Education /
October 5, 2020

Grant Writing Basics – What You Need to Know

You have a great new idea that will improve education. Maybe it’s a new course to be offered. Maybe the addition of new, technologically advanced equipment that will better educate students. Maybe it’s attending a conference where the professional development gained will improve you, or someone in your school as an educator. It’s a great idea, but you lack the funds to make it happen. New course development takes time and labor to create. New technology is often expensive and doesn’t fit in your budget. Professional development involves costs (conference fees, travel, etc.), but you have no professional development budget or the funds for the year have already been depleted.

What are you to do?  A grant may be your answer. Grants come in many sizes, from hundreds of dollars to millions, from a wide variety of sources (from private companies to the federal government), and are available for a myriad of reasons. The TCOE recently applied for a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. Based on that experience, and experiences from other grant projects, we offer the following guidelines and suggestions if you plan to write a grant of your own.

Have a detailed plan.

Know exactly what it is you are wanting to do with the grant money, and how much it will cost. Be able to give detailed descriptions to the costs if needed, and be able to explain why this particular idea is a good idea. Some common discussion points in many grants include topics similar to the following:  Explanation of the need, description of the solution, impact to society, how finances will be managed, sustainability of the project (if it is the start of a longer project), and reporting on results of the project. Some grants also require matching funds from industry, the grant proposer, or both. These matching funds may be actual cash, in-kind gifts, or both. The TCOE recommends creating an outline to address all these listed items (base the outline on grant requirements – see below). It may also be a good idea to create a catchy acronym for your idea. ISA-TOPE and TODO were two created for the NSF proposal (keep reading to find out what they represent.)

Find a grant that matches your needs.

How much money do you need to accomplish your goals?  How much will the grant fund?  What types of resources will the grant provide?  What won’t it cover?  Perhaps you need to find funding from multiple sources. Perhaps a grant discourages trying to obtain funding from multiple sources. There are many questions to be asked and issues to be addressed, but there are also many resources for educational grants. Below are just some of the many resources available:

Follow the instructions.

Every grant will have instructions to follow. Typical instructions will include due dates, how and where to submit the proposal, what topics should be covered in the grant proposal, who is eligible, length limits to the proposal, and the financial limit of the grant request, among others. Some instructions are very specific, including which font type, font size, and margins to use, while some are less detailed. (The instruction manual for the NSF grant was in two parts; the main manual was 185 pages long, and the supplemental instruction packet was about 10 pages – the final proposal was 117 pages in length.)  No matter the details, it is important to follow the instructions. Failure to do so may mean the organization will not even review your application.

Work as a team.

While some smaller grants can be drafted by a single individual, medium to large sized grants should be drafted by a group of people. The varying perspectives will help in designing the proposal, and each person of the team can be responsible for a portion of the proposal, helping to share the burden of the project. Even if you create the proposal on your own, it is good to have someone, or a couple of people review the proposal with a fresh set of eyes to make sure it makes sense to someone new to the idea. It is even better if you can have it reviewed by someone unfamiliar with the topics covered in your proposal for an even fresher perspective. If it is clear to them, it is likely clear to the reviewer.

Proofread your proposal.

Check it for punctuation and grammatical errors. If you made references to other publications or research material, make sure your references are properly cited and clearly documented. Have someone else check your proposal for mistakes too. A document with multiple grammar and punctuation errors does not demonstrate a professional effort. If you do not have a professional proposal, will you be professional in administering the grant?  Grant reviewers may be asking themselves that question.

Send it in on time

Even early if possible! Most grants have a deadline for submitting the grant. Instead of feeling rushed, do your best to have the grant ready to go and be able to turn it in early. Give yourself some time to review it, check it, tweak it, and finalize it. Make it the best you can and then submit it.

Wait patiently.

Some grants have quick response times, others are longer. (The NSF grant submitted by the TCOE was due in early October, but we will not likely receive an answer until mid to late spring.)  In the meantime, don’t second guess yourself. Don’t sit and wonder “what if I had done this” or “what if I had written things differently” or…  You have done your best. You have submitted a good idea, and now you just wait. While you are waiting, start planning. Are there things you can do now in preparation for receiving the grant?  Do you have a backup plan if your proposal isn’t funded?  What other good ideas do you have that might need additional funding?

So, what is the good idea the TCOE is hoping to fund?  The TCOE has proposed funding for professional development, curriculum development, and outreach activities (both virtual and in-person) that center around autonomous technology in Innovative, Semi-Autonomous Trucks and Off-Highway Powered Equipment (ISA-TOPE) for Technicians or Drivers/Operators (TODOs). The proposal includes funding to purchase hands-on, real-life, technology to be used for the various events scheduled. This technology will be available for professional development activities, loaned to various colleges with Truck Driving, Heavy Equipment Operator, and Heavy Truck and Diesel Equipment Technician programs around the state for student education, along with being used at high school and community events for outreach. The program also provides for active collaboration with industry partners to provide additional technology resources at the various events. The technology purchased with grant funds is simply a minimal example of the technology that is available if industry is unable to provide additional resources due to location or timing of the event. So now, we wait.

Preparing a grant proposal can require a significant amount of work, but, if funded, it is worth the effort. If you have a good idea, and it is well presented, there is a much higher probability it will be funded. Put in the hard work, do your best, and learn from the experience for the next grant proposal you create. There are resources out there to fund your goals, you just have to look for them and be willing to put in the effort to create the proposal.