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Grant Writing: Is This an Option for High School Athletic Directors?

By David J. Kelley, Ph.D., CAA on May 17, 2016 hst Print

Is grant writing a feasible option for high school athletic directors? The short answer is a definitive yes. Among the majority of interscholastic athletic programs throughout the United States, the trend of decreased funding and tightening of budgets while athletic participation rates increase is a reality athletic directors cope with on a daily basis. Economic trends such as inflation, combined with conceivable budget cuts, increased competition for private sector dollars as well as foreseeable and unforeseeable financial obstacles will never go away.

Money is needed to sustain quality education-based athletic programs. The contemporary athletic administrator, therefore, must be knowledgeable, creative and resourceful in identifying and maximizing all current and potential revenue streams.

In many areas of the United States, especially in urban and rural settings, they are not often afforded the opportunities from corporate sponsorships due to their geographic location, population density and socioeconomic status. Why would a large corporation want to sponsor the athletic program of a poor rural community that is underprivileged and has a low population density? Based on experience, they don’t ordinarily. Yet, athletic participation rates, while modest in comparison to larger communities, still continue to grow in these localities. Thus, this is exactly where the notion of grant-writing comes into play.

Therefore, how does one locate and “categorize” grant opportunities? As a starting point, there are three basic groups of grants for interscholastic programs: 

  • Government granting agencies
  • Corporate granting agencies
  • Sport-related granting agencies

By logging onto the Internet and searching the U.S. Government’s Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA), there will be some sizable results. A word of caution with government grants is that the agencies won’t allow you to contact them to influence the grant evaluation process, compared to corporate or sport-related foundations. Government grantors are very explicit about the types of projects they will fund and how the application proposal should be formatted. Therefore, it is vital to follow all details of the guidelines or directions.

In general, the majority of grants, including those from the U.S. Government as well as sport-related granting agencies, accept proposals that integrate the needs of students, youth and other community members, not just athletics-only requests. In fact, proposals that address sports or athletics-only needs usually don’t get funded unless they incorporate community and/or instructional needs as well.

If new athletic equipment – or a new or renovated facility – is needed, for example, the most effective capital project grant proposals will document the usage patterns among multiple participants. This would include varsity and non-varsity female and male sports teams, school physical education classes, special education classes, intramural programs, recreation programs and youth sport programs in order to demonstrate to the granting agency the size and/or volume of the “impact” it has on the community at large.

Consequently, grants come in a variety of arrangements with variable criteria and guidelines. Being equipped with this knowledge prior to taking the time and effort to submit application proposals is a key strategy in order for your grant request to have a chance of being approved.

While a significant portion of time needs to be spent researching, locating and categorizing grant opportunities, a similar amount of time needs to be devoted to understand exactly what granting agencies and foundations are requesting. This is an important prerequisite prior to even starting the grant-writing process. In coaching sports, scouting an opponent and then preparing a game-plan in advance of the actual game is analogous to this part of grantsmanship. The locating and game-planning to secure a grant involves the who, what, where, when, why and how components:

  • Determining who specifically will be reviewing the application proposal is important. Will it be reviewed by an individual person or a team of reviewers? If it is a sport-related or corporate foundation, it’s best to make contact with an agent in order to get copies of previous proposals that were funded by the agency in order to get a sense of the desired information.
  • Make certain what exactly the agency or foundation wants in return for the funds. Money always has strings attached. Therefore, do they want basic updates on how the money is being used? Are they seeking positive publicity? Overall, be able to determine what they want out of it and make sure you have the resources to meet those terms.
  • Determine where you will obtain the necessary resources if they require it. For example, if applying for an NFL Grassroots Field Surface Grant, you will need a five-year maintenance plan. Therefore, identifying partners, volunteers, donors as well as internal and external resources is vital so you can demonstrate to the organization that their money is not being wasted. Overall, grantors like the NFL want an assurance from the school that there is a reliable “documented plan” in place to sustain the necessary upkeep for the field now and into the future.
  • Figure out when all application materials need to be submitted or when deadline dates need to be observed. Do they prefer online applications or do they require physical mailings? A postmark date is much different than an arrival or delivery deadline.
  • Research the granting agency or foundation to determine why they are offering the money. Is it based on geographic factors? Is it based on the financial demographics of the community (i.e., low-income rural, low income urban center)? Make sure you understand the eligibility requirements. It is a complete waste of time if granting agencies only consider application proposals from rural communities and you are located in an urban center and vice-versa.
  • Demonstrate to the agency or foundation how the community will understand the importance of your sport organization and support the proposed project. Consider collecting testimonials, letters of support or perhaps local media stories documenting support.

The grant-writing process can be daunting. However, by scouting and preparing a game-plan, securing a grant is a feasible option to survive in these tough economic times. These are crucial steps to take to meet your goal of being funded by the grant agency or foundation.