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July 24, 2017  

Funding School-Linked Services through Grants

A Beginner's Guide to Grant Writing
by: Nancy Feyl Chavkin
July 1997

Funding is at the heart of the school-linked services movement; there is an inextricable relationship between quality services for children and the financing of these services. Farrow and Joe (1992) made a strong case for addressing financing as a first step in developing school-linked, integrated services. Focusing on financing has two clear advantages. First, the methods of funding affect the nature and outcomes of services by determining the priorities, incentives, and usefulness of services to families. The United States is just now beginning to realize the effects of categorical funding; that is, if more dollars go to special education students, suddenly there is an increase in the number of special education students identified. Second, focusing on funding tackles the toughest problem of service integration; administrators must be willing to put their dollars behind shared goals.

Because issues of authority, control, and priorities are part of the financing issue, this article examines the critical components of developing funding proposals. The article discusses the background and context of funding for school-linked services; discusses one part of the issue, seeking external funding; and makes practical suggestions for securing grant funds.


Financing school-linked services is a complicated issue no one has wanted to discuss. No definitive method exists (Farrow & Bruner, 1993). A variety of experiments have used multiple streams of existing and new funding. Hare (1995) described several state-funded initiatives (for example, California, New Jersey, Kentucky, Missouri, Florida), foundation- and organization-funded initiatives (for example, Hogg Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation), and federal grants (for example, National Center for Service Integration, Service Integration Facilitation Grants). She listed the major funding services through education, health, and social services, including Title IV-E of the Social Security Act (P.L. 96-272); the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training Program (P.L. 100-485); the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-321); Title I of the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (P.L. 103-382); and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (P.L. 101-476).

Dryfoos (1994) described 16 categorical funding sources that are currently being combined to create comprehensive programs. Some school social work services are funded by Medicaid reimbursements for eligible students; other programs are using Maternal and Child Health Block Grants, Drug-Free Schools money, and funds from child protective services. Congruent with the national picture, the Texas Research League's (1995) Inventory of School-Linked Services in Texas lists more than 50 programs in the state, each with a unique combination of public, private, and other sources of funding such as client fees and in-kind support.

Despite the diverse and creative ways schools have funded school-linked services, Kirst (1993) posited that schools alone cannot pay for all noneducational services. The finance issue is a key component of Kirst's definition of school-linked services:

a systemic change that enables parents to better consume and tailor public and private services to their special needs. The systemic change links schools and local public and private social agencies to meet interrelated children's needs. There need to be new attitudes among the service providers as well as sanctions and incentives to collaborate. All levels of government must change their fiscal requirements and incentives to enhance school linkages. The scope of school linkage may vary with the local context but should include a common intake and management information system. (p. 166)

Franklin and Streeter (1995) extended Kirst's ideas by including the funding issue in their summary of the five major approaches to linking public schools with human services. They conceptualized school-linked services along a continuum encompassing informal relations, coordination, partnerships, collaboration, and integration, moving from little or no change to change in the basic philosophy and organization of the system. They examine each approach according to eight dimensions: commitment, planning, training, leadership patterns, resources, funding, scope of change, and impact. The funding issue is of critical importance to each approach but in different ways. For example, in the informal relations approach, only minimal funding is required, whereas in the coordination approach, some additional funds for pupil services are required. When school-linked services have reached true integration, additional funding is required for all systems, and there is greater efficiency because the agencies have been restructured.

In the long run, major changes are needed in how children's health, education, and social services are funded. These changes are integral to the concept of school-linked, integrated services. In the meantime, children cannot wait for the slow wheels of bureaucracy and politics to change the funding mechanisms. Many schools and communities will need to secure grant funds for start-up expenses and pilot projects.

Begin Proactively

Bauer (1995) offered social workers working with school-linked service projects the advice that grant seekers should begin proactively. Too often grant seekers have their own project in mind and then try to fit it into someone else's guidelines within a two-week period. No time is available to develop a relationship with the funding agency; to understand the agenda of the granter; or to prepare a well-conceived, winning proposal. Grant seekers usually begin the negative process of flooding the market with grant requests, hoping that eventually one will be successful.

Drawing on the work of Festinger, Bauer (1995) used the cognitive dissonance theory to develop his own "values glasses theory" of seeking. Understanding the thinking and values of the granter is critical to being successful; too many grant seekers understand only their own beliefs and thus write from a narrow perspective. However, grant seekers should not pander to the granter's values or try to disguise a project. Bauer observed that working proactively does not necessarily mean spending more time on the grant-writing task; rather, grant seekers must use their time well over a longer period instead of trying to produce "a last-minute Herculean proposal effort" (p. 5). Although most grants are written on short notice, those that are funded often were in the planning stages many months before the application was made.

