Wikimedia Education Greenhouse/Unit 2 - Module 5

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Grant writing: How do we ask for resources?

Understanding the basics

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What is a grant?

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What is the goal of applying for a grant? How do you start? What makes a grant proposal successful?

Throughout this module we will explore the answers to these questions, challenge previous assumptions, and get familiar with the processes and best practices of grant writing.

In general terms, we can say that grants[1][2][3]:

  • Are financial funding processes that support the development of initiatives aligned with the mission of the funding organization or individual.
  • Can be awarded by governments (national, local, foreign), private institutions, non-profit institutions, or individuals.
  • Can be available for organizations and for individuals.
  • Do not have to be re-paid (as long as the goals of the initiative are met and reported).
  • Are obtained through specific processes set by the funders. According to the funding organization or individual, different grants will present varied timelines, areas of focus, application requirements, proposal structures, and reporting mechanisms.
  • Are advertised through open "call for proposals" or "call for submissions".

General grant writing guidelines

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Grant writing is the process in which you complete an application or proposal to gain access to a funding opportunity for your project. Your grant application or grant proposal can help you secure the financial resources you need to achieve your project goals. It can in turn be the basis on which you build your evaluation approach and it will support your future story-telling process (we will explore this further in the next unit of the course).[4]

There are basic principles you can follow to create a successful grant proposal[5]:

  • Before starting the application process:
  1. Understand that each grant application will be different and by applying to a grant opportunity you are also building a partnership with the funders. Does your project align with the mission and values of the funding organization or individual?
  2. Understand your audience and the evaluation guidelines used to assess your proposal. Who will be reading and evaluating your grant proposal?
  3. Understand the grant application timeline and requirements. Do you have enough time to put together a successful proposal? Will the financial resources be available on time for the development of your project?
  • During the application process:
  1. Polish your project idea and organize the information you have available. Is your starting point clear and aligned for this funding opportunity?
  2. Draft your proposal following the suggested structure of the funding organization or individual. What sections should your grant proposal have?
  3. If there isn't a template for a grant proposal structure make sure you include the following sections: summary or abstract, introduction to the problem you are trying to solve, work and evaluation plan, detailed budget, team expertise and mission, additional information. What information will help the funders understand the coherence and impact of your project?
  4. Review, edit, and proofread your proposal. Who can provide valuable input to improve your proposal?
  • After the application process:
  1. Understand that the grant writing cycle does not end once you receive the funds. What does the funding organization/individual require from you now that you have received the financial aid?
  2. Maintain organized documentation of your project's development to support monitoring and evaluation. How do you tell the story of your project's impact?
  3. Stay up to date with any reporting and communications needed. What are the important dates to present project updates and reports to your funders?
  4. Communicate your project with other stakeholders! Are you sharing your successes and lessons learned with internal and external actors?

Where can I find grant opportunities?

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The opportunities for grant awards will vary depending on your context, area of focus of the project, project goals, aligned values, etc.

Here are some places where you can start your search:

  • Wikimedia Foundation Grants - "Supporting mission-aligned people and organizations around the world to increase the quantity, quality, diversity and reach of free knowledge."
  • - "The system houses information on over 1,000 grant programs and vets grant applications for (USA) federal grant-making agencies."
  • Devex - "A social enterprise, we connect and inform 1 million development, health, humanitarian, and sustainability professionals through news, business intelligence, and funding & career opportunities so you can do more good for more people."
  • European Commission - "Within the European Commission, the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) is in charge of development policy in a wider framework of international cooperation, adapting to the evolving needs of partner countries."
  • Ford Foundation - "Across eight decades, our mission has been to reduce poverty and injustice, strengthen democratic values, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement."
  • Open Society Foundations - "We believe that the solutions to the national, regional, and global challenges we face demand the free exchange of ideas and thought, and that everyone should have a voice in shaping the policies that affect them."
  • National Ministries of Education
  • Local universities and education research centers
  • National charities/philanthropic organizations

Keep in mind:

  • The alignment of values and goals between the funding organization and your initiative.
  • Rubrics and metrics for a successful grant proposal will vary in each opportunity, make sure you understand them before applying - don't send the same generic grant proposal to a bunch of calls for submissions.
  • Grant writing is a story-telling tool. Your grant proposal can tell your potential funders about your journey, passion, and values as well as about your action plan to reach your goals.
  • You can learn from past successes and failures. Take a look at the grant proposals that have been funded by the organization/individual you are approaching and those that did not get funded. What made some applications successful and not others? What can you learn from these examples?

Successful grant writing

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Success factor 1: Alignment with funders mission

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When starting with your grant writing process the first thing to keep in mind is whether your project proposal aligns with the mission and scope of the potential funding organization or individual. It's important to ask yourself:

Do you share the same values? Do you share the same concerns? Are you working towards the same goals?

Use the skills and processes you have learned during your stakeholder analysis when you are looking for potential grant funding organizations or individuals. Make sure it is evident in your grant proposal that your project mission is aligned with that of the funder - that this is a win-win partnership. The guide "Developing Competitive Proposal" indicates that:

“To be successful in your funding search, it will be necessary to write a proposal that fits with the organization’s mission Developing Competitive Proposals AASCU Grants Resource Center 11 statement, whether that be to further biomedical research or teach the next generation of researchers. It is also vital that you understand the way in which the agency or foundation intends to fulfill its goals and the way in which it processes and evaluates prospective projects. Much of this information is readily available online. In addition, the federal government and its agencies maintain online access to abstracts and/or searchable databases of previously funded projects.”

