The Changing Winds of Grant Writing


You may think the title of this post is poorly written (and this is a blog about grant writing??), but it is a pun on what grant funders believe is essential. The trend for grants seems to be away from stuff – books, laptops, soft seating – and toward programs with an environmental focus. Of course, funders will tell you it was never about the stuff but what the stuff did to increase student learning. But grantees are all about the goodies because it is rewarding to have tangible items to show off!

Now, more than ever, grants require a lot of thought, research, writing, and measurable outcomes. Some foundations no longer accept unsolicited proposals, open applications are being retooled, funders change focus and requirements, or they close. The current landscape requires librarians to read the foundation’s/grant’s mission and vision, study past awards, and articulate why your program is innovative and sustainable.

It seems to be more competitive than ever.

Find grants that fit your need

Knowing where to start can be an obstacle. First, define your need and connect it to educational trends: the environment, diversity, inclusiveness, STEAM, innovation, inquiry, digital literacy, etc.  Then, consider reviewing our page on grants:

Start small

If you’ve never written a grant before, the process can be overwhelming. I would start small with a low-stakes proposal with an organization like DonorsChoose. The site provides a simple template to guide the writer through the request. The amounts they award are small–$200 to $400–but give novice grantees a framework for thinking about their school community, the need (to improve student reading scores, set up a composting station), the project, timeline, budget, the evaluation plan, and sustainability.

Apply locally

What I mean by apply locally is to look at local organizations and businesses in your school district or at the city/county government for funding opportunities. Most people think of private or foundation grants from Target or the National Education Association. The problem with national grants is there is national competition. Target a mom-and-pop store or a district grant, and you will have little-to-no competition. You will know who and what you are competing against.


If your school works with a community-based organization (CBO) or university or has a corporate sponsor, leverage those relationships to see if you can write a grant together, or have another organization take the lead so they can handle budget and reporting requirements.


In New York City, our local politicians have a slush fund to spend in their constituencies. They don’t advertise their donations with a formal process; it depends on them knowing where the need is.  Make sure you invite politicians, community leaders, and officials to events at your school, post and document achievements online and via social media, and connect/schmooze when necessary.  You never know when money will become available!


If you are a poor writer, have someone else write the grant. Nothing ruins your chances like run-on sentences, excess verbiage, repetition, poor grammar, and a woe-is-me whiny tone. Try for an active and positive voice that states what you will do and why. Include professional research to back up your claims and lend credence to your proposal. Be specific. List out activities, speakers, professional development, resources, and how they will impact student achievement. Know how much items cost to develop a comprehensive budget.

Try, try again!

Know like applying for that first job, you likely won’t get your first grant. Have people you trust read it to determine what you can improve for the next proposal and the one after that. Each time I write a grant is like starting over. But I learn so much from the research, the thinking, and writing process that it makes me a better educator and leader. And in some ways, that experience is validating and its own reward.

But it is nice to get stuff.


Author: Leanne Ellis

I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

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