After a relevant funding source is located, grant seekers must read the request for proposals or foundation guidelines thoroughly and follow them exactly. Fine proposals are eliminated at the first stage of the review process because the authors did not comply with the requirements for submission. Grant seekers should know their audience. Key questions to consider are, Who is evaluating the proposal? What kinds of projects does the evaluating group want to fund? What are their interests? It is often beneficial for grant seekers to role-play what it would be like if they were receiving the request for funding.

Grant seekers must be familiar with the criteria for review, especially the points awarded for each section of the proposal. For example, if 25 percent of the points are awarded based on project need, then 25 percent of the narrative should be on project need. Figure 40-1 is an example of review criteria adapted from a U.S. Department of Education proposal.

Demonstrate Need

One of the biggest problems that beginning grant seekers face is how to separate the need from the solution. For example, school social workers might need a van to transport children to and from afterschool tutoring activities. It is obvious to the school social workers how helpful the van will be. By focusing the proposal on the van, however, they are focusing on the solution and not on the needs the van will meet. It would be better to document the learning needs of the students who will be transported in the van and how the van will help improve learning.

Perhaps the most common error with school-linked services proposals is their exclusive focus on the need for more personnel. For example, many times a school principal's first response to the needs assessment question is, "I need more nurses, social workers, and aides. If I had more staff, the problems would be solved." Most likely there is an element of truth in this statement, but the statement is not a needs assessment. The statement is the proposed solution. A better needs statement would focus on the number of children who are sick or without immunizations, the percentage of children who do not have adequate supervision, the low level of parental participation in school activities, or the low reading scores. Grant seekers must make the connection between need and solution early in the proposal. Those who begin a proposal with the solution will not convince the reviewer why it should be funded.

Grant seekers should always be asking, Why should the granter fund the project? Grant seekers need to describe the problem and what could happen if it is not funded by considering all possible negative ramifications. For example, the readers should be told of the consequences of low reading or math scores. Painting a worst-case scenario is often useful. Charts, graphs, and facts provide the detail that can help a proposal be specific about needs. One or two brief case vignettes using first names can highlight the human factor in the proposal. References to current literature should be included.

Grant seekers should discuss how the project will be a model for other sites, for example, by explaining how the program addresses the needs of similar schools and could also benefit them. The "upside-down pyramid approach" developed by the author can be useful (Figure 40-2). The proposal should begin with the needs of the project and then describe how meeting these needs will help not only the school, but also the community, the state, and even the nation.

Describe the Project

Because school-linked services projects involve interrelated needs, they are often difficult to describe. Social workers know that most projects do not follow a linear path, but in a proposal one must explain and link goals, objectives, needs, and resources.

The author developed the worksheets in Figures 40-3, 40-4, and 40-5 as useful guides for beginning grant writers that help them link the goal and objectives to the needs and resources. Grant seekers should begin their thinking with a statement of the problem or issue and then ask the questions, How do the goal and objectives meet the needs? Is the project building on the strengths of the beneficiaries? Is the project using all the strengths and resources of the community and group? (Figure 40-3). Using a sample objective developed by the author, Figure 40-4 breaks the objective statement into a series of questions that many grant writers find useful, and Figure 40-5 presents a linear way to look at goals, objectives, activities, and tasks.

Grant seekers should be clear about the distinctions among goals, objectives, activities, and tasks. The worksheets show a connection between the goals of the project, the need for the project, the existing resources, and the specific objectives.

Provide Organizational Capability

Grant seekers should write a clear plan of operation, making a chart of who will do what activity, when they will do it, and where they will do it. This task is especially important for school-linked services projects because organizations are complex regardless of where they fall on Franklin and Streeter's (1995) continuum. Using Figure 40-5, grant writers can begin with the objectives and then list each activity that must be done to complete the objective, breaking the activity into tasks. Timelines and organizational charts are helpful.

It must be clear to the readers that the grant applicant is capable of carrying out the project. Grant writers should describe physical resources (for example, office, equipment, library), strong community support (relevant letters of support can be included in an appendix), and previous track record with grants (whether the organization can manage a budget and has been successful with other endeavors). However, some granters are skeptical of applicants who already have many grants. Granters will want to know how a project is different from other previously funded projects and that the new request for funds is not a duplication of previous efforts.

It is helpful to provide concise (paragraph-long) summaries about the qualifications of key staff and how these relate to the proposal. If space permits, one- or two-page vitae of key personnel can be included in an appendix.

A well-done graphic can be worth much more than pages of text. Visual aids can help grant writers get organized and can present a quick, clear picture of the project. Funders look favorably on proposals that include details about timelines and the people responsible for each activity. Figure 40-6 is an example of a Gantt chart, first developed by Henry L. Gantt in the 1900s and still widely used for establishing clear timelines and responsibilities. Grant writers can use other kinds of charts to explain their activities, such as a PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) chart or a project management review chart that links goals, objectives, activities, measurement, data analysis, and outcome.

