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Grant Writing 101
By Carolyn R. Tomlin

Each year millions of grant dollars that could support child care programs are never awarded. Why? Because directors and staff do not know how to locate or write grants.

While evaluating a preschool center in Texas I noticed a beautiful new playground designed for the needs of young children. When I inquired about how this expensive project was funded, I was told the director learned of a foundation set up to honor a young child who had died in a tragic accident. The director applied, the center scheduled a site visit, and the project was funded. A simple marker indicated this gift was given in memory of their son.

Situations like this happen in many places. Could grants from foundations and corporations fund programs for your center? Are there federal and state monies for which you are not applying?

Federal, State, Foundations and Corporate Funding
Non-profit agencies can find numerous opportunities to apply for funds through a variety of channels including the federal and state governments, foundations, and corporations. Understanding the differences among these resources will advance your chances of being funded.

Federal grants are issued by the U.S. Government and usually run for three years, therefore you must plan a timeline and budget for this period. The basic parts of a federal proposal are similar for all applications—the order of the proposal, terminology, and points allocated to each section. These grants require stringent rules, such as number of pages, font at least 12 characters per inch, and double spacing throughout the document. Competition is very competitive because agencies from all 50 states may apply.

State grants are usually funded with “flow-through” monies from the federal government. Non-profit agencies within the state must submit an application. Contact state senators and representatives from your district and ask for their support. Chances for receiving a state grant are usually greater than being funded for a federal grant.

Foundations are formed by a private group or organization (often funded by a well-known family or business) that awards monies for charitable causes or research purposes. For example, the Barbara Bush Foundation funds literacy—a topic which the former first lady endorsed while in Washington. Foundation grants are usually no more than two to six pages. Corporate funds are provided by business or industry. A grantee should first contact the local agency or franchise, ask for their support, and request an application. Corporate funds usually support non-profits in the same area where they maintain an office and have employees.

Sources of Funding
As you begin to look for funding resources, make a list of local businesses and industries that have corporate offices in large cities. Your local Chamber of Commerce is an excellent resource for this type of information. You may be surprised to learn that many fast food restaurants, motels, and clothing and department stores support non-profit agencies which have a 501(3)C status. While researching, you want to select those foundations that focus on issues for young children. And remember, companies can donate 10 percent of their profits to a charitable organization and use this contribution as a tax deduction.

When you’ve made a list of appropriate companies and foundations to target, make an appointment to speak with the manager. A manager should be able to describe the grant programs supported through his company foundation and explain the application process to you. Follow the application exactly as stated and return it to the manager. The manager will then forward it to the corporate office along with a cover letter stating his support.

Another approach is to identify companies that employ parents of the children in your care. You may have resources at your immediate disposal without even knowing it. Ask parents to talk with the management team at their companies about donating resources and products or volunteering in your program. Use can then use these resources as matching funds for other grants.

Many small towns are following the trend of larger cities and developing their own local foundations. Enlist the advice of community leaders and parents to help you find these resources.

Six Key Areas of a Grant Request
Virtually all grants require detailed information in certain key areas. Each of these areas will be explained below and an example given.


1.       Write a Needs or Problem Statement: To identify a need in your program ask yourself, “Where is there a gap in the services I now provide?” or “What do I need to develop a new program or continue an ongoing project?” When writing your needs/problem statement include the area to be targeted, need for services, how the need will be met, and the benefits to be gained.

Example: The problem to be addressed is safety in child care programs.


2.       Set a Goal: A goal is a statement that sums up the entire proposal; it is a broad, general outcome. Goals are not measurable.

Example: Safety is a top priority in a child care program.


3.       Establish Your Objectives: Objectives explain what are you trying to do, who will be involved, and what changes you expect to take place. Unlike goals, objectives are specific and can be measured. Objectives should: be tied to the needs statement and goal:


·        be written in measurable terms, be time specific, and identify the group;

·        include who, what, when, where, and how much; and

·        include the words reduce, increase, decrease, or expand.


Example: In 2002 XYZ Center will reduce the number of accidents related to safety by 10 percent from the number of accidents in 2001.


