Small Grants – FAQ


NEF Small Grants Program

Frequently Asked Questions

Dear Applicants:

NEF is responsible to its donors in seeing that grant funds are spent to maximize support to our schools and our city’s school children. NEF board members and Small Grants Committee reviewers take this responsibility very seriously. We know that you do too. Please review the following questions and answers carefully. If you have further questions, do not hesitate to contact the NEF Small Grants Committee chairperson, Dale Melcher: daleannmelcher@gmail.com, about your application.

Do I really have to answer these questions / fill out this form / type this all out / write my own budget? Can’t I just do my own thing?

The NEF exists to give away money to the Northampton public schools and goes to a great deal of effort to raise those funds every year. But there is never enough money to fund all the requests, no matter how worthy, so when we are trying to decide how to disperse the money, small details can make or break a grant. Those details include legibility, thoroughness, careful attention to the application questions, specific budget information, and suggestions about how to reduce the amount of the award, if possible, should that be necessary. Sometimes it comes down to two outstanding applications with enough money to fund only one, and more often than not, the application that is funded has answered every question on the form, provided sufficient detail, justifies the budget request, and has filed timely reports from any previous grants.

Why do budget details matter?

Every year the NEF receives 50 or more small grant applications, read by a representative review committee, and disperses about $50,000 to approximately 30-40 applicants. On a practical level, the NEF grants administrator can only disperse funds for very specific types of expenditures, and to that end, the budget has to be very clear. In addition, the clearer and more specific the budget is, the easier it is to judge the whole proposal on its merits. A good budget, for instance, allows the reviewers to see how and when the money will actually be spent and if it’s a reasonable request. It can also show off the applicant’s initiative in looking for alternative funding sources, or in finding volunteers to support the project. An application is usually stronger when it has clear, specific budget information.

Do I really have to file a report?

Yes, you really do, whether or not you are applying for a grant for a second or third year. A report gives NEF an understanding of what happened with your award – what was learned from the program, and what lessons can be applied to the future. Reports are a standard requirement from grant-making organizations who wish to learn how their dollars were used. Please think of your report as a way to brag about all the effort that went into your project, all the ways you were successful, and all the things you learned. The report form can be filled out online at the NEF website: www.northamptoneducation.org.

What is the grant application process, exactly, and how long does it take to write a grant?

No matter how much experience you have, writing a grant is not a quick process. Any thoughtful application, one that stands a good chance of being successful, can take a few weeks to put together, and longer if you’ve never written one. Pace yourself, and be sure to get help every step of the way:

  1. Come up with the idea. It may come from you, your principal, your colleagues, parents, and/or outside experts. It’s essential to study the requirements for small grant applications and make sure your idea fits the parameters. A successful grant writer uses only the most updated forms and instructions posted on the funder’s website, reads and rereads every bit of information provided by the funder pertaining to the application, and leaves a day or two to come back and review and edit their application after completion.
  1. Describe your project in sufficient detail. Answer who, what, where, when, and how questions. What exactly does the program entail? Where and when will this program take place? Be specific where possible: “Every Thursday in the spring term, from 3pm to 5pm.”
  2. How will the project be accomplished? (For example, will 10 teachers go for three training sessions? Will 100 students come every afternoon for two weeks? Will an outside expert give a one-time demonstration?) How does the project fit into existing curricula? How might the project be sustainable, once the NEF funding has finished?
  1. Be careful not to use terms that an educator would understand but a layperson would not. The volunteers serving on the review committee have a variety of professional expertise, including non-profit work, grant-writing, journalism, business, and other areas. They may or may not include educators who understand abbreviations and acronyms related to the public education system.
  1. Make sure your principal has read and approved your application. Lack of approval disqualifies an application.
  1. Write the grant application using the fillable form on our website, northamptoneducation.org, fully answering each question.
  1. Finalize the budget. Budget information is requested at the end of the online application form. There is room for notes if any of the budget details cannot be made clear on the budget form, and/or if there are other people or organizations that will also be supporting your project through funding, volunteer activities, donations, etc.
  1. Reread your application. Make sure you have attached all requested information, such as resumes from outside consultants, and any visual aids (a drawing, a photo, etc.) that might help the reviewers understand your proposal.
  1. Print a copy for yourself and submit the appropriate materials to NEF by the required deadline.
  1. When the grant has been awarded, write the due date for the report in your calendar and be sure to send it to NEF on time.
  1. If you apply for a second or third year, be sure to include the report in your application, unless you are mid-project when requesting a second or third year of funding.

