Community College Blog

Make winning grants your New Year’s resolution


Meacie Fairfax

For many, applying for grant funding can be as difficult as keeping our New Year resolutions. A recent NBC News segment reported that only 8 percent of Americans will achieve their resolutions this year. So, if you’ve resolved to win more grants, how can you beat the odds?

Not just the usual suspects…

The first step to winning a grant is to understand the players. The Department of Education, state governments, and major private foundations like the Gates and Lumina unsurprisingly round out the list of the most influential and generous funders for 2017. However, besides the usual suspects, emerging players and new entrants like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, JP Morgan Global Philanthropy, and The James Irvine Foundation are expanding the pool of funding opportunities with new investments in postsecondary success. EAB’s grant funding research shows that there are three keys to successful applications: scalability, replicability, and sustainability. Work towards your resolution by demonstrating these points.

Berkshire Community College leaders successfully secured Title III funding in 2015 by focusing on scalability. The college cited fragmented student services and undefined academic pathways as a major challenge, and identified EAB’s Navigate platform as the ideal technology to support, retain, and graduate more students. An award of $1.9 million over five years sets the institution up for long-term success.

Create social currency

Build and create partnerships at your institution to become resource rich. If you haven’t, start beefing up and broadening your partnerships with regional education institutions and employers in 2017 to move to the next frontier of student success: guided pathways from community college to transfer and career. The right partnerships can provide solutions to long-fought challenges such as low college enrollment, persistence, and graduation.

High school partnerships are a substantial way to deepen local relationships and increase enrollment. Thomas Nelson Community College utilized an EAB best practice, One-Stop Caravans to strengthen an existing partnership. Student services staff from registration, financial aid, advising, and admissions regularly visit 25 school districts providing guidance to prospective students from testing to career pathing. The result, a three percent increase in enrollment within the first year.

Related read: Turn high school partnerships into college enrollments

Clear vision + Data = Outcomes

The key to winning grants is articulating your institution’s top challenges and how the grant funds will address the stated grant priority. Many applications falter here, which leaves reviewers trying to connect the dots on their own. Avoiding this trap is possible, it just requires research. Log on to the Department of Education website, review the Gates Foundation’s Twitter page, or tune into our webconference next week to learn what topics are top-of-mind for your targeted funders list.

If you have relationships, set up meetings to learn more about their priorities, and share details about your institution’s work. If you are building from the ground up, get in the game by viewing your proposal from the perspective of the funder and reaching out to the program officer with questions. Funders appreciate inquiries prior to a submission; it saves them time, energy, and money.

Speak to your institutions’ strengths and be prepared to demonstrate how your proposed project will create impact. This sounds simple enough, but practice makes perfect. Think about taking what you are doing well and expand upon it. Above all, make the data and content convincing, clear, and measurable. Data breeds instant credibility and relays your ability to measure outcomes.

Divide the task, multiply the success

Most community college leaders and staff members juggle many more responsibilities than their job titles suggest. Oftentimes, this means individuals are unable to help with grant applications simply due to capacity and workload constraints. This New Year, think creatively about getting staff involved. Consider providing incentives for faculty and staff to support grant application submissions by writing selected sections or participating in early brainstorming meetings to create fundable grant proposals.

EAB research found one small Mid-Atlantic college that provided early financial incentives to faculty who prioritized grant efforts within the academic units and the foundation, which in turn increased the number of grant submissions and awards. Of course, faculty shouldn’t work in a silo; grant writing support staff can and should provide one-on-one writing and editorial support to ensure all applications are up to standard before submitting.

Learn more on faculty grant writing incentive and support programs

Accelerating innovation

Community colleges struggle to do more with less. However, as two-year colleges are pulled into the national spotlight by free college tuition proposals and workforce development initiatives, their ability to access funds for campus innovation is on the rise. By understanding funders’ priorities, honing partnerships, articulating a clear vision, and assembling a highly motivated team, the odds of securing funding are in your favor. The beginning of a new year often brings more hopes than plans, which typically means failed resolutions. Not this year.



2017 Community College Grant Funding Outlook

Join us on Thursday, January 26th for a special webconference to review federal, state, and private grant initiatives such as First in the World, Innovation for Completion Fund, and Title III. Participants will also learn about upcoming deadlines, trends, and stand out in an increasingly competitive grant application pool.

Register now


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