Eight Foundational Steps

How districts can prepare for successful grant applications

1. Know the grant field and make an annual grants calendar. Planning is easier when you know what is on the horizon with federal, state, and private grants. If you are starting fresh, hire a grant firm to do some prospecting or do it yourself through the Foundation Center.

2. Keep your district data current and accessible. If you can’t hire a data specialist or assign some data duties to a math-oriented staff member, hire an external firm annually. Data reveals challenges, successes, and nuggets of opportunity. Run all demographics – including English learners, students with disabilities, and foster youth – plus all grade levels, in all major courses and standardized test areas, for all schools, to identify patterns and know your kids and your programs. Gather qualitative data too, such as student, staff, and parent surveys.

3. Realize it will take 3-6 weeks of someone’s full-time effort to win a large grant. Whether you free up one or two faculty, ask a principal, or hire a consultant, your grant writer/project manager will need strong writing, research, data, and accounting capabilities.

4. Understand it’s a gamble – you won’t win every one, or even half, at the beginning. Focus on building program design pieces and local partnerships with universities, colleges, other districts, nonprofits, and professional development providers so you can reuse them in future opportunities. Hiring a professional can greatly increase your win rate.

5. Identify your district’s strengths, weaknesses, and characteristics (brand). Most district websites use the same words and have the same mission. What sets you apart? What makes your people special? What are they struggling against? What can they celebrate? Work on your weaknesses and spread praise for your successes.

6. Lay the groundwork for innovation in grant programs. Be innovative in embracing the future of work and school in your district. You can’t follow tradition and also be cutting-edge in applications. Visit exemplary schools. Make a strategic plan to drive your LCAP. Create site master schedules that support promising pilot programs. Provide teachers common planning/PLC time. Support that staff member who wants to try Project Based Learning or start a career pathway. A rule of thumb: Is it best for kids or convenient for adults?

7. Stay up to date on education trends and the latest research in education. Grants that embrace a trend at the beginning tend to fare well. Know emerging issues. Subscribe to EdWeek and Educational Leadership. Get free newsletters from EdSource and SmartBrief; visit websites like Californians Together.

8. Make it all about community. Involve students, faculty, parents, administrators, and partners from the beginning through surveys, focus groups, program design meetings, and one-to-one talks.  This step will demonstrate commitment in your applications and greatly increase successes in actual implementation if you win.

Take these steps, and you will be well on your way to galvanizing positive transformation for your entire school community.

ROI as a Justification to Your Board for Consulting Expenses

Some school board and district leaders hesitate to spend money on grants or marketing and outreach, seeing such expenses as speculative. Yet - as many innovative districts know - taking the long view toward building a productive relationship with a grants and marketing consultant will reap financial and programmatic benefits over time.


"I position the expense to my board as a Return On Investment," says Dr. Martinrex Kedziora, Chief Academic Officer for Moreno Valley Unified School District in Moreno Valley, California.

Many prestigious government and foundation grant opportunities are indeed highly competitive, but by establishing an ongoing relationship with a professional grant writer - and making a true commitment to positive change in your district - you can build a powerhouse partnership that will win grants and generate significant ROI. By turning to a consultant rather than hiring a staff member, you can also save serious dollars by avoiding current and future pension and benefits expenses.

For example, the 2015-16 partnership year between Moreno Valley USD and me resulted in the following ROI:  $2,278,655 returned - $54,900 invested = $2,223,755 Annualized Return. This is a 4,051% Return On Investment.

Notably, this positive percentage does not even address the additional qualitative benefits that resulted from marketing, outreach, and public relations efforts such as a successful Golden Bell Award application and published ACSA magazine article.

Contact me today to see how a long-term partnership could fund your vision for your students and schools.