9 Steps to Writing Successful Library Grants

Women writing grantIn a perfect world, your library budget would provide you with the funding you need to make the updates your library and your community deserve. But in reality, library budgets, staff and resources are often stretched thin, forcing you to seek other funding sources for your projects.

The good news is there are funds available in the form of grants. If you’ve never written a grant before, it may seem like a daunting task. But I’m here to tell you that you — yes, you — can write a winning grant proposal and get the dollars your library deserves to fund your projects.

It’s easy to think of all types of excuses for not going after grants, but guess what? I’m going to show you ways to work your way out of all those excuses! Start with the following tips, and view my complete webinar on the topic, Anyone Can Write a Grant.

Forget the Excuses

  • I Can’t Afford a Grant Writer and Don’t Have Time to Do It Myself
    The best part of this one is—you don’t have to! You can bring together community and staff members to form a team to put the grant proposal together. Begin by thinking about the diverse talents of your staff and community members and how you can tap into them. When you break grant-writing down into smaller tasks assigned to members of a team, it becomes less-formidable and easier to accomplish.
  • Nobody Will Give Us Money
    When you research what funding organizations want to support and grants they’ve awarded in the past, you will find that they match up closely with the mission of your library: building early reading skills, providing employment and citizenship assistance, etc. There are many grants out there that support these types of services, and they’re just waiting for you to go after them.
  • I’m Not a Good Writer
    Writing a grant proposal requires more than writing, and that’s why you need to bring in various skill sets. Even if your writing skills are not up to par, you might be great at project management and be the right person to oversee the entire project. Or you might be the team member who focuses on the budget.If you have a great writer or editor on your team, but you’re closest to the information, write out a rough draft or an outline with key points and let your writer finesse the final draft.
  • It’s Too Complicated
    Just like anything new, grant writing might seem complicated. But you’re already on your way to making it less complicated by educating yourself and gaining tips from experts. Grant writing is a process that can be learned, and, just like anything, it will get easier with practice. The ultimate reward is that your library will benefit from your hard work.

Break Grant Writing Down into Steps

1. Educate Yourself

Find online or print resources about grant writing, or ask a local grant writer for tips. You may even want to volunteer with your state library association to review grant applications. This will help you get a feel for what a winning application looks like and understand how grants get graded.

2. Gather Your Team

Assess your resources and their skill sets. You’ll want someone who’s a big-picture thinker, someone who’s good with numbers, and someone who can write clear and compelling copy. If each member of the team has only a portion of the work that matches his or her skill set, no one should feel overwhelmed. Tap into your own staff, and don’t be afraid to seek volunteers with grant-writing skills through volunteer job postings. You’ll be surprised how many people will be willing to help.

3. Set Your Goals

Instead of browsing grants first and writing your proposal to fit the grant, begin by evaluating your library’s and your community’s needs. Is there an issue in your community that could be resolved or benefit from a program or resource your library could implement? Perhaps you have a large non-English-speaking population, high unemployment or low school-readiness scores. Make sure you are picking a need that has a broad impact, not something that will serve only a handful of people.

4. Identify Problem, Solution, and Opportunity

Once you’ve identified the problem, start gathering data to back it up. Then figure out the solution to that problem. For instance, if you have large unemployment rates, a helpful solution would be job training services. Then identify the opportunity for your library. The opportunity for the library in this example is to open a career center that hosts programs, speakers, and interview and résumé-writing workshops.

5. Think about Other Organizations that Share Your Goal

These might be your local schools, government, human services organizations or nonprofits. Approach them to partner with you — bring them onto your team and involve them going forward. This will broaden your reach. Be sure to include this partnership information in your grant.

You can get organizations to partner with you in different ways. They don’t necessarily have to be on your grant-writing team. Perhaps you can work out a partnership where they help promote your services or plan a series of workshops together. In the career center example above, you could partner with an organization that provides free business clothing for interviews.

6. Set Your Timeline

There are usually timelines and calendar requirements for each individual funder. Start with a realistic big-picture timeline, and tweak it for each funding source that you apply for. Be careful that you are always setting realistic deadlines, and make sure you have someone on your team whose job it is to keep the project on track to hit them.

7. Know Your Budget

Here’s where that team member who’s good with numbers comes in. Follow the specific guidelines each funder requires for outlining your budget. Some might require that a portion of the money be matched by your library budget. It’s very important that you follow the guidelines, as not doing so drastically lowers the possibility that you’ll be awarded the grant.

