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Yes You Can! Library Girl’s Tips for Getting That Grant!

Note: This post also appears on the Georgia Library Media Association's blog. Thank you Buffy Hamilton for asking me to be a part of Georgia's professional resources for teacher librarians.  


With mandated library funding rapidly becoming a thing of the past, grant writing is no longer just a nice skill to have.  Rather, it is a necessary and important part of the school librarian’s job description.  While I certainly haven’t received every grant I’ve ever applied for, these strategies have helped me earn over $30,000 of supplemental funds for my school library over the last several years.  I hope they will help you too!

Think Locally: There are tons of great federal and corporate grants out there and some of them offer big pots of money.  However, with big pots come big competition and, sometimes, big strings attached.  Plus, local foundations, businesses and civic organizations have something the big boys don’t -and that’s a potential tie to your community.  You’ve got a better chance at making a personal connection with your application, if the folks reading it *know* your school or even just your community or region.  Regardless of the grant you’re applying for, it’s important to use the limited number of words you’ve been given to paint a picture for the team reading it. Taking a shot at winning some homegrown grant dollars, makes doing that a little bit easier.

It’s Okay to Put the Cart Before the Horse: While it may seem logical to identify a need in your library BEFORE hunting for grant monies, sometimes locating the grant first can yield better results.  Let’s face it, most organizations offer grants, at least in part, to further their own agendas.   In addition to whatever tax benefit an organization receives for giving you their money, publically aligning themselves with certain causes can also serve as a potential shot in the arm for the donor.  The reality is that grant committees consider more than just your needs when deciding which applications to fund, they also look at which proposals best meet their needs.  Therefore when you’re hunting for a grant, try to look at it from the donor’s perspective.  Do you have a need that furthers the mission of the funding organization?  Is there a programmatic match between your library and the company donating the money?  Besides the obvious boon of philanthropy, what does the donor get from giving their money to you?  In other words, ask yourself not what this grant can do for you, but what you can do for the grant provider.

There No Such Thing as One Stop Shopping:  Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something akin to a grant supermarket out there?  A free money mega store, where you could simply stroll down the “grants for great libraries” aisle, read a few labels and then fill your cart with all the items on your list!  Alas, no such place exists in either the real or virtual world.  However, what we have is even better: we have each other!  When I was asked to write this post, I spent some time thinking about where I’d found grants over the years.  Through that reflection, I realized that all of the grants I have received were brought to my attention as a result of being involved with my professional community.  Whether stumbling across a grant in the pages of School Library Journal, in a post on a library listserv, posted on one of the blogs I subscribe to or while sharing resources on twitter, it’s that involvement with my colleagues that always leads me to the best stuff.

Put Those Research Skills to Work: As research specialists, grants provide us with the opportunity to follow the very advice that we give our students every day.  Regardless of the grant you are applying for, be sure to: proofread, (you only get one chance to make a first impression and spelling and grammar mistakes do not convey professionalism), follow the donor’s instructions to the letter, (a failure to follow instructions is often the first criteria used by the donor to eliminate applicants from consideration), and, if possible, cite research that supports the program for which you are requesting funding.

Be Prepared: Back in library school, Dr. Karen Lowe told me to begin each school year by preparing  an up to date personal statement – as though I was, at that moment, applying for a grant.  Although they are sometimes called different things, every grant requires this step:  a statement (usually a few pages) dedicated to telling the donor about your school.  Most of the information they require is statistical, but sometimes you are asked to describe your school or the types of learners you serve.  What Dr. Lowe suggested turned out to be some of the best grant related advice I’ve ever received.  Each year I update this personal statement with the most recent enrollment, demographic and socioeconomic information at my disposal.  Then I spend some time thinking about my school and our learners, tweaking each descriptive element as necessary.  Then, when the grants come along, I’m ready.  An aside:  this proved very true just last year when a $6,000 grant for art related library materials was brought to my attention only 2 days before the deadline.  Thanks to Dr. Lowe’s advice, I was able to submit an application on time – and what do you know?  We got it!

Be Fierce! Joyce Valenza recently declared 2011 the “Year to be Fierce,” encouraging all school librarians to “own power, clearly define our roles, [and] design our future.” When it comes to supplementing our dwindling budgets with grant monies, we must also be fierce.  Fierce librarians never say “I can’t.”  There’s no doubt, times are tough.  But we are tougher.   So… go get ‘em!


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