Grant Writing 101 for Language Programs

On a language list serve I subscribe to, one member recently posted about her frustrations in securing grant money for her tribe’s language program. Her post seemed to strike a chord, and a number of people responded not just with their sympathy, but with tips on what had worked for their own organizations.

If you’ve ever wondered how to write a successful language grant proposal take a look at their advice summarized below:

  • Start small. If you have not received a grant before it may be difficult securing one from a national foundation or the federal government. Get a foot in the door by securing a grant from a local foundation or your state humanities council before pursuing national funding.
  • Write with your audience in mind. Who is offering the grant? What are their objectives? There are a limited number of grants for language programs, but with some creativity you could re-brand your project as a program for at-risk youth, a jobs program for elders, or a support program for working parents.
  • Put a positive spin on things. Foundations don’t want to throw money at hopeless cases. They would rather fund programs with demonstrated success stories and clear potential for positive results in the community. Rather than focusing on the bad things that will happen without funding, talk about the successes you have had already and what you have the potential to achieve.
  • Partner with an academic. Most academics have plenty of experience writing grants to support the work they do, and chances are there are professors out there who would love to work with your tribe or tribal organization. Make certain that your interests are truly aligned and that the academic you are partnering with is trustworthy and respectful. Be sure to talk to other tribes or groups he or she has worked with to see if they are satisfied with their working relationship.
  • If you are unable to find funding, see how far you can get using the volunteered skills and resources of community members. If you are able to get people excited about what you’re doing you may be surprised by how much they can do to make the project work. Organizations fueled by widespread grassroots enthusiasm often have more of an impact than those with less local support but more funding from outside of the community. The more participation you are able to draw from community members the more successful your program is likely to be, and the more appealing it will be to potential funders down the road.
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