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Grant Writing 101

Matt Simon

Student members share their secrets for building their chapters and helping the community—and getting someone else to foot the bill. 

Jess Halstead knows grants. She’s written two successful ones in the past two years. Last summer she even conducted a workshop on grant writing for NEA Student leaders. And she did it all when she was a college student herself.

By tapping into grants offered by NEA and other sources, Student members like Halstead have increased chapter membership and organized valuable community outreach events.

Moreover, as accomplished grant writers, these aspiring educators have developed skills they can use to help students and improve classrooms throughout their careers. And the best news? You can do it too.

“Writing a grant is not hard,” says Halstead, a December graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “There are important things about grants that you need to know, but with help from an advisor or other faculty member, and by relying on NEA guidelines and materials from your state affiliate, any student can write a successful grant.”

In addition to receiving a Community Learning through America’s Schools (CLASS) grant, Halstead’s chapter secured two NEA Student Organizing and Assistance Resources (SOAR) grants. Halstead and her peers used the SOAR grants to educate predominantly minority students from the Milwaukee Public Schools about the opportunities available to enter the teaching profession. Without the $4,200 in grant funding, the project might not have happened.

“You can’t underestimate how much these grants help the chapter and the younger students we assist,” says Halstead. “In Milwaukee, many of our high school students ended up excited about pursuing teaching as a career. They had previously ruled it out simply because they were unaware of the financial aid available. “There’s just no feeling as good as helping the community through your chapter.”

And helping the community feels even better when someone helps you with the financing.

“I received a grant the first time I filled out an application,” says Tyler Duff, past president of the NEA Student chapter at Indiana University-Purdue University, Columbus. “It’s not so hard, but you need to invest time and be thorough.”

That means detailing every aspect of your project from the number of participants to the type of supplies or transportation you’ll need and other expenses you may incur, Duff says. But the effort can have quite a payoff. Duff’s chapter received a $1,000 CLASS grant thanks to the application he submitted. His chapter partnered with 20 other Student chapters in Indiana to renovate an elementary school, and about 250 college students spent a rainy spring day painting, landscaping, and completing other necessary repairs.

“If you can provide a clear statement of your financial need, and make a persuasive case that your project will benefit the chapter and the community, you’ll be a strong candidate for a grant,” says Duff. “And if you don’t get your first one, apply for another. Someone will say ‘yes’ if you keep at it.”

Katy Cook, past Student chairperson for Oklahoma and former chapter president of Langston University, also wrote a successful CLASS grant proposal that earned her chapter, and 23 others, $900. The grant paid for transportation and supplies needed to renovate an elementary school. It also helped the chapter solicit additional donations from the community. By timing the event to coincide with NEA’s Read Across America, and by partnering with a state “Books for Tots” program—which an NEA grant also helped start—Cook’s chapter provided 500 donated books to the kids at the newly renovated school as well.

“Words can’t describe how much that grant helped,” says Cook. “This never would have happened without it. And now, we’re hearing that the elementary school students are taking their work more seriously since we renovated the school. The community definitely feels an impact from our effort. And our own members have more pride in our chapter.” 


Need cash for your chapter? Then apply for an NEA SOAR (Student Organizing and Assistance Resources) or a CLASS (Community Learning through America’s Schools) grant. SOAR grants recognize NEA locals and state affiliates for their recruitment of Student members. Projects focus on minority teacher recruitment, urban college and university recruitment, community college recruitment, and high school future educator programs. Student locals working with UniServ units receive priority consideration.

CLASS grants, meanwhile, fund outreach projects that address a specific community need and involve an NEA Student Program chapter and a preK-12 teacher, education support professional, higher education, or retired affiliate. Want more info? Contact the NEA Student Program at 202-822-7130.

How To Be A Grant-Writing Guru

  • Seek advice from individuals who have written grants. Consult printed and online reference material, including NEA materials available from your state Association.
  • Don’t be too creative in your grant writing. Follow tried-and-true formulas. But do be creative in developing your project. Consult chapter members to identify a project that will serve your chapter, meet the needs of the community, and mobilize members.
  • Detail every expense related to your project in your proposal. You may want to use a spreadsheet to organize your data.
  • Include in your proposal examples of ways your chapter has served the community or its own members in the past. Explain how your current project will build on that success.
  • Plan ahead, but keep your project flexible so you can incorporate a few contingency plans. Arrangements with schools, organizations, and other chapters may change.
  • Apply early. Money available for a given year may be awarded to worthy applicants early on, leaving little or nothing for projects submitted at deadline time. Plus, the selection process and distribution of funds take time, which you should factor in your schedule.
  • Don’t be discouraged if a grant proposal gets rejected. Apply again and again. Someone will say yes.


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