K-12 School Grantseeking: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide


STAGE 1: Grant Prospecting

Grant prospectors use several different styles and techniques to find appropriately aligned grantmakers (i.e., their giving history and priorities are a good fit or match for your school's needs).
For example, one researcher may do a mass search while another may focus only on one particular facet of your school (a specific strength, program or capital need) and search through a much smaller database of possible grantmakers. Going through these methods is an effective way to canvas the many opportunities available. But don't let this discourage you. Within one of those searches could be the grantmaker who will fund your school's new program for the next three years. Every year, thousands of grantmakers change their giving priorities and methods.


1. Know Thyself
First, you need to identify the areas that your school serves. Make a list of the families, students, and community you serve.
This will be used in researching databases to find grantmakers that are currently giving in the areas your school serves.


2. Know What You Need
Most funding comes through three primary sources: operating support, capital support, and program development. Operating support is a grant to a school for day-to-day operating costs or to further its general work. Capital support is usually given to specific capital campaigns that involve building construction or acquisition, renovations, remodeling, etc. Program development grants allocate funding for specific projects (also known as restricted funding). The Foundation Center provides a listing and definition for all types of support here.



3. Prioritize Your Needs
List your school's funding priorities and the keywords to use when searching within databases. Each keyword may also have several sub-keywords within it. For example, in the Foundation Directory Online, the “youth development” keyword has 23 different sub-groups to help target your queries to return the best possible matches for your needs.


4. Niche Down
Your grant niche is a specialized corner in the educational space where your school has the potential to have a meaningful and sustainable impact. You want to carve out a space where few grants are competing with your school's value proposition. Remember though, that while you will want to stay away from crowded, overly competitive areas, some niches are untouched because they are inconsequential.


5. Start the Grant Database Search Process
As with most things, 'you'll get what you pay for': the best and most up to date databases cost the most (some more than $1,000 a year). Check with your local library for already purchased subscription-based databases. Many libraries in larger cities provide a committed computer for grant prospecting, and some have professionals available to help.
Here are the best databases out there: Grant Spy, GrantStation, Christian Foundation Grants, Urban Ministry, Grants.gov, AFI Grants Navigator, Fundsnet, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Foundation Directory Online.


STAGE 2: Community Buy-in

What is a foundation? The definition appears obvious at first.
A foundation is a nonprofit entity that awards grants to organizations.

Thinking about a foundation's objectives, however, makes the definition fuzzier.
Some are driven mainly by social impact (helping communities, improving lives...), fewer by economic impact & innovation (investing in science, education...), a few by the desire to boost brand equity; i.e. improving CSR for a corporation or building the reputation for a high-net-worth family name.

This makes for a wide web of giving strategies to take into account.

Keys, Malnight, and Van der Graaf write in the McKinsey Quarterly:

"as customers, employees, and suppliers —and, indeed, society more broadly, place increasing importance on CSR, some leaders have started to look at it as ... central to their overall strategies... The big challenge for executives is how to develop an approach that can truly deliver on these lofty ambitions—and, as of yet, few have found the way."

So even foundations and charitable trusts, who are in the business of doing good, always want to bet on a winning team.
This has nothing to do with cynical intentions on their part. Betting on winning teams implies that a foundation's investment will be robust and longlived. Thoughtful decisions lead to a virtuous circle for any charitable foundation; enduring investments allow for lasting impact, increased exposure and additional fundraising opportunities.
6. Empathy Workshop
Gather your team for a short workshop. Discuss how you can intentionally suspend belief, restrain your biases and then fully immerse yourselves into the mindset of the grant giver... Ask yourselves the following:
- What is it like to sit on a foundation's board?
- What are her responsibilities?
- What is her routine like?
- How does she measure the foundation's success?
- How does she go to sleep with a clear conscience knowing that she has allocated the trust's funds appropriately - both meaningfully and with limited downside risk?
- How does she navigate internal politics and competing viewpoints?
7. Social Media PR Campaign
Before submitting your proposal put some marketing dollars towards making the community proud and getting them excited about your project!
If you can collect social signals as proof of the community's buy-in, you can include them in your submission and significantly boost your chances of being awarded the grant in question.

