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Northampton Education Foundation
P.O. Box 299, Northampton, MA  01061
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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 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 about your application.

Do I really have to answer all these questions / fill out this form / type this all out / write my own budget? Can’t I just do my own thing?
In theory, yes. The NEF exists to give away money to the Northampton public schools, which it really wants to do, and loves to do, and it goes to a great deal of effort to raise those funds every year. But here’s the deal: 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, has the proper signatures on the front page, justifies the budget request, and has filed timely reports from any previous grants.

Why do all these details matter? Why do you care how the budget is filled out, for instance?
Every year the NEF receives as many as 50 or 60 small grant applications, read by a dozen people on the review committee, and disperses about $40,000 to approximately 30 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.

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. An experienced grantwriter 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.

2. Describe your project in sufficient detail. Answer who, what, where, when, and how questions.

  • Who will be running this program and who will be affected.
  • What exactly does the program entail? What will good results look like, for teachers and students, and for the greater community, if applicable? What is the pedagogical reasoning behind it?
  • Where and when will this program take place? Be specific where possible: “Every Thursday in the spring term, from 3pm to 5pm.”
  • 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 is the project sustainable, once the NEF funding has finished?

Repetition to fill the application pages is not helpful, but details about what you expect to do is. Be careful not to shorthand answers in a way 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, grantwriting, journalism, business, and other areas. They may or may not include educators who understand abbreviations and acronyms related to the public education system.

3. Make sure your principal is on board with your application and signs the cover page where indicated. An application that does not have this signature will not be considered.

4. Write the grant application using the NEF form on our website and paying attention to every detail.

5. Finalize the budget, again, using the NEF form, and paying attention to every detail. Attach budget 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.

6. Reread your application. Make sure you have attached all requested parts, including the budget and resumes from outside experts, and any visual aids (a drawing, a photo, etc.) that might help the reviewers understand your proposal.

7. Get the appropriate signatures.

8. Make a copy for yourself and submit the appropriate materials to NEF by the required deadline.

9. 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.

10. If you apply for a second or third year, be sure to include the report in your application.

Yikes, I’m a teacher, not a grantwriter. Can someone help me with this application?
NEF realizes that grant applicants are not likely to have extensive grantwriting experience, and that teachers do not have much extra time to devote to such exercises. We 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 signed off on 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
  • the project did not involve collaboration

What are the deadlines?
Fall Cycle Deadline: The third Friday in October. Grants awarded in this cycle fund projects to be completed between January 1 and June 30 of the following calendar year.
Spring Cycle Deadline: The Monday before spring break in 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 $2,000 for the first year, $2,000 for the second year, and $1,000 (half the amount of the Year 2 award) for the third year.

What are your criteria for awarding a grant?
NEF projects supplement existing educational programs in Northampton public schools. NEF seeks to fund innovation, creativity, collaboration, broad ranges of recipients, and sustainability. It aims to fund programs outside the purview of the school department, but within the goals of the school district. It looks for promising programs and approaches that strengthen student learning and the student experience, the enhancement of teaching, professional development programs, and the development of new materials. While grant monies may be used to pay costs such as stipends for teachers, travel, and books and tuition, as it enhances the teaching and learning aspects of the proposal, it will not fund proposals that are exclusively requests for books or materials, or teacher training, or technology upgrades. We will not fund a request for library books with the Small Grants Program for instance, but we might fund a reading program that includes the purchase of books. (Incidentally, funding for books for a school library falls under NEF’s SOS program. Please see here for more info)

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 a mailing 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 announced 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.


Last Updated: August 5, 2010