Yikes, I’m a teacher, not a grant-writer. Can someone help me with this application?

NEF realizes that grant applicants are not likely to have extensive grant-writing experience, and that teachers do not have much extra time to devote to such exercises. We have worked to simplify the grant application and do not expect highly polished applications. That said, we do favor applications that are attentive to our stated requirements and responsive to the questions. Members of the Small Grants Review Committee are available if you have questions about the application process. However, no member of the NEF or Small Grants Review Committee can review a specific application, in whole or part, prior to submission. If you’d like someone to read and comment on your application, think about asking colleagues or students’ parents who might have experience in this area.

In general, why isn’t a grant funded?

Every foundation is held to specific legal and fiduciary requirements on how they disperse money to grant applicants. NEF grants will not pay solely for materials, for instance. We only award funds for applications that have at least one teacher sponsor and are approved

by the principal. Sometimes the committee wants to fund a portion of the request, but the applicant has made it clear the budget cannot be cut in any way. Occasionally the application isn’t complete or is so poorly filled out the reviewers have trouble understanding what exactly would be funded. Here are some other reasons applications have not been successful:

  • The application did not adhere to stated guidelines.
  • It was unclear how the project would be implemented.
  • The target population affected was very small or in some way inappropriate.
  • The project did not show creativity.
  • The educational objectives were not clearly explained.

What are the deadlines?

Fall Cycle Deadline: Mid-October. Grants awarded in this cycle fund projects to be completed between December 1 and June 30 of the following calendar year.

Spring Cycle Deadline: Mid-April. Grants awarded in this cycle fund projects to be completed between July 1 and June 30 of the following school year.

Be sure to check the website for specific dates in case they deviate from this. Requests for grant disbursement for both of these grant periods must be submitted by August 15th. Final reports for all grants must also be submitted by August 15th.

How big are the awards?

The maximum is $3000. You may apply for a second and third year of funding, for a maximum of $3000 for each year. Grants submitted jointly and involving a collaboration by two or more schools (e.g. a project involving JFK Middle School and Leeds Elementary School) will be eligible for up to $5000/year. Please note: a program being offered at more than one school but not involving a collaboration between or among the schools would not qualify for the larger grant..

What are your criteria for awarding a grant?

Proposals should describe projects that will benefit the students and/or educators of the Northampton School District. Grant applications are accepted from teachers and administrators in the Northampton public school system and from Smith Vocational School. If sponsored by a teacher or administrator, projects may be initiated by parents, community members, students and/or local organizations and undertaken in collaboration with a teacher or administrator.

Proposals should represent ideas and approaches for achieving the Northampton School District’s general curricular goals. However, project proposals should not include activities that fall under the district’s direct responsibility.

The overall goal of the small grants is to improve student learning or the student experience in the schools. This can be achieved through: 1) new programs, projects, or activities in a classroom, school, or as a field trip; 2) teaching skills in content areas not normally taught by the schools; 3) creating profession development programs or opportunities for teachers; or 4) preparing new materials and curriculum.

Although not required, projects are considered stronger that: 1) enhance links within the school, across schools, and/or with the schools and the larger community; 2) have an impact that will last beyond the time period that the grant is being funded; 3) offer something new, exciting, innovative, fresh, and/or creative to the learning process and/or the student experience; and/or 4) meets an important need or solves a particular problem that needs to addressed in the schools.

What we do not fund: The Northampton Education Foundation, under this grant program, will not fund proposals that are exclusively requests for books or materials, technology upgrades, or teacher or in-service training. These types of expenses, however, may be incurred when they are a critical part of a proposed new or expanding project that enhances teaching and learning. Please contact the chair of the NEF Small Grants Committee if you have questions.

If consultants are used, their resumes or Curriculum Vitae must be attached to the proposal.

When will I hear if my project will be funded?

Small Grants awards are generally made within two months of the grant application deadline. All those who have submitted an application will be notified by email to the lead contact on their cover sheet. Each principal receives a letter of notification of all the Small Grants awarded to their school. The winning grants are also presented at a school committee meeting and sent to the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Springfield Republican with a request for publication.

When and how are the funds dispersed?

Information about how to request reimbursement for grant expenses are contained in the grant package, which will be sent to the lead contact on the application with the award notification.