Ten Tips for Library Grants

Stephanie Gerding, grants expert and an author of the best selling book, Winning Grants: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians from ALA Editions, is teaching an updated version of her popular Infopeople course, Library Grants 101.grant process cycle

As a course preview, Stephanie shared her top ten tips for library grants with us!

  1. Plan Ahead
    Strategic plans are a grant writing time saver and a key to success! There are two major reasons to have a strategic plan. The first is to best serve your community. The second reason is that funders like plans (and some require them). The main components for grant proposals and the inspiration for grant projects are easily found in a well developed strategic plan.  Libraries with plans have much greater prospects for a successful future and are able to contribute to their community’s biggest aspirations, which is what funders are striving for as well. Strategic planning is about being proactive, rather than reactive…not responding to the RFPs, but starting with your library’s mission and vision to create the desired future based on the true needs of your community members. It is important to know what you want to accomplish and who will be helped.
  2. Focus on the People
    Your proposal should tell the story of the people that will be helped. It is never about the “stuff” you will get (money, technology, buildings, etc.) but about the people. Funders want to help people, not buy things. In library work, we are passionate about what we do and we change people’s lives every day through our programs and services. Make it clear to the funder how your library grant project will impact your community members.
  3. Share Your Grant Goals
    Tell everyone you know that you are looking for a grant and discuss your grant project. Make sure your library staff, board members, and volunteers know about your grant goals and can talk about them as well. You never know where a great contact might come from or who might know of a great opportunity.
  4. Develop Relationships
    Funders aren’t ATMs, they are real people, just like you and me (really! I’ve been on the funder side of things!). Contact potential funders to clarify your questions, discuss your project, and determine their interest in your project. Develop relationships with the contact people. If your project is not a match with a particular funder, ask if they know of other potential funders who would be a better match.
  5. Find Library Grant Opportunities
    I started a shortcut to finding library grants on a free website that I have co-authored since 2005 (librarygrants.blogspot.com). I include the deadline, a brief description, and a link to more information. To save you time in your grant seeking, I verify with every grant opportunity that libraries of some type are eligible to apply. In the Infopeople course, I share my top funders for library grants plus another big tip for finding grant opportunities.
  6. Demonstrate Impact
    Build evaluation into your grant planning so that you can demonstrate impact to your funders and to your community. Evaluation of grant projects can help demonstrate how your library supports your community infrastructure and your community’s future.
  7. Save the Best for Last
    The most important part of your grant proposal may be the proposal abstract or summary as it serves as the first impression and can be critical to the success of the proposal. It may be carefully scrutinized to determine if the rest of the proposal should even be considered, so it needs to be able to stand on its own. Even though it is often the first section of a proposal, it should be written last to make sure it contains all elements of your grant proposal.
  8. Balance Facts with Emotional Appeal
    Decisions to give (like most human decisions) are emotional. Facts by themselves are not persuasive, and do not motivate people to give. Provide fact-based, verifiable data, but include the passion you feel for the people you serve. But don’t be afraid to include emotion with your facts and data. After all, you are communicating with people you share values with and you want to persuade them to champion your project while fulfilling their cause. Tell the story of the people who will be helped.
  9. Follow the Guidelines
    When completing grant proposals or award applications, follow the guidelines explicitly and answer all the questions. Make it easy for the grant reviewer to find the information requested by following the same format and headings as the application, and your proposal will be easier to read. The reviewer may have hundreds of applications to read, so don’t let yours be disqualified due to a technicality.
  10. Be Positive
    A positive attitude yields positive results. Some libraries get so mired down by budget, staff, and/or space shortages that their grant applications seem like an airing of grievances rather than evidence of needs with plans for creative solutions. Although you need to demonstrate the reasons your library requires the funding, make sure that the application’s overall message is encouraging and perhaps even inspirational. The funder has a vision how they can help make the world a better place, and your library has the means to help fulfill their vision. Remember to be grateful to the funder, and to all the staff that support the grant. When you’ve received funding, celebrate any success and always give recognition where it is due.

Stephanie adds, “Libraries do change lives, and we need to make sure that funders and supporters know that libraries positively impact communities. There is a saying that luck—and success—is what occurs when preparation meets opportunity. No one is ever 100 percent successful, but libraries have a lot of advantages in the grant world, so keep writing those grants!”

Information and registration for the course are at https://infopeople.org/civicrm/event/info?id=792&reset=1.

Grant Projects: Learn from Others

In her upcoming Infopeople course Library Grants 101, Stephanie Gerding discusses the value of learning from others as you approach grant projects:

As you are planning your project, investigate similar projects, besgerdingt practices, and lessons learned by others. Make sure you are not duplicating work that has already been done. Contact managers of similar projects and ask them about their experiences and what they have learned. Include this information in your grant proposal to show the funder that you are well informed about what has already been done in the field and that you are knowledgeable about best practices. You may want to build on and extend the work of other projects. Your partners might also have good ideas to contribute.

Gerding’s books, Winning Grants and Grants for Libraries, include grant success stories from libraries across the country. Here are a few examples:

  • The Glendale Public Library received a LSTA grant from the Arizona State Library that included funding for state-of-the-art listening wands for a walking tour of their xeriscape botanical gardens. (Grants for Libraries, p.164)
  • The Laurelton Branch Library of Queens Borough Public Library in New York received a laptop computer lab as part of its Youth Empowerment Initiative, part of a larger, three-year project funded by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services for $470,000. (Grants for Libraries, p. 170)
  • In Maine, Lawrence Junior High Library’s grant project included video journalism, which involved eighth graders creating an informative historical DVD to share with other libraries and students. The $3,500 grant was from the Coburn Classical Institute. (Grants for Libraries, p. 184)
  • Northeastern University Libraries received more than $20,000 for a LSTA grant project for adaptive technology to better serve community members with disabilities. (Grants for Libraries, p. 186)
  • The Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library at the University of Utah received a $450,000 grant for digitizing of materials related to Neuro-Ophthalmology from the National Library of Medicine. (Grants for Libraries, p. 192)

Have a grant project in mind? Have you reached out to others to ask about their experiences? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

Participants in Gerding’s upcoming course will learn about grant work from start to finish, starting with finding the best funding sources and grant opportunities for your library through planning and writing grant proposals. Registration is now open at https://infopeople.org/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=543!