Getting the Grants: Boost Your Chances!
Grants help fill the funding gap at a time when dollars from
government coffers—and even some private sources—have dwindled.
IN THE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY arena, a number
of tech companies offer grants that can help advance
university research and instructional programs. That’s the
good news. Now for the bad news: Competition abounds
and only a handful of grant seekers obtain funding.
But grant writers can improve their chances. Tech foundation
executives interviewed for this column described a number
of steps institutions can take to make their application
stand out from the masses. Consider the following tactics:
Do Your Homework
A tech vendor’s grant program usually has a sweet spot or
two. It behooves the grant writer to discover those priorities
and align the grant application accordingly. Sun Microsystems, for instance, seeks proposals that
reflect the company’s investment priorities, notes Luis
Sanchez, director of Business Solutions and Strategic Programs
for Global Education and Research at Sun. “There
has to be some alignment on technology interests,” he says.
Sun’s Academic Excellence Grant Program, which
offers hardware donations, emphasizes such fields as
Web-based learning and high-performance computing.
The grants are made on a quarterly basis.
Elsewhere, Intergraph’s Education Grant Program is built around the
company’s GeoMedia geographic information system software.
The program, which grants software licenses to
awardees, requires applicants to submit a plan describing
how Intergraph technology will be implemented and, in the
case of classroom use, provide an outline of the course
that will use the software.
“The grants are very focused,” explains Shanthi Lindsey,
Intergraph’s program manager for Education. “We’re looking
for a clear understanding of how the technology
will be implemented in the classroom environment
or in research projects.”
Keep Time and Focus in Mind
Applicants should also synchronize with a grant
program’s time horizon. The NEC Foundation of
America, which concentrates
on assistive technology for people
with disabilities, focuses on near-term developments.
Sylvia Clark, the foundation’s executive
director, says her organization backs technologies
that will be ready to deploy in a year or two.
“We are not in the business of basic research,”
Clark says, noting that those proposals involving
research projects or doctoral programs receive
the quickest turndown. Successful proposals,
on the other hand, “tend to have some good
pilot work behind them,” she adds.
At the other end of the timeline, Sun’s External
Research Office co-funds university research
projects. The office seeks technology that will
have commercial implications in two to five years. Emil Sarpa, director of External Research Grants at Sun,
points out that his office d'esn’t pursue technologies on the
cusp of becoming products. Instead, the grant program
looks for deliverables such as a joint paper presented at a
conference, or a prototype.
Develop a Communications Plan
Organizations that award grants like to get progress reports
from recipients. Lora Phillips, manager of Community Relations
and Corporate Philanthropy at Symantec, says she thinks grant seekers should
mention in their applications how they intend to
keep the funding organization informed. Mechanisms
range from a quarterly newsletter to an
occasional e-mail update, she notes. The Symantec
Foundation funds education initiatives that
emphasize math, science, technology and engineering.
To find out more, head to the Symantec
Clark, at the NEC Foundation, cites ongoing
communication as a formal requirement of that
foundation’s grant program. Recipients are
required to submit a status report to the foundation
every six months until the project is complete.
Grant seekers should keep in mind that a research
proposal focused on a single discipline may fail
to get the same attention as an initiative linking
contributors from various fields. A project in the
medical area, for example, may call for the expertise
of an MD, a computer scientist, and an engineer,
Sanchez at Sun points out.
“Now, we are much more interested in looking
at some of these integrated groups,” he explains.
Applicants, he adds, “might have a better chance
of getting a grant if they are working with someone
else.” Sanchez says he sees partnering
among institutions as a growing grants trend.
Partnering can also help an institution broaden
its project’s impact. Clark points to the example of
the University of Minnesota, which is working on
an online project to create an accessible Web portal
for self-advocacy groups across the country.
The school partners with People First Minnesota,
a local self-advocacy organization, to test site
design and feature preferences.
Cut to the Chase
Put simply, grant providers prefer applications
and proposals that get to the point. Symantec’s
Phillips says some institutions preface their applications
with a discussion of who they are, what
they are doing, and why their work is important. While
those details are useful, applicants should clearly state
what they are hoping to obtain in the very first paragraph. In
fact, if Phillips had to choose the one thing that would help
a grant application, “Be very succinct and very clear about
what is actually being asked of us,” she asserts. You don’t
ask [clearly]; you don’t get.