainstream grant foundations. Often a wealthy community member will leave their fortune in a trust and a board will use the interest to fund projects and organizations that make a difference in the community.
Grants administrator and Secretary of The J. Edwin Treakle Foundation Board of Directors Cindy Horsley explains that many foundations like hers require an IRS ruling stating that the organization or group requesting the funding for a project is exempt from federal income taxes. This requirement includes a 501 (c) (3) and also a 509 (a) to show whether the applicant is public or private. These rulings can be time consuming and expensive to obtain, but they do help foundations as they try to identify legitimate applicants; some foundations are legally bound to require these rulings.
Horsley also reminds potential grant applicants to check the individual requirements of each board.
“Some organizations center their donations around the arts—others look for entirely different types of projects to fund,” she explains. “We tend to look for projects that will do the most good for the most people. We also try to keep our funding local.”
5. Don’t Forget to Thank Your Contributors.
Many organizations both private and on-line require some type of follow-up about the results of the project they funded. Local educational foundations may ask teachers to come to a meeting and make a presentation to their board about what they accomplished with their funding. Some crowdfunding sites require a simple thank-you letter. This step is critical, particularly if you want to approach the organization for money in the future.
In short, don’t give up on your ideas because of funding. There is always a way to do something good.
“Think outside the box,” Carino said. “There’s money out there!”
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