As I’m sure you’re aware if you’ve read any of my other articles, I’m a public school teacher. It is one of the greatest joys in my life, and I hope I get to do it until I retire. That said, the public school environment can be frustrating. For me, and I imagine for many public school teachers this time of year (budget season) is incredibly stressful. This is especially true in 2017 due to the current political climate. Typically, I consider it a fantastic budget season if my program’s budget stays the same. This year I will consider it amazing if I still have a job. In any case I always need additional STEM funding sources to keep my program strong.
With that in mind there are three reasons I think it’s wise to develop fund raising skills. First, if I can fund my program outside of my allocated budget, my ability to teach is not determined by others. Second, if I can self fund I am more valuable than someone who cannot. Third, if I can self fund I have the ability to expand my program unhindered by the political process. In short, my ability to fund my own program means that I have more freedom in my teaching practice.
Here is where most teachers I know have trouble. We know we need more equipment. Teachers know we are better teachers when we have better tools. We know that the likelihood of getting the Administration or the Board to give us more money is pretty low. Most people are terrified to even ask for money. If given an opportunity for additional funding we may not have a plan in place to utilize it. I have covered some of this in the past with posts on the Top 5 Learning Tools Wishlist, and Content Drives Technology NOT The Other Way Around.
This post is focused on how to get more money for your program. Specifically, how to do it as efficiently & painlessly as possible. Maybe some of this comes a bit more easily for me because of my sales background, but everything below is pretty painless. Additionally, some of this you are doing already, but aren’t leveraging effectively. I’m ranking the below STEM funding sources from most effective (for me) to least effective. That said, even the least effective options here are pretty great. They are in my top 5 for a reason. Above all be patient, education funding is a marathon not a sprint.
STEM Funding Sources
I have actually used all of these resources effectively in my own practice. In some cases I have gotten a lot of equipment, in some cases less equipment. To have a well equipped program you need to be able to gather large, medium, and small amounts of equipment effectively. In some cases the below sources have also led to some fairly lucrative consulting work. Where this is the case I have noted it.
1. Local & Not So Local Higher Learning Institutions
In terms of general STEM funding sources, this one is far and away my favorite way to get extra equipment for my classroom, as well as where I get most of my consulting work. At the time of this writing, STEM is incredibly in vogue. Anything having to do with Engineering, Computer Science, or Design is being studied, analyzed critiqued, and funded. Colleges, and Universities are really good at receiving grants of all sorts.
What you may not know is that part of those grants, as well as the University’s ability to receive further funding requires them to do case studies. Their case studies need to be done in classrooms. Additionally, they don’t always end up using all of the money they receive. If they don’t use all of the money they are given, they need to give it back. If you are exceptionally comfortable talking to people you can try to approach Computer Science and Engineering departments directly, but I’ve never done so.
Best Practices for Higher Ed Networking
The best way I have found to develop contacts at these places is through Professional Development. In my experience, the same departments at higher learning institutions that offer free (or even pay you to attend) PD are the departments that have grant funded projects focused schools. If you take PD through them they will approach you, or at least be willing to listen to your ideas. ALWAYS tell them about your program. Try to spend part of your breaks at PD talking about your program, and what your hopes for your program are to the presenter.
Make sure you get their contact info, and send them an email thanking them for the workshop. If they mention a project while you’re talking with them feel free to mention it in your thank you message. Ask them to keep you posted about additional PD they are teaching. Almost invariably this will lead to them eventually approaching YOU with funding opportunities.
2. Local Non Profit Educational Services Providers
As I have only taught at one school, in one specific region I am not certain that companies like this exist everywhere. I know they are pretty common in NH, and I know that the one that serves my area is fantastic. If you are unfamiliar with organizations of this type, their whole purpose is making the lives of educators better. They provide Professional Development, apply for grants. Participate in studies. Provide meeting space. Facilitate educator networking, and a whole host of other things I’m sure I’ve forgotten.
I have found this STEM funding source incredibly useful in in my Professional Development. Again, I take no cost (to me) PD that makes me a better, more informed, smarter teacher, and I get additional benefits. Developing a relationship with these types of companies has absolutely led to getting additional equipment. Lots of other organizations donate their old tech to these non profits. Oftentimes the tech they take in isn’t good for much other than recycling (or taking apart), but if they know what you’re looking for they will give it to you when they get it.
Organizations like this are also always plugged in to what grants are out there. As such, when they apply for a grant they may name your program as a participant. Additionally, once you are well known they may ask you to present a workshop. This is beneficial on many levels, but these engagements are often paid consulting jobs.
