Grants & RFPs
Andrew Calkins, the deputy director of the Next Generation Learning Challenges grant program said:
[Our grants] are intended to surface people, organizations, and schools trying to rethink the entire thing: the nature of learning models, the definitions of student success, the organization and budget models necessary to drive the learning models. It’s a little different from just thinking of personalized learning – it’s part of a bigger opportunity to reimagine the entire experience students have in public schools. Personalized learning is a big part of it, but Next-Gen learning incorporates aspects of what is gradually coming to be thought of as personalized learning, as well as competency-based learning, blended or technology-enabled learning, and experiential learning all pitched around these richer, deeper definitions of student success. Education Week 10/18/16
Grant & RFP Analysis
i-pel provides Grant and Request for Proposal (RFP) services including need and purpose analysis, source identification and content structuring and submission strategy. Included in our services are an analysis about whether the client is qualified to pursue a specific grant program; if the proposed program is appropriate for their needs; and a review of RFPs and client contact when an RFPs matches their requirements. Our overriding value is meeting deadlines and following grant and RFP directions.
What came first – the Grant or the RFP? Actually, since schools never have enough money but plenty of needs the RFP probably came first and then the search to pay for the project or program. Fortunately, there are now more options for funding than ever before. But how to get the money is often left to busy school administrators to identify, track, and write grants for just a portion of the billions of dollars available annually from foundations and government departments. And that can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
Grant proposals come in two forms: as a response to a Request for Proposal (RFP) or as a submission for funding made to a philanthropic organization. ln both cases, the grant proposal is formulaic. That means the instructions in either the RFP or the funder’s guidelines must be followed and the language used must be appropriate for the reading audience.
Grant proposals are most often written to seek funding for a specific project within a larger organization such as an after-school program within a school district. Projects may be capital (for construction of buildings) or based on a program (to support staffing, equipment, and other items that are necessary to launch a special project). Sometimes grants are made for operations (utilities, ongoing staffing costs, etc.), but sources for operational funding are very rare. Few funders want to award grants for sustaining (operational) funding, even though this is the most critical need for most school districts.
The Federal Government’s Role
With passage of the Federal Tax Act in 1913, the federal government established an income tax program through which it collected money, then redistributed it throughout the United States to wherever it was most needed. Today, the government predetermines the types of projects and programs that need public support and then, through its various federal agencies, identifies exactly where the funding should go. The process starts when those agencies issue Requests for Proposals (RFP) to nonprofit and governmental agencies in each of the states.
The federal government encouraged local philanthropy when it passed the Federal Tax Act of 1969, which provides tax incentives to individuals and businesses for charitable giving. But even before tax incentives were enacted, individual, family, and community philanthropy, which preceded government philanthropy, flourished. Ben Franklin was one of the earliest philanthropists, both with his time and his money. He gave to causes that would provide equal opportunities for community members and volunteered at his local hospital, library, and fire department. Andrew Carnegie was among the first of the turn-of-the-century industrialists to promote “giving back.”
Subsequently Carnegie was joined by such notables as John D. Rockefeller and Margaret Olivia Sage, wife of wealthy industrialist Russell Sage, who channeled his bequest to her into programs that strengthened education and encouraged social reform. These early millionaires established formal philanthropic foundations modeled after their successful business practices. The new foundations took the place of and provided more flexibility than the charitable trusts that had preceded them.
Foundations publish their values (what’s important to them) and mission statements (what they hope to accomplish through grants). They expect the ways that potential projects fit with their vision and values to be addressed.
Government Funding Sources
The federal government issues RFPs to determine which of the various local and state programs that meet its predetermined requirements should be funded. That money is allocated from the government to its federal departments, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Department of Education, to be used in each department’s various grant programs.
Often the funded programs are available year after year, especially during a presidential or congressional election year. When there’s a change in leadership, priorities shift and money is often allocated to new priority categories and departments. For example, when President Bill Clinton was in office, funding technology-infrastructure improvements (“Closing the Digital Divide”) was a priority. The emphasis shifted when George W. Bush came into office, particularly after September 11, 2001. Then police and fire department projects became the focus in an attempt to strengthen “homeland security.” Often government programs go on for years, so there is more than one opportunity to submit a proposal for funding or to resubmit a failed proposal.
