Grant Writing - Success Stories Point to Strongest Strategies

By Deb Buehler

Whether writing a proposal for $500 or $50,000, putting your project into words can be daunting.  For some the challenge may be the actual effort of writing while for others it may be finding the right funding opportunity. Grant writing may seem mysterious but recently some successful ag educators chimed in about what works for them.

Building on Successes

Megan Merrill, an ag teacher at Springport High School in Michigan, has landed nearly a half million dollars in grant funding over her eight-year teaching career. While a large portion of that represents one major grant funded by the Michigan Nutrition Network, Merrill has also gone after smaller grants including ones from Lowe’s and Target.

Just as she encourages her students to do with their work, Merrill focuses on paying attention to the rubric. “Most grants tell you what they are looking for,” Merrill explained. As long as you pay attention to what they are looking for and ensure that your project is aligned with their mission you have a good shot at getting an award.

Merrill also credits her follow-through as a key to her success. “You have to be able to report on the project,” she said. “Even if the project didn’t go the way it was supposed to, completing the final report is essential.”

Grant writing does take an investment of time. Merrill said that it was time well spent when she was able to obtain funding for things she wanted to accomplish in her ag program. 

Learning As You Go

Luke Beam, an ag educator at Burns High School in North Carolina, identified collaboration as one of his keys to successful grant acquisition. Building on the successes from several smaller grants, Beam and several colleagues from surrounding high schools and North Carolina State worked together to secure a USDA Secondary Agriculture Education Challenge grant for $50,000.

The grant enabled the group to purchase computers, software programs, web space and transportation for their collaboration. “We created a website that any ag teacher can use to teach students about becoming an ag educator. With any grant, especially the larger ones, you must be able to show why the project is important,” Beam said. Collaborative partnerships and projects that can be extended to a larger number of users are well regarded among grant makers. It’s also important to remember that most grants want a program to be sustainable when the money runs out. Addressing that issue in your application will enhance your chances of success.

Beam learned from his mistakes as well as his successful grant writing efforts. The year prior to receiving the challenge grant, Beam missed the application deadline through the electronic submission process. “Before starting to fill out any application, understand when it’s due and how it must be submitted,” Beam said. “Call the people who administer the grant and ask questions – it will aid your process greatly.”

Beam also built his grant writing skills by serving on panel review boards for the challenge grant. Reviewing other’s applications provided insight into how they would be scored and what grant givers were most interested in seeing.

40 of 42

Paul Heasley, an ag teacher in State College Area School District of central Pennsylvania, has received 40 of the 42 grant proposals he’s written across his 30-year career. He recommends that ag educators spend time getting really clear about the project’s vision. “Understand what you are trying to do and what you want to incorporate into your curriculum,” Heasley said.

Building on Merrill and Beam’s thoughts about collaboration, Heasley encourages successful grant seeking through staying current in the profession, reading professional journals and cultivating relationships with other disciplines.

Among the relationships and collaborations Heasley has cultivated is one with nearby Penn State University. Because his campus is geographically close to the university, he’s successfully integrated collaboration enhancing STEM goals.

“It is important to build a vested interest among partners,” Heasley said. “I like to demonstrate collaboration that is horizontal as well as vertical. I make sure to create a model that others can replicate so that it extends the impact and becomes more appealing.”

Heasley adds a practical caution as well. “One year we had five grants going on at the same time – all led by one teacher. If you receive an award, you have to do it.  Understand the balance and make sure it fits your overall vision,” he stated. “You have to be willing to be a risk taker, think outside the box, stretch your imagination and abilities, and continue to learn. Surround yourself with good people who will help you and aren’t afraid to allow you to fail.”