Explain Finances

The project's budget should be as specific as possible and should justify any large or unusual expenditures (see Figure 40-7). A section entitled "Budget Rationale" should be included in the proposal. An essential appendix that explains key budget line items is particularly helpful to grant reviewers.

Funders examine a proposal's direct and indirect costs. Direct costs usually include personnel (wages and salaries, fringe benefits, and merit and cost-of-living raises), supplies (pens, books, videotapes, computer diskettes, and so forth), equipment (purchase or rental), travel (in-state and out-of-state, broken down by destination, purpose, mileage, or per diem), communication costs (telephone, fax, and e-mail equipment and installation charges and postage), printing (publishing brochures and handbooks and copying costs), contracted services (use of consultants and subcontractors), and miscellaneous (facility rental, repairs, and any expense not included elsewhere). Indirect costs- the overhead costs incurred in the administration of a grant-are usually calculated as a percentage of total direct costs. For example, some grants have an 8 percent indirect-cost rate calculated on the basis of all direct costs; others have a 48 percent indirect-cost rate calculated on the basis of only salaries and wages. Some foundations and a few state programs do not allow the inclusion of indirect costs in the budget.

Most funding agencies prefer to have funds go for direct services rather than equipment; grant seekers should check with funding agencies on this issue. If possible, the project should secure matching funds or in-kind contributions such as time, personnel, or office space and equipment; some funders require these according to an established ratio. In funding proposals in-kind services should be assigned a dollar equivalency.

Document Success and Accountability

If possible, projects should use an external evaluator who provides an objective look at successes and failures. It is not the job of the school social worker to do all of the evaluations, but it is the responsibility of the social worker to make certain that the right questions are being asked. An evaluation might consider questions in each of four areas: planning, implementation, outcome, and economic efficiency. Grant seekers do not have to evaluate every activity or objective but must explain why they chose to evaluate specific parts of the project.

Many kinds of evaluations (not all of them mutually exclusive) are described in reference books (for example, Gabor & Grinnell, 1994; Royse & Thyer, 1996). The kind of evaluation needed depends on its purpose and can examine effort (person hours, visits, meetings), performance (yield, results), adequacy (change in unmet need, decreased absenteeism, increased test scores), efficiency (how efforts were more productive), process (relative success of parts of projects, aspects that were done better), quantitative versus qualitative outcomes, formative versus summative processes, process versus outcome, cost-benefits versus cost-effectiveness, compliance versus quality, effectiveness versus efficiency, and inputs versus impact. Grant writers can seek assistance with statistics, computer programs, survey design, and data collection.

Most important, project evaluation should not fall into the "autopsy" category. Many project coordinators wait until a project is completed before they consider doing an evaluation, when it is often too late to change some of the activities that could have improved the program. Project staff can consider combining a process evaluation with an outcome evaluation.

Grant writers should explain how they will share what works in a project with others (either during or after the program) in both the organizational and evaluation plans. Reviewers look favorably on proposals with a clear plan for dissemination of results.

Fine-Tuning the Proposal

Writing style is a key factor in selecting the winning proposal when all other factors are equal. Grant writers should write in short sentences and use the active voice, avoiding the abstract and wordy writing that often accompanies the passive voice. Acronyms, jargon, and vague pronoun references should be avoided.

Proposals should include in appendixes supporting documents; essential information needs to be in the text. Appendixes can be useful for history and background of an organization, vitae of personnel, relevant prior studies or projects, copies of support letters, evaluation instruments, or sample lesson plans.

Most important, people outside the project should read and critically review a proposal before submission. It is best to have two types of readers: lay readers and expert readers. Lay readers who know nothing about the project should read a proposal to determine if they understand what is being said. Expert readers who know the field can give feedback on missing research or a discrepancy in organizational plans. Critique and feedback are essential to a successful proposal and are critical to one that has been conceived and written by a team of individuals from different school-linked organizations.

Trying Again

Very few grants are funded on the first submission; however, many are funded after revisions and resubmissions. Writers of unsuccessful proposals should write a thank-you letter to the funding agency and request to see reviews or a summary of reviews so that the grant application can be revised and improved.


Writing successful proposals is not easy and takes time and commitment. Staff of school-linked services projects who want to obtain funding must take the time to plan and conceptualize what resources are in place, what resources are needed, and how resources will be organized with new funding to accomplish the tasks ahead of them. Farrow's quote in Mellaville and Blank (1993) is an excellent expression of what is required for staff of school-linked services programs to be successful at grant writing: "Fiscal strategies must be driven by a new vision of the service delivery system we are trying to create" (p. 82).

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This chapter was originally published in the July 1997 issue of Social Work in Education, Vol. 19, pp. 164-175.

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