Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Popping the question: Grant proposals

As funding for programs continue to get cut, a great way to fund your stealth programming library initiatives (the ongoing stuff that may bolster check-outs with minimal extra staff time in the long run) is through grants.

As school funding gets cut, so does funding for extraneous frivolities like gym and field trips. For our Library Stars initiative, we knew that a large part of getting all second graders to visit us during school hours required about 14 buses. Buses are expensive, between gas prices and extra pay for the driver. We knew that if we couldn't offer to pay for the buses, it would be an uphill battle for schools to agree to visit (no matter how much they would like to, personally). So that's what our grant application asked for.

Above all else, there is one thing to remember when writing a grant application: you are NOT writing to people to give you money. You are writing to people who have been appointed to allocate fund-raised money or an endowment properly. Because of this, you don't just want to talk about how cool your idea is and what you hope to accomplish (though that's really important, too). The success of your grant will depend on your ability to express the exact ways that you will be able to prove the grant helped. The very last thing someone wants to do, when they've been assigned to properly allocate a large sum of someone else's money, is have to tell the stakeholder, "I'm sure your money helped, but I really can't tell you how." The clearer you make the how for the grant committee, the easier it will be for them to willingly give you their boss's money.
"Oh, good. My laundry is done."

So why I am writing this? Well, I really can't speak for the rest of the grant writing process, but I did revise this portion of the grant application so extensively that I profusely apologized for my "happy slashing" [exact phrase]. Being an English major as an undergraduate student, I wrote a fair number of "grants" as assignments, since you know, that's what an English degree is good for. It also helps that my salary was funded by grants for the entirety of my adult life thus far (Reading First, Title I, and of course, No Child Left Behind) so I am acutely aware of How the Hell You Keep Stakeholders Happy. I didn't outlast everyone in my last job, until I was the only person left in my department before it finally got the ax, for nothing. I worked under four separate titles and under seven different bosses in my three years in education research, but dammit I kept my job!


So, anyway. When writing your goals, objectives, and evaluations, there's a few things to keep in mind:

1)Whatever you write down, you have to do: The more bells and whistles does not equal a greater likelihood you'll get a grant. And if you add fancy things just to get a grant--- well, you're kind of stuck, because you have to do whatever you what you said you would. Staff time after the grant is accepted should be considered--who will DO what needs to be done to implement the grant? Is there actually time to do everything you promised once the grant has been accepted? Think about how you'll feel if the grant is actually approved. If your answer is "ten seconds of excitement, then overwhelming dread", it's time to scale it back.

2) Decide ONE thing you want your grant to achieve: This is NOT one of your Goals. This is the overarching Main Goal that will inform the rest of your goal-setting. Ours was something like "to get second graders in the city to become library users."

3) Every (qualitative) goal must have at least one (quantitative) objective: The easiest way to prove to do what you said you would do is with pretty charts that come from numbers.It also takes much less staff time to document. Here were our (qualitative) goals and our (quantitative) objectives:

Goal 1 - Provide a Library field trip adventure for all second graders in the city between January and May to encourage continued use of the public libraries.
-       Objective 1: Increase 2nd grade public library card holders by 10%
-       Objective 2: Increase participation in Summer Reading Program by this age group by 20%
-       Objective 3: 50% of the second graders make at least one return visit to the library by August 2012
-       Objective 4: 10% of the second graders make at least three return visits to the library by August 2012

Goal 2 - Strengthen ongoing partnership with schools to facilitate shared programming.
-       Objective 1: Hold two meetings per year with LMC to plan initiatives
-       Objective 2: Attend after-school and evening events at every school twice during the school year (in addition to our current summer reading program promotional visits) to promote involvement at the public library by parents and children

**Make sure you choose objectives that can be directly attributed to the grant. If we had said that we'd use school test scores, that would be problematic. First of all, leisure reading found at the library is very different from reading for tests. Secondly, numerous factors go into test scores. Keep these simple. Remember, the more manageable a grant initiative is for your library, the happier the stakeholders will be. 

4) Address EVERY measurable objective in the evaluation portion: This is a very important part of the grant application. This is where the grant committee finds out how you'll know that your initiative is working, and what you'll report to the grant committee whenever they ask, so they can prove to their bosses that the money hasn't been wasted. An easy way to do this is with a database or spreadsheet. Here's what we wrote:

By seeing all 2nd graders at the library, the initiative will have achieved great success. Documenting the achievement of our measurable objectives will also demonstrate the success of the program. Program-specific databases have helped us with evaluation in the past, and this program will have its own database as well. We will use these figures to drive our plans for subsequent years:

-       Goal 1, Obj.1: YS will deliver specially designed “Library Star” library card registrations to schools prior to the field trip, which will be provided only to those students who do not already have a library card. As the registrations are returned prior to the field trip, on field trip days and in subsequent weeks by parents, YS will document them in the program’s database.

-       Goal 1, Obj. 2: With YS’s Summer Library Program database, we will be able to track increased summer participation specifically by the city's second graders.

-       Goal 1, Obj.3: All children will receive a bookmark/coupon inviting them to return to the library between the time of the tour and August 2012. When each does, the child will receive a special “Library Star” flashing pin and YS will document the child’s receipt of the prize in the program’s database.

-       Goal 1, Obj. 4: YS will invite families participating in the program to check in at the department desk during all subsequent visits with a special “Library Star Club Card” through August 2012. Their visits will be documented in the program database. Families that return at least three times can enter a drawing to receive a free stay at a hotel. We know that parents are key players in bringing children to the library and this will provide a great incentive for parents to form a library habit with their children.

The opportunity to continue working more closely with our colleagues at the schools will also make this a successful program. Strong collaborations among those who serve children benefit our community and are an investment in our future. We will use the following data to evaluate the extent of success in this area:

-       Goal 2, Obj 1: Meetings will be planned twice per year at the mutual convenience of representatives of LMC and YS. At the first meeting in Nov 2012, the 2012 Library Star program will be discussed and content finalized and discussion of additional initiatives for the future will take place. Minutes will be recorded and available at an easily accessible place for retrieval by all stakeholders.

-       Goal 2, Obj 2: YS will consult the 2011-2012 school year calendars and plan to attend 2 family events at every school in the city. YS will provide at least 1 staff member available at each event to address the role of the public library in the community. In addition, YS will respond to requests by LMC, PTO, principals and teachers to attend additional events and will document its presence at events in the YS General Programming Database.

Having things so thought out at the beginning may seem like a pain, but it's actually helpful to you, too. By thinking through every single thing you have to do, there's no thinking about it anymore. Once your grant is approved, it's time to start doing exactly what you said you'd do!

Here's a few sites for more help:
Developing and Writing Grant Proposals

Grant Proposal Advice from the UNC Writing Center

No comments:

Post a Comment