The ABCs of Grant Funding Success for Schools and Universities

Building resilience and embracing flexibility in education are priorities for schools and universities. While limited budgets may have previously held educational institutions back from investing in future-forward projects, billions of dollars in federal stimulus funding are available to help schools and universities plan for their long-term needs. But even with so much funding available, finding the right grant opportunities can be a challenge. 

Zoom’s grant partner, Learn Design Apply (LDA), works with educational organizations to identify and secure funding. Cheryl Henshaw, president and founder of LDA, shares her insights on what schools and institutions are using their grant funding for and how to successfully navigate the grant application process.

There are a lot of grant opportunities out there — what would you recommend to those who might not know where to start?

Henshaw: Many people start by searching for grant opportunities, but we recommend first mapping out your needs and the challenges you face so you can find funding that best fits your goals.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before starting the grant search:

  • What is my organization’s eligibility? Are you a 501(c)(3)? A state or local government entity? A for-profit organization? This will help you narrow down your search and determine which grants your organization is eligible for.
  • What’s the scope of the project we’re taking on? This will give you an idea of how much funding you will potentially require and can help you identify which funding agencies have programs that will support your financial needs.
  • Who are our project partners? Identifying these partners will help you define your scope, project expectations, and the roles each party will play in contributing to the application.

How are you seeing schools use these grant opportunities to plan for the classroom of tomorrow? 

Henshaw: Many leaders and administrators are investing in flexible solutions that provide schools with options when presented with unforeseen challenges. This includes technology that enables hybrid models of learning and educational continuity — like hardware to help remote and in-person students learn and software to enable video-connected spaces.

Schools are also recognizing that some shifts in day-to-day operations, like hybrid work arrangements, will become permanent. They’re using these grants as a way to move into the “new normal,” versus reverting back to the “old normal.” Some examples might include switching to a cloud-based phone solution so teachers and staff can work remotely when necessary while still being able to conduct business communications.

What are the top concerns you hear from schools when they think about what to spend the funding on?

Henshaw: Some of the stimulus funding opportunities have different eligibility requirements than what schools may be used to. For instance, some grant applications focus on eligible activities or use cases, rather than specific items. 

Many applicants want to make sure the items they purchase fit eligibility requirements — they don’t want to risk any of the funding being “taken back.” We have found that, as long as you provide a good narrative and justification for your purchases — tying purchases directly to the funding priorities — this concern is largely unwarranted. We also encourage districts to connect with their state’s Department of Education throughout the process to verify that correct processes are being followed.

We’ve also heard from educational institutions that they want to make sure their purchases have longevity. They don’t want it to be a temporary, pandemic-related purchase, but a long-term investment that will benefit their students and educators for years to come. Educational leaders should have a clear vision for the role technology will play in their school, district, or campus five to ten years from now, and choose investments that support that strategy.

What are some tips you can offer for a successful grant application?

Henshaw: No matter how well-written an application is, or how well-qualified the organization is, many grants don’t get funded because tiny details were overlooked or minor errors were made. Give yourself the greatest chance of success by following these simple tips:

  • Follow the grant guidelines to the letter. 
    • Details matter in grants. Make sure you have all the required elements.
  • Start early! 
    • You may need time to find information or craft your narrative.
  • Ask for help. 
    • Find out what resources you have available to support you.
  • Find the right grant program for your organization. 
    • Make sure your program and proposal align well with what the grant is funding and prioritizing, and that your organization is eligible for consideration.
  • Ask for another pair of eyes to review your proposal or narratives. 
    • Don’t let small errors like typos slip into your application!

Check out our grant funding page for more information, and visit zoom.us/education to see how schools and universities are using Zoom to teach, learn, and connect.

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