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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Funding STEM Programs and Projects

Fundraising and Grantwriting Tips

So many good ideas, so little money. In the last decade, there has been an overwhelming surge of innovation for education. Fueled by technological advances, by the invention of new and improved digital tools at extraordinary speed, we are inspired. Perhaps I should say the kids are inspired and educators have grabbed onto the tail of the comet. And rightly so. Snooze and lose. We can organize the chaos for good, connect students to all kinds of people, all kinds of opportunities that once would have been way beyond the grasp of a classroom student, Anywhere, USA.

Here's the rub: it costs so much just to have access to the technology, how will we fund the projects and programs the technology will support? Where will the money come from to fuel the innovation? We must be clever and thoughtful fundraisers. Gone are the days one was able to write up a good idea, organize a grant proposal, and wait for the check to arrive.

I've raised millions of dollars for educational projects over the years, through grants, partnerships, and dreaded cold calls. Here are a few tips to help if you're struggling to find ways to fund your STEM project, your STEAM project, or if you're still trying to come up with enough iPads or laptops to go around:

  • Don't try to do it alone....establish working partnerships. Show potential funders how you can make their dollars stretch and support more than one classroom, more than one school. Show them you have learned to cooperate and to share.
  • Do find partners in cyberspace. Check out Classroom 2.0, Teacher 2.0, and the many forums on LinkedIn to find like-minded colleagues and classrooms. Use the tools to build something meaningful together and demonstrate to potential funders that you are a mover and a shaker.
  • Read grant guidelines carefully. Pay attention to details such as deadlines, grant dollar ranges, and areas of interest. Keep calendars of deadlines and NEVER ask for money for equipment if they state in their written material they do not fund equipment. Remember the adage: "What part of 'no' don't you understand?" (My 7th grade English teacher taught us about 'File 13,' where papers go when someone hasn't followed directions.)
  • Before you start fundraising, be sure your program has measurable goals, objectives, and outcomes. Demonstrate that you have a business sense. What will be the return on their investment? How is it measured? How will you collect the data?  Express your goal, and also WHY this goal is critical.
  • If your project is funded once, how will the program fly on its own down the road? After all, you wouldn't ask someone to throw money into a blackhole would you? Or would you?
  • Know your audience. Who will be reading your materials and making decisions? Get inside their heads if you can. Peruse their websites and understand their mission. Don't invite the president of a company to your science fair on the day of their company's annual marathon.
  • Keep your funders and your community informed about your programs and your progress. Promote, promote, promote. Share the good news, share the struggles, engage the community. Make them want you and your project to succeed. Use social media, and use it wisely. Model cyber citizenship for your students. Get students to help.
  • Don't be afraid to make a call to local industry presidents, board members, and other decision-makers to solicit their help. Listen to public radio make their bids for membership donations and from them, get tips on sales strategies. In their relentless bids for community support they focus on the benefits of public radio. What are the benefits of well-educated kids who are prepared to participate in the world ahead, prepared and inspired to attend college, to innovate and invent?
  • If you believe, potential funders and potential partners will believe.
  • By the way, there are avenues of support other than money: time, materials, and even moral support will get you to your goal.
There are many grants databases for schools.  Once upon a time, the only place to find foundations was through the Foundation Center (which is still a great resource), but now there are a plethora of specialized references online.  One example of a site I like is Grant Wrangler, check it out, they feature grants and awards by grade level, subject area, and deadlines. Very cool.

In the book, Connecting Students to S.T.E.M. Careers, Social Networking Strategies, you'll find more of these resources in Chapter 6.

If you are seeking help with your funding strategies, contact me at Schoolhouse Communications.

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