Digital advertising is the single most effective way to generate buzz from families in your community; especially from those who aren’t connected to your current families. There are plenty of social media platforms out there, but research shows Facebook is the most popular by far, with Instagram a distant second. Since Facebook owns Instagram, it’s very easy to advertise on both platforms simultaneously. Here are a few simple steps to get it done:

  • Design engaging images with increased contrast and saturation. Bright colors will help your posts 'pop' and set them apart from the rest in the Facebook newsfeed.
  • School copy is particularly guilty of being tedious to read -with long sentences and too many adverbs and adjectives. Try a more conversational tone so that your posts sound and feel like there is a human behind that digital screen.
  • Building good audiences drives the success of your social media ads. Building your audience based on geography is the most basic approach.  Base the radius of your ad on how far 80% of your current families live from your school.  Target parents who live in the area rather than folks who are just passing through. Adding demographic data that align with your target market ensures your ads are delivered to the people who are most likely to engage with it.
  • Targeting parents who have visited your web page with follow-up information is a great way to continue communicating with engaged families. (this is called remarketing - just like that pair of shoes you were looking to buy, and that keep popping up again and again in your Facebook newsfeed)...
  • Your school’s website will likely have A LOT more information than a prospective family needs. Rather than overwhelming families or making them hunt for information, send them directly to a landing page or microsite with information about your grant.
  • To be effective, a Social Media PR campaign needs to be part of a flow that takes families from awareness through interest.

STAGE 3: Program Development Model

Start the proposal development process by building a dialogue with key leaders. You have to craft a logic model which brings clarity to your program, creates consensus around the grant program, and focuses your evaluation.


8. Needs Assessment
After the logic model is complete, conduct a needs assessment to gather statistical information, anecdotal observations, and data on the target population.


9. Outreach
The more you know your foundation prospect, the better you can tailor your application to their values and interests. After you have researched your prospects, your next step is to reach out to its program manager!
When a foundation has stated a preference for initial contact, you should follow their directions.
If it doesn't have any stated preferences, it is usually safe to reach out via phone.
When reaching out for the first time, use your research to list a set of talking points and be ready to direct the conversation. Use your research to ask essential and detailed questions. This will help you extract meaningful information that is not readily available as well as make a good first impression.


10. Scientific Research & Surveying
Conduct in-depth research to identify landmark studies, model programs, and trends as well as the most recent scientifically based research.



11. Analysis of RFP
Once the RFP is released, conduct a review of grant requirements and align on key issues related to your competitiveness.


12. Prepare the Online Application
Request data required for online applications to make sure your registration is valid, current, and aligned with the competition due date.


13. Create a Needs Assessment
Engage the reviewer anecdotal stories and how the data translates into real-life impact in order to demonstrate a strong need for grant funding. Reframe your school's need statement into a funder story.


14. Project Design
In this section, describe the project, beginning with the goals and objectives and outlining research-based strategies and activities to achieve those goals.


Your school deserves to get grants


15. Program Management
A strong timeline anchors this section describing the necessary steps for both program management and program services.


16. Program Evaluation Design
Describe how the program will be evaluated, outcomes will be measured, and program results will be disseminated.


17. Program Budget Development
Develop strong budgets that comply with state and federal regulations regarding allowable costs while meeting the needs of your school to implement the program. For programs that require matching funds, you may go back to the listed databases with to identify additional sources.


18. Supporting Documents
Each application involves a standard set of forms, required appendices, and additional documents, such as the abstract and letters of support. These documents often require participation from a number of your school's administrators to confirm commitments and secure signatures. Do not forget to seed the proposal with the social signals collected through your social media PR campaign (step #7 above).




STAGE 4: Review and Submission Stage

At this stage, each component should be reviewed several times for clarity and flow, content, breadth, and depth of research, and alignment with the RFP.


19. Final Approval & Submission
The final version of all documents, should be reviewed carefully until all materials are ready for submission. Complete the online application, upload application annexes, and submit.


20. Post Submission Tasks
Keep an electronic copy of the application package and perform an in-depth analysis of all reviewer comments. Follow-up on the grant's approval when appropriate.