I have received over fifty grants on Donors Choose and literally tens of thousands of dollars in materials from various grant programs. I do think it is unfortunate that classroom materials are now available to the teacher who is the most willing to put in extra time, scrounge around, and successfully beg private individuals for cash. I believe public education should be publicly funded. That said, I do have some suggestions for those who want to join me in getting what their classroom needs. These are especially keyed to Donors Choose. It's big, you can write easy grants for almost anything, and it's well-known.
- Think about what gets funded. In my experience, math and science projects fund faster than any others, followed by reading and writing projects. I've gotten furniture, some of it quite expensive, but these are the projects I have had to request twice. Typically, art materials also get funded; play and physical education takes a little longer. You should ask for whatever you want, but when you have few points and are just starting out, I recommend math and science.
- Keep it simple. I think it's generally better to request a unit of study than a general topic. For instance, a project full of materials to practice one-to-one correspondence is better than a bunch of math toys to teach a year of study. Also, no matter how carefully you select, it's likely that you will occasionally receive a manipulative that sounds great but doesn't work in your classroom. If it's one of many teaching that topic it seems less disappointing, I think. Also, this helps keep costs down and makes for a coherent, simple essay.
- Work those one-point projects, but don't forget the big ones. Less expensive projects are more likely to be funded (and funded quickly) than more expensive ones. They also cost fewer points, which is important until you have had lots of projects funded (and have lots of points). But some big projects fill. I had a two thousand dollar project funded by over forty small donors and one nearly as large purchased by a single individual. Also, it does happen that there are sudden mass project buyouts. A couple of years ago, one of the Giannini descendants funded every project in California. Once last year, an anonymous donor funded every SFUSD project. It happens. If you have one big-ticket project that you resubmit every time it expires, you are likely to get lucky someday.
- If You Need It All, It's One Project. Donors Choose recommends splitting big projects into a series of smaller ones. Of course, if a project requires all its components to work (and you cannot fund part of it by other means), then you're in trouble if only some of the smaller ones get funded. So if you, say, need the projector or you can't use the doc cam, then you need to have one big project.
- Don't Hide High-Needs. Teaching at a high-needs school is hard work. Parents are less able to support the school financially; children have fewer opportunities for enrichment outside of school. Poverty has serious impacts on learning. Many high-needs schools also have many English Language Learners. Don't hide these facts (if applicable) in your essay. There's no need to be depressing or demeaning to families, but there is also no reason not to observe that your students get less and need more. Many people want to help - let them know why you need their help!
- Be Seasonal. Get your projects up for Back to School and keep them up through the winter holidays. I make sure to request my annual project for summer learning kits for my students before October of the year before. There are certain times of year when you are more likely to get a project funded. Make sure you have your projects up and ready for funders.
- Always have projects up. You can have up to eight active projects on Donors Choose. There is no reason not to have a request up for funding unless you do not have anything you need. I do not know any teacher who does not need anything.
- Just Ask. I post projects to my facebook and email out links on occasion. I request reposting. Although most of my projects are funded by strangers, I've also had friends donate, or request that their corporate giving office look into helping my classroom out. You have a hard job. Email is easy to delete. Send out a link.
- Constant Vigilance. I check in regularly to discover announced funding opportunities. I also look for unannounced ones. If my project gets a match offer, I try to discover why so that I can potentially get that offer again. (This can literally be as simple as having one specific word in your essay.) I take a look to see who funded my projects, and if it is a foundation, I try to discover if they have certain kinds of projects they like and if I have anything else I need in that area (for instance, I know of a couple of foundations that generally fund sensory integration grants). Going all Mad-Eye Moody about grant opportunities can yield big rewards. For instance, I noticed a potential funding pattern last week and mentioned it on my facebook page. Several staff members at my school put up projects in response. Yesterday about half of those projects got funded. And when the Waiting for Superplutocrats people teamed up with Borders to hand out $15 gift cards, I had projects up to be funded in $15 increments.
- Get those photo releases signed at the beginning of the year. I make sure to pass these out at Back to School Night with a detailed explanation. I usually get a bunch back before Back to School Night ends. I follow up with any parents who don't attend BtSN or don't return the form; I have never had a parent decline to sign once I explain the purpose.
- Just get the thank yous done. I know how hard this can be with everything else you have to do. But the thank you notes don't have to be elaborate. Take the pictures on your mobile phone. Simple.
If anyone has other hot tips for getting funding, I'd love to hear them.