Grant Writing versus Fundraising
In school districts matching fundraising duties can include such things as nurturing long-term donors, developing candidates and plans for bequests, planning and executing fundraising events, managing a database of donors, developing year-end and mid-year letter campaigns, and other similar responsibilities. Larger school districts usually have someone on staff assigned to fundraising, and often that person is called a development director.
While many development directors can and have written grants, they become so busy with the other requirements of their jobs that grant writing becomes a sideline for them or something they seek from an outside source, such as a professional grant writing service.
Often RFPs are issued for programs that require a certain local match and they will let you know what qualifies as a match or not. For instance, a 50 percent local cash match means that you must already have commitments for half of the money needed for a project before you can apply for the other half. If the RFP states that in-kind money qualifies, you can gather a portion of the required match in donated space, staff time for coordinating or attending meetings, utilities, existing furnishings and computer equipment, support staff time committed to the project, and other items that are part of your organization’s budget.
In cases of individual donors, it matters who approaches them more than it matters what they are asked to fund.
Many federal grants require that an organization apply for a four-year decreasing amount grant. For instance, it may provide 75 percent of funding needed the first year; 60 percent, the second year; 40 percent, the third year; and 20 percent the fourth. In the first year, the applicant organization must commit to providing increasing amounts of its own money to continuing the program over the four-year term of the grant.
What are the attributes of “fundable” projects? A project and/or the organization proposing a project must have most of the following:
- Strong and recent data to support the need for the project
- An experienced project manager or other lead person
- A history of fiscal responsibility
- A response (project description) that clearly addresses the identified need
- Collaboration with others in the community (matching funds)
- Community members’ involvement helping identifying the problem and the solution
All Requests for Proposals (RFPs) have a deadline. Foundations, which most often issue guidelines rather than RFPs, frequently have deadlines as well. Sometimes the deadline is months away, but other times the deadline can be as short as 30 days from the time the school hears about the RFP. Short deadlines can serve as a sort of “natural selection” process. If the organization has not already planned for a project that responds to the focus of the RFP, they won’t have time to plan, convene meetings of key partners, write the proposal, complete the forms, and send off a strong proposal in thirty days.
Requests for Proposals
Although foundations sometimes issue RFPs, these instances are rare. Foundations usually issue RFPs only when they are planning special programs and need to identify appropriate grantees for their program. The State Single Point of Contact is assigned responsibility by the federal government to monitor grant applications in his or her state or region.
The most important sections of an RFP are:
- The eligibility criteria
- The deadline
- The outline of content
- Review criteria
Each RFP contains the following information:
- Issuing agency/ department
- Criteria for the program
- Total grant funds available and range of prospective grant awards
- Eligibility criteria for applicants
- Statements that must be signed by the applicant (regarding the enabling legislation, non-supplanting, public comment requirement, etc.)
- Mailing instructions
- Outline of proposal content
- Points available for each section of the narrative
- Rubric (a chart of judging criteria and scoring) or other selection criteria for judges
- An application kit containing budget forms, cover sheets, and assurances
- Appendices/ documents such as State Single Points of Contact, resources, call for reviewers, etc.
Typical Grant Application Format
- Executive Summary
- Purpose of Grant
- Budget Narrative/Justification
- Organization Information
- A copy of the current IRS determination letter
- List of Board of Directors with afﬁliations.
- Letters of support
- Annual report
Grant Compilation Action Points
- Letters of intent and inquiry
- Letters of support
- Statements of need
- Goals, objectives, and outcomes
- Project descriptions
- Action plans, timetables and schedules
- Design evaluation plans
- Develop budgets
- Budget narratives
- Identify collaborative partners or other nonprofit agencies
- Inclusion analysis
- Proof reading
The primary source material for this section came from: Smith, N. B. & Tremore J. (2003) The Everything Grant Writing Book. MA: F + W Publications