Over lunch at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, Metrolina Library Association members recently learned from Raye Oldham, Federal Programs Consultant with the State Library of North Carolina, about how to effectively write grants. In fact, she gave us 7 keys to successfully unlock the doors to being awarded a grant. The State Library of North Carolina awards Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants to eligible North Carolina libraries. These grants are federal funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. However, her “keys” are applicable to anyone applying for a grant.
Be On the Same Page as Your Funder
- The State Library wants to say “yes.” They have to distribute all of their funds each year so they want applicants to be successful and get those funds.
- Oldham pointed out that the focus of the grant proposal should be on the needs of the users and future users, not on what the library needs. That focus should be clear in the writing of the application. For example, state that “our users need…” rather than “we need” or “our library needs.” The grant is not about the library. How will that new technology help your users?
- In addition, the State Library wants to evenly distribute the money. For example, if Charlotte Mecklenburg Library submits 3 applications and two other county library systems submit one application each, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library may have only one application approved so that the other library systems can also get some funding. They also look to distribute funding across different types of libraries: public, academic, community college, etc.
Know Where to Find Information
Become familiar with the funder’s webpages by digging into the links, understanding the different programs, checking for the most current information, and looking for timelines.
For example, the 2017-2018 LSTA Grant Programs timeline starts with the application deadline on February 24, 2017. Libraries will find out if they are funded in May or Early June and projects start July 1.
Review Previous Awards
Most funders post what they have awarded in the past. Applicants should look for this information for three reasons:
- Check to see if what you want to do aligns with what they want to fund. Funders may want new ideas but looking at these awards will still give you a sense of heading in the right direction.
- If you see what someone else has done, you can contact them to find out additional information and get ideas.
- If your library is interested in doing something new, you can see other projects and get ideas.
In 2016-2017 the State Library funded seven projects about literacy: information literacy, adult literacy, and children’s literacy. A lot of projects included partnerships. For example, a college library partnered with the early college department, a career center, or a disability advocacy group to further integrate with the community.
Data Is Your Friend
Funders are usually not looking for intensive, analytical data but adding numbers to your application will help you be more successful. Statements like the following: “frequently students will ask for x” cause the reviewer to wonder what that frequently might mean: 3 times a day or 3 times a month. A better statement would be: “3 out of 10 times, there are not enough laptops for students to do their own work.” Specifics in context will be helpful in getting your application approved.
Make It Easy
You want reviewers to easily understand your proposal and clearly see the obstacles facing your users. Sometimes the reviewers see applications with a goal statement, a target audience, a budget, and an evaluation but none of the pieces go together. Your application has to be clear and understandable.
Many funding applications include questions with identifiers under each question like parts (a), (b), and (c). Use these to organize your application or response. Addressing each part specifically will help the reviewer see that you have responded to each of those items. If something does not apply, just indicate N/A but be sure to use the identifier.
A lot of people think the real work starts with completing the application but actually the real work starts when you get funded. Blocking off time on your calendar like an appointment will help with the review process, with keeping implementation deadlines from passing, and with completing the final report. In a similar way, many applications require signatures in different sections. Plan ahead and leave yourself some cushion in case someone is unavailable.
The State Library is happy to help answer questions or brainstorm ideas. Asking questions makes you look like a stronger applicant. Asking questions shows you are making an effort to have the best application possible. The State Library also will review a draft if submitted at least two weeks before the due date.
For further information: The State Library of North Carolina’s 2017-2018 LSTA Annual Program Plan.
Any questions, please contact Raye Oldham at:
Federal Programs Consultant
State Library of North Carolina
North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
Thanks to Raye Oldham for an excellent program!