Many librarians are new to grant work and it can seem a bit intimidating to get started. However, grant work is really about five things librarians are really good at: finding information, answering questions, building relationships, serving the community, and being trustworthy and dependable.
I'm working with Infopeople  to launch a new four week online course, Winning Library Technology Grants  (there are two weeks left to register). I'm passionate about teaching librarians about grants, and have seen amazing successes. This course is especially exciting to me, as grants can support the-ever changing technology needs in communities and help libraries stay relevant. Grants have added benefits for libraries in addition to funding and technology, such as valuable partnerships, resolved community needs, and increased community support. You may even discover, as I have, that grant work can be creative and fulfilling. This article covers some of the tips I've learned by being on all sides of the grant process (writing proposals, reviewing proposals for funders, designing grant applications, and implementing grant projects). We'll be exploring these topics in depth in the online course.
"Please" is the most important word when it comes to asking for funding (you won't get if you don't ask!), but there are other important elements to keep in mind.
- Focus on how the grant project will help people, and their needs, not the money or the “stuff.” Your project should not just be a good idea, but meet a true need in your community.
- Grant work should always begin with planning, using your library’s mission, strategic plan, technology plan, and needs assessments as a foundation.
- Funders often attest that they get many proposals that are full of great ideas. It's the practical implementation plan with clear goals and objectives that is often missing.
- Involve as many community members as possible throughout the process. Always ask your target audience for feedback and try to incorporate their suggestions.
- Build evaluation into your grant planning so that you can demonstrate impact to your funders and to your community. Evaluation of grant projects can help demonstration how your library supports your community infrastructure and your community’s future.
- Do your research and don’t forget to look locally for grant funding. There is less competition for local funding through foundations and businesses, and often applications are less time intensive.
- Collaborations and partnerships are a great way to leverage resources, share expertise and apportion costs to tackle challenges. Let everyone know that you are looking for funding, including staff, board members, students, governmental offices, family and friends, local business leaders, teachers and academics, volunteers, service groups, public agencies, anyone involved in the library or interested in library related topics. You never know where a great contact might come from or who might be on a foundation board or know of just the right funding opportunity. Contact other libraries in your area that have received grants and ask them for advice or brainstorm on shared needs. Some funders are requiring partnerships.
- Know what the funder is trying to achieve, what the funder expects of your library, and what will be required throughout the grant cycle. Remember that funders are people, and not just ATMs! Talk with funders about their organization’s interests and priorities, and develop good working relationships with them. Keep them up to date on your library, even after grant projects are completed.
- Keep in mind: attitude, perception, and public opinion make a difference. Decisions to give (like most human decisions) are emotional. Facts by themselves are not persuasive, and do not motivate people to give. Provide fact-based, verifiable information, but include the passion you feel for the people you serve. A well matched funder will share your values and you want to persuade them your project helps fulfilling their cause. A good attitude will go a long way. Although you need to demonstrate the reasons your library requires the funding, make sure that the application’s overall message is encouraging and perhaps even inspirational. The funder has a vision of how they can help make the world a better place, and your library has the means to assist in fulfilling their goal.
- When completing grant proposals or award applications, follow the guidelines explicitly and answer all the questions. Make it easy for the grant reviewer to find the information requested by following the same format and headings as the application. The reviewer may have hundreds of applications to read, so don’t let yours be disqualified due to a technicality such as typos or inaccuracies that could indicate carelessness or lack of dedication. Meet all deadlines on time or ahead of schedule.
- Make sure to ask for what you need. Everything your project will require should be listed in your budget. It is better to ask for more and be able to adjust if your proposal is only partially funded.
- Grant work is a great way to share your library’s work and recent achievements and success. Tooting your horn when your library succeeds engenders confidence in the library’s leadership, confidence that the library is succeeding at its work and meeting needs in the community, and that the library isn't failing or closing any time soon. No one wants to donate to a library that has big operations, fundraising, or programming problems. Communities support success.
- Persevere. Try, try again. No one is ever 100 percent successful, but libraries have a lot of advantages in the grant world, so keep writing those grants!
ASK, believe and work at it. Libraries do change lives, and we need to make sure that funders and supporters know that we are not just informational, but transformational. There is a saying that luck—and success—is what occurs when preparation meets opportunity. Plan, prepare, and then go after those grant opportunities