Success factor 2: Rubrics and assessments

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You have identified a funding partner, you are sure your goals and values align and you are ready to put together an impressive grant proposal.

How will this proposal be evaluated? What is the criteria used to approve/reject the proposal presented to this grant opportunity? Is there a rubric?

It is important to understand the evaluation guidelines or criteria that will be used to assess your proposal. It will help you identify the areas where your grant proposal document might need improvement and to modify the content or structure accordingly. As mentioned earlier, each grant application process is different.

Take a look at the evaluation rubric used by the Project Grants Committee at the Wikimedia Foundation. Do a quick reading to answer the following question: If your proposal is for a project that lasts 3 years, how likely are you to obtain this grant?

Now to compare, check the grant rubric of the Salem Education Foundation. Do a quick reading to answer the following question: If your proposal includes a very detailed profile on each of the potential participants in your education project but a very generic budget, how likely are you to obtain this grant?

Success factor 3: The value of a good abstract

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Abstract, project overview, executive summary - this is the first section of your grant proposal document. It will help the readers understand your project at a glance and therefore it is your chance to cause an awesome "first impression" and catch the interest of the funders.

How do I help the funder understand the importance of my project? How can I clearly and succinctly transmit my theory of change? What information should be included in my abstract?

On their "Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal", provides some tips for writing this section:

  • Be specific and concise. Do not go into detail on aspects of your proposal that are further clarified at a later point in your proposal.
  • The Project Overview should "paint a picture" of your proposal in the mind of the reader. It should establish the framework so that the rest of the proposal has a frame of reference.
  • Use the Project Overview to begin to show your knowledge of the organization from which you are requesting funds. Key concerns of the funding organization can be briefly identified in relation to your proposed project.
  • If you will be collaborating with other organizations make sure some of their interests are also highlighted in the Project Overview. This can assist in strengthening the collaboration by recognizing them at the very beginning of your proposal.
  • The best time to prepare the Project Overview is after you have completed the entire proposal (and you understand all aspects of your proposal very well). Let the Overview be your last piece of writing and then insert it at the beginning of your proposal.

Success factor 4: A good project outline

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The "Developing Competitive Proposals" guide states that "no matter how good your ideas or noble your intentions, you must translate them into a specific set of activities in order to secure funding". Throughout this unit we asked you to work on an idea you had for a Wikimedia education initiative (new or previously developed). The different modules challenged you to think on the needs and opportunities of your local context and how your project idea can cause a positive impact, to analyze the ecosystem of stakeholders around you, and to think of the financial needs of your project. This is the kind of information you will need when you are immersed in the grant writing process.

Organize your information by developing or following a project outline that can present your idea in a clear and logical manner. The outline of a basic project grant proposal can contain the following sections:

  • Title - choose one that clearly expresses the core of your project in a concise and simple way.
  • Abstract - also known as Project Overview or Project Summary. See previous section for more tips.
  • Background information - stating the context and the problem your project is trying to solve and the people you will work with. You can write this section using the information you collected through your needs assessment.
  • Goals and objectives - what your project hopes to achieve. Use the information you developed through your logic model.
  • Action plan - the different activities you will develop in order to achieve your goals.
  • Budget - the resources needed through the grant and the resources you can obtain through in-kind donations. Don't forget to include the financial value of volunteer hours you will invest.
  • Evaluation plan - the processes you will follow to determine if your goals are met. This will be the basis for the evaluation and reporting you will have to present to the funder at the end of your project.
  • Appendices - additional information about your project. It can be a more detailed timeline, data charts or tables, partnership documents or letters of support, curricular plans, etc.

While this outline for a grant proposal covers the main information generally required, remember to always check the evaluation criteria of the particular grants you are interested in. The outline might require other details or the order might be different.

Course Portfolio Assignment: What makes a successful grant proposal?

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On the page for Project Grants available through the Wikimedia Foundation you can find a list of current and past grant proposals. We are going to reflect on a few of these proposals and learn from the feedback they received in this process. Let's start!

Step 1 Go to your Course Portfolio and create a section called "Evaluating Grant Proposals"
Step 2 Go to the "Edit & Review Proposals" section in the Project Grants Page.Choose:
  • one project from the "Funded Proposals" section (they can be from any year),
  • one project from the "Proposals Not Funded" section,
  • and one project from the "Ineligible Proposals" section.

Try to focus on education projects!

Step 3 Read through the project proposals. Pay attention to the problem they're trying to solve, their action plan, and their goals.
If you were sitting in the evaluation committee, what information would you need to know in order to fund a grant proposal?
Go to the "Discussion" section and review the "Aggregated feedback from the committee..." section to see the questions and comments they received from the evaluation
committee and check the responses to that feedback.
Step 4 For each proposal reflect on the following questions and take notes about your answers on your Course Portfolio:
  • What made this proposal successful/not successful?
  • What was the main reason to deem a proposal as "ineligible"?
  • Do you agree with the feedback provided for the proposal you reviewed?

Additional resources and activities

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  1. "What Are Grants?". Retrieved 2020-06-30.
  2. "Funding & tenders". Retrieved 2020-06-30.
  3. "Home | GRANTS.GOV". Retrieved 2020-06-30.
  4. "Introduction to Proposal Writing | Training | GrantSpace". GrantSpace. Retrieved 2020-06-30.

Go back to Unit 2 - Module 4
Go to Unit 3 - Module 1