4.       Think of Ways to Implement. What methods will you use to carry out the project? How will you do it?


·         List activities. To accomplish your project you might replace or repair broken playground equipment, train staff in CPR and handling emergency situations, provide a check list for bus drivers when transporting children, store in a locked cabinet all chemicals and cleaning supplies used in the center, post an allergy alert chart for parents when food is provided by the center, etc.


·         Name personnel. List all of the individuals needed to complete the project. Include resumes for all of the people already in your employment. If you plan to hire additional staff, include the job descriptions for all new positions.


·         Timeline. Establish a starting and ending date to accomplish your goals.


·         Type of Program. Is this a model program or one based on research from another child care program?

Example: Appoint a committee to represent various age levels.
Example: Hire a consultant to speak to parents on issues concerning child safety.
Example: Make parent handbooks describing policies that affect safety.


5.       Evaluate. How will you measure your success? Did the work go as planned? Were the goals met? If not, what needs to be changed? Many agencies include a consultant to evaluate the project. A consultant provides an unbiased, independent evaluation, however this is a cost that must be added to the budget. When evaluating your project:


·        Use both qualitative (surveys and interviews from parents) and quantitative (numbers, data on accidents) information;

·        Have clearly defined, measurable outcomes to determine the success of the program; and

·        Think of ways that your program can replicated in other child care environments (media, workshops, video, web site, site visits, printed materials).


6.       Create a Budget. How will the money be spent? Unless the application requests something different, the following chart can be used to explain how money will be distributed. Be sure to include a statement that explains every line-item in the budget. A rule of thumb: Any chart should be able to be assessed in two minutes. Note that the U.S. Department of Education allows a volunteer hour to count as $11.41.


Budget Item

1. Replace broken playground equipment 2. Teacher/staff safety training (6 teachers @ $50 per day for 1 day) 3. Volunteer speaker for parents group 2 hrs. @ $50 per hr. (from industry) 10 parents donate 2 hrs. work @ $11.41 per hr. Total

Request from grant $2000. $300. -0- -0- ______________________ $2,300.

In-kind contributions -0- -0- $100 $228.20 ______________________ $328.20


Tips for Grant Writing
In grant writing, using the right word is important to identifying your needs. The American writer, Mark Twain, said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.” What you say and how you say it makes a difference. Of course, using the right word is only one tip for increasing your chances of being funded. Consider the following as well.


1.       A director or fiscal agent should sign a grant on the signature page.


2.       Is the title of the grant important? Yes, an acronym or a play-on-words is often effective. Federal grants are more formal, so try to avoid cute or trite titles. Before writing your own grant, request copies of previously awarded grants. These documents become public when the grant is funded. What type of titles have they funded in the past?


3.       What about deadlines? Always honor deadlines. A missed deadline means your grant will not even be considered. Requesting additional time is not acceptable.


4.       Keep it simple by limiting the number of technical terms. It’s best that your grant be written so that an unfamiliar person can read and understand the grant.


5.       “Request for Proposal” known as RFP means the guidelines for that particular grant.


6.       Follow exact guidelines. All grants request the same basic information, but each is a little different. Note type size, margins, double or single spacing, and page numbers. Never exceed the number of pages allowed. The reader is not required to read more than the RFP indicates. This means your last pages may not be considered.


7.       Place current data in a folder: free/reduced lunches, geographical location, racial mix, poverty level or family income, number in housing projects, dropout rate, teenage pregnancy rate, low-birth rate babies, number children in foster care, etc. Submit data for the last three years.


8.       Avoid percentages without numbers (25% or 25 children of 100 enrolled.)


9.       Make information easy to find by typing headings in bold print, rewriting statements, and keeping everything in order.


10.    Should you contact a grantor? Yes, but don’t ask a foolish question. It’s acceptable to ask questions about information needed that may not be included in the application. Statistics show that contacting a grantor prior to submission usually results in a favorable impression. Make sure the grantor has your name and the organization for which you are seeking funds. Contacting a grantor after submission is unacceptable. However, you may ask a state senator or representative to check on the status of your grant after submission.