Best practices for Non Profit Networking
You may be surprised to learn that I could literally copy & paste the above best practices section, drop it here, and it would hold true. Take professional development, ideally professional development you get a stipend for taking. Take as much professional development as you can stand. During your workshop talk to the presenter, as well as the individual from the non profit who is observing the workshop. Discuss your program, your goals, and get contact info. Send a thank you email. Let them know you are always on the lookout for more PD. If they ask you what your challenges are, tell them you could use additional equipment. Above all develop a good working relationship.
3. Community Improvement Groups
Every community out there has some group or another that wants to make it better. In some cases there are many groups that want to make your community better. People involved with this STEM funding source, want to help. In my experience they believe (as most teachers do) that the school is at the heart of a community. Strong schools lead to strong communities, and strong communities have a strong school system. Community Improvement groups may not have the resources of the first two STEM funding sources, but they can usually help out somehow. Don’t limit yourself here, look at groups that work to improve arts, adult education, career training, and anything else that improves your community. Oftentimes they have grant funds available that they will not use (and as a result lose). These funds can often be re-purposed for educators with a small amount of finesse.
Best Practices for Community Improvement Networking
In the same manner that you don’t love getting asked for something out of the blue, neither do these organizations. Do some research, and see what sorts of organizations are active in your area. Approach the organizers directly, and see where they could use some help. Let them know what you do, and what your program is like so that they know what you’re doing in the classroom. In my experience they almost always have committees they want people to serve on, input about their own ideas, and participation in the programs they offer. Just like the other organizations mentioned above, once you develop a relationship with them they will likely approach you about helping your program.
4. Youth Groups & Museums
Groups such as 4H, Girl Scouts of America, Boy Scouts of America, and the Civil Air Patrol are all in this bucket as well as many others. In fact, the Civil Air Patrol has specific programs that involve Professional Development for teachers combined with equipment donations. It’s important to remember that these types of organizations are designed to help children in a wide variety of ways. Often they have special programs, and specific ways of helping that involve some paperwork, and training. Working with programs such as these is also an excellent way to get news of your program out into your community. The more excited the community is about what you’re doing, the more potential funding sources you will find.
Museums, especially Science or Children’s Museums often have educational outreach programs designed to benefit schools. They also occasionally receive grants for education, and can be an incredible resource for borrowing scientific equipment as well.
Best Practices for Engaging Youth Groups & Museums
With both of these types of STEM funding sources (as well as with the first 3), often you need to do something to receive something. Get in contact with your local organizations and volunteer to run an activity, or help out. Take any training they offer, and find out what their needs are. Do whatever you can to help. As with any other of the above sources, talk about your program. Discuss what you’re doing, and what you’d like to do. Keep in contact with them, and they will likely reach out to you with ideas about how you can help each other.
Getting funding from most organizations involves relationship building, and sharing your program. People help who they know, and who is on top of their mind. The directors of the groups may come across an opportunity to help out with an incredibly short time window. Make sure you are the person they think of first.
This crowd funding organization is specifically designed around the idea of helping teachers get the additional equipment they desperately need. I love donorschoose, they are amazing, easy to use, and relevant to your needs. They understand teachers, and are very good at helping you reach your funding goals. “If it’s so good, then why mention it last?” you may ask. Well, first let me mention that last in the top five is STILL in the top 5. Next, there are some features that make this less awesome than other STEM funding sources. First, you are largely restricted to their specific vendors. This isn’t THAT big a deal since they work with both Amazon & Best Buy, but it can be annoying. Second, you need to go to your own social network for funding. Again, not a HUGE deal but certainly worth considering.
How it works is that you come up with some items you need. You find those items from one of their vendors. Next, follow their instructions about points and shopping. Finally, follow their instructions about how you present the project on social media. When I did mine, I would post a reminder to my Facebook feed once per week. I was fully funded within a month or two. Often this is the most attainable, and approachable method for teachers to start their outside funding journey. For me that was certainly the case.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned hitting up local businesses, doing fund raisers, or applying for grants here. These are perfectly legit sources, and I encourage you to try anything you can to get outside funding. I have been at social gathering before, and struck up a conversation with someone about work. A few weeks later an Arduino showed up at my house. People want to help, you just need to talk about what you’re doing.
A Quick note about Professional Development. Without exception 100% of the avenues I have pursued for outside funding are tied in some way to the PD I attend. At every opportunity I go to literally every single free PD I can. I’m always on the look out for PD that has a stipend attached. I apply for everything, and I always say yes. When I’m at a PD (or anywhere else) I always network with other educators. I ask questions. By doing the things I mentioned here I have been able to get additional funding, and do consulting work that paid me about 10% of my salary last year. Because of my connections, my school and I have been named by a major university as part of a grant they are pursuing. If I can do it, so can you.
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