Provide an appendix to your budget that defines specific products you plan to purchase and their costs so that the funder can see the breakdown and realistic estimates of how the money will be spent.

8. State Clear Objectives

Your objectives need to be very clear. You need to state your problem and articulate the data that supports it. Then, you’ll want to be able to describe your proposed solution and your plan to address the problem. Be prepared to explicitly state your expected impact on the problem — these will be the objectives you outline in the grant application.

Think about the following:

  • What steps have you taken already?
  • How can you show that you’ve already taken initiative to get the program running in small ways or that you have a successful program that you could scale with the right space and equipment?
  • What do you believe you can accomplish by implementing your plan using the grant money?
  • How will you measure the results once the plan is in place?
  • How will you know you’ve achieved your objectives?

Take the time to do some research and educate yourself and your team as to what exactly an objective is and how it should be written, as unclear objectives are a common problem in grant proposals. There’s plenty of information on the Internet, including this concise description.

9. Plan for Future Reporting

Most likely, you’ll have to do quarterly or monthly reporting once you’ve been awarded the money and have put your plan into place. Don’t be afraid of the reporting — remember, you’ve already found an expert on your team who can help you with this! You can plan for your success by making sure your objectives are achievable and leave you lots of opportunities for success.

Along with the quantitative measurements you’ll likely be asked to include in your follow-up reports, you’ll also want to incorporate stories from community members who used your services. Decide on a way to capture those stories beforehand so you are ready to do so when reporting time comes.

Let’s Partner to Create Engaging Library Spaces

You’re ready to make those important updates that bring your library into the 21st century, but you want to make the best choices for your community. Contact a Demco interiors specialist for a free consultation to help you maximize your new or renovated space.

Where to Find Grants

Now that you’re ready to write a grant, you’re probably wondering exactly where to look for them! A great starting point is your state library. They often have Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds that are administered based on IMLS guidelines. The Foundation Center is another place to check for grants relating to numerous initiatives. They identify funds available for a wide variety of initiatives. Demco also offers a free Library and Education Grants Search Tool that you can use to search for state and federal grants.

Keep in mind that you might just find willing funders in your own community. Check with businesses, other organizations, and even family foundations. Do some research in your local paper to see what other programs or projects received financial support recently.

You may need to search all these sources often. New grants become available on a continual basis, so just because there isn’t a grant available today that fits the scope of your needs, it doesn’t mean there won’t be something next week or next month.

What to Do After You Submit Your Proposal

After you go through all these steps and submit your proposal, please don’t be discouraged if you are not awarded the grant. Your efforts were not wasted. You can repurpose (with a few tweaks) your proposal for as many funding opportunities as you can find that fit your objectives.

If you are awarded a grant, first congratulate and give credit to everyone on your team! Then make sure you continue to nurture the relationships with your funders, agents, or the funding family. Most often they’ll want to deal directly with the library director. They might want to come to your library — they like to see the customers they will be helping and meet the staff members with whom they will be working.

Make the extra effort, especially if your funder is local, to send a handwritten note or take them out for coffee. This helps solidify your relationship and build trust and confidence in you and your library, and it shows them their money is going to be put to good use.

It is also critical that you make sure your reports are complete and always turned in on time. Remember, you’re building a positive relationship with this funder. You just might want to go back to them sometime and apply for something else.

Finally, share the news of your success as far and wide as you can. And always be sure to give equal credit for your project’s success to the funder — they need good publicity, too.

By doing your research, building a team and putting these tips to good use, you can write a successful grant proposal that gets your important library projects funded!


Catherine Hakala-Ausperk

Catherine Hakala-Ausperk

Catherine Hakala-Ausperk is a 31-year public library veteran, with experience in everything from direct customer service to management and administration. Now an active library planner, speaker and trainer, she is also the author of Be a Great Boss: One Year to Success (ALA, 2011), Build a Great Team: One Year to Success (ALA, 2013), and the upcoming Renew Yourself! A Six-Step Plan for More Meaningful Work (ALA, January 2017). Hakala-Ausperk also teaches for Kent State University's School of Library and Information Science, the American Library Association's Certified Public Library Administrator Program (CPLA), InfoPeople and more. She also writes Demco's Library Advice blog. As the owner of Libraries Thrive Consulting, Hakala-Ausperk helps libraries create exciting strategic plans, she keynotes and presents at conferences and she facilitates workshops and academies around the country. Catherine's passion is for supporting, coaching and developing great libraries, successful team members, and – especially – strong and effective library leaders.
Catherine Hakala-Ausperk

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