11.    An appendix is a section added after the narrative portion. Brief data may be mentioned in the narrative, but referred to in appendix. Place letters of support or letters from collaborative partners in the appendix.


12.    An addendum is data or documentation that is mailed after the grant has been submitted. Indicate in your cover letter and narrative that additional information will be mailed by a certain date. This could occur if the submission deadlines comes before your board meeting to vote on applying for the grant.


13.    Often a foundation or corporation will request a letter of inquiry. If they are interested, and your priorities meet their priorities, they will invite you to submit a full application.


14.    Carefully go over the RFP with your checklist to make sure you have included all necessary information and documentation. Ask an outside reader to give you feedback.


15.    Sign in blue ink. Copies appear as “black” signatures. Therefore, it is difficult to distinguish the original from the copy.


16.    Purchase rubber stamps showing “original” and “copy.” Stamp in the upper right hand on the first page. Some grants may request 20 or more copies for their review board. Always honor this request.


17.    Staple in the top left hand corner. Avoid spiral binders and notebooks.


18.    Use the U.S. Postage Service when applying to foundations or federal programs. Foundations like to know you have prepared in advance and the proposal is well thought out. Federal programs like to know that you’re using an arm of the federal government. However, an overnight delivery is often necessary.


19.    Always write a “thank you” letter, even if the grant is rejected. If accepted, write a brief note of appreciation. If rejected, thank the grantor for considering the grant and reviewing your proposal. Be sure to include the statement: “I look forward to applying for the next funding period.”


20.    Realize that some grants take six months or more for a response. Use the same data and ideas and search for another source of funding.

Reasons for not Receiving a Grant
According to the Guidelines for Preparing Proposals, by Roy Meador, the following reasons for grants not being funded include:

39% Inadequate planning/carelessly prepared application
38% Competency of applicant not shown
18% Nature of project; does not meet grantors priorities
05% Miscellaneous reasons

Other reasons include:

  • Reader hasn’t had morning coffee.
  • Late afternoon reading.
  • Type difficult to read, misspellings, incorrect grammar
  • Exceeded number of pages
  • Grant has already been given to another program in the same geographical location
  • Political pressure from other areas or regions
  • Program is outside geographical location of giving (foundation/corporation)
  • Missed deadline (most foundations meet quarterly, resubmit next quarter)
  • Left out vital information

Hot Topics for Grants
Grants from federal funds usually follow a pattern that keeps the public happy. For example, school safety is a hot topic due to the student killings in several states. Private funding sources follow the pattern set by the government. However, some foundations follow their own agenda and support causes that set them apart. The following topics appear to be the top education grants that affect programs for young children.


1.       Safe schools and child care program. What is working in some areas? What could communities do to make a difference?


2.       Character/Values Education. Funders are looking for ways to teach citizenship, respect, integrity, and work ethic.


3.       Direct Instruction Programs. Programs where teachers are in charge of learning, either individual, small group, or whole-class are finding funds.


4.       Foreign Language Instruction. New research shows that children learn language best at an early age.


5.       Mathematics. Calculators, parent workshops, math resource room. Avoid math manipulatives that aren’t supported by a validated program of instruction.


6.       Literacy/Phonics. Programs that get children reading on grade level – workbooks, videos, teacher training. Look for programs that make each child a “reader.”


7.       Science. Show how a science resource center will meet the local, state, and national standards.


8.       Tutoring Programs. Computer assisted learning and individualized instruction to promote academics. After school programs, those involving collaboration with other community agencies.

Carolyn Tomlin, from Jackson, TN has taught early childhood education at Union University. She is a professional grant writer and conducts grant writing workshops. She can be reached email by tomlinc1@k12tn.net.

Websites for Grantees
There are thousands of web sites for grants, but we’ve listed a few of the best. Use these sites for data and current grants as you seek funding. Or, type in the name of a grant on your Internet server and follow the links.

Foundation Giving Trends and National Directory of Corporate Giving

U.S. Census

Giving and Volunteering in the United States

Technology Grants