By Dan Coulter
Get a grant. It’s free money.
Okay. Not totally free. You do have to so some work for it by researching and applying. And you’ll be almost surely be competing with others applying for the same grant. That being said, if you have good idea for a project to help others, there are literally millions of dollars out there waiting to be allocated to deserving projects.
Write a strong proposal, and you could receive all the “free” money you need to accomplish your goal.
I recently took a course in grant-writing taught by someone who’s written a lot of successful grant proposals. I’ll share some of what I learned.
Let’s say you want to take on a project that’s close to my heart, getting a grant to help educate students about classmates who have Asperger Syndrome or a similar autism spectrum condition. Good for you. Here’s how to proceed:
First, set a specific goal. For example, do you want to educate all the students in a school or in a school district?
Determine ways to accomplish your goal. Maybe you want to provide an hour of instruction to every student in your target audience.
Seek out individual grants that are a good fit for your project. Grants are offered by governments, private companies, foundations and other groups. You can search for U.S. government grants on www.grants.gov. Remember, that’s “.gov” and not “.com.” Another good source is www.foundationcenter.org. Consider also applying to local companies which have a stake in your community. Even companies that don't routinely offer grants might be interested in funding your project. Here’s a great tip: some of the best sources of accurate, up to date information about available grants are routinely published in lists. While these lists can be very expensive, you can access them for free in many public libraries. Call your local library and ask if they have a Non-Profit Resource Center. If so, stop by and do your research there. A helpful reference librarian can speed your search. CAUTION: if you do an Internet search for grants, you’re likely to find lots of organizations interested in charging you money to provide lists of grants that you can apply for or to write your grant for you. Some of these offers are likely to be rip-offs. I’d avoid them and do your own research and writing.
When you find some promising grants, read carefully over their requirements. Some grants are available to individuals. Some are limited to schools or non-profit organizations. A grant’s written requirements should help you determine whether you qualify to apply. Many funding organizations offer websites where you can find details about their grant requirements, see what they’ve funded in the past, and sometimes even fill out a grant application online.
After you’ve done your research, write your grant proposal. Follow the guidelines of the funding organization carefully. These will vary, but many organizations use these categories:
Executive Summary: An overview of your request.
Statement of Need: What needs changing and how you intend to change it.
Mission Statement: What your organization strives to do.
Vision Statement: What the world will look like when you accomplish your mission.
Management Team and Competencies: A description of the people who will work on your project and their qualifications.
Project Description: What you are going to do to meet the need you described in your “statement of need.” This is the heart of your proposal.
Project Evaluation: How you will measure your results.
Organization Budget/Financial Statements: Financial information about your organization, if you are applying on an organization’s behalf.
Project Budget: What funding you need and how you’re going to spend it.
Other Attachments: Different organizations may ask for additional information.
As you’re writing your proposal, remember it has to stand on its own. You won’t be there to explain it when it’s read. Share your finished proposal with some friends or colleagues and get their feedback. If they don’t understand parts of your proposal, rewrite those sections so they are more clear.
This is a general overview of grant proposal writing. For an Asperger Syndrome/autism awareness project, you might ask for funds to have an expert prepare materials to use in age-appropriate presentations that will be used with children throughout a school system. Your expert might train teachers to make in-class presentations or to lead class discussions after the expert makes a presentation in a school assembly. These presentations would be designed to help classmates understand and support children that they previously teased or excluded from activities because of their behaviors.
It’s important to include funding for measurement. You might survey student attitudes toward classmates who think and act differently and what they know about Autism Spectrum Disorders before, and then again after, your presentations. Remember, capturing evidence of success can help you when you apply for your next grant.
And you don’t necessarily have to start from scratch with your presentations. You may choose to use grant funds to purchase an existing program and associated materials.
For example, The Anne Arundel County Public School System in Maryland, USA has developed an Autism and Asperger Syndrome awareness guide for elementary schools. The guide is called, "Building Bridges - A Multidisciplinary Team Approach to Supporting Students with Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism in the Classroom." The school system has information about the package available on its website: www.aacps.org. If you’re interested, you also can contact Laura Phipps by email at Lphipps1@AACPS.org.
Whether you prepare your own materials, or buy an existing package, a grant could help a school or a school system dramatically improve the lives of their students with autism spectrum conditions. And, at the same time, teach their classmates valuable lessons about accommodating differences in an increasingly diverse, global workplace.
There may be no free lunch. But there is free money available. And if you have to work for it through research and grant proposal writing, it still could be the best bargain a student body could ever hope for.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the producer of the “Intricate Minds” series of videos that help classmates understand and accept students with Asperger Syndrome and similar conditions. You can find more detailed information about writing grants for Asperger Syndrome/autism awareness on his website at: coultervideo.com.
Copyright 2008 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.