How to Complete a Technology Grant
I am often asked about the technology grants that I have been awarded throughout my career—about $725,000. Writing grants is challenging. Completing grants is rewarding. Spending lots of money is exciting.
One of the great things about technology grant awards is that by the time you receive your funds, the technology you have specified has either enhanced or cheapened in price. In my first technology grant, I had $20,000 set aside for wireless access in a few large lecture halls—yes, this was some time ago. By the time I received the funding, the price of wireless access points (WAPs) had dropped so significantly that I was able to work with my IT colleague to cover just about the rest of the entire campus beyond my rooms listed in the grant.
Projects like this require substantial work from a dedicated group who has a clear vision. It is vital that an interested group be formed with an idea of a strong project with cross-departmental support prior to the application of any particular grant. Without each of these qualities, a foundation to any project, your grant opportunities will lessen. I recommend inviting colleagues from IT, other departments inside and outside of your division, institutional research, and the library.
In researching available technology grants, it is quite useful to seek the expertise of the institution’s library and institutional research (IR) offices. These offices can assist in finding available grants and ensuring submitted documents are correct. IR also will most likely need to approve grant applications submitted by the institution. While working with IR prior to the application, the work group should focus on the type of grant to apply for. There are many types of grants, but the most usual, listed by order of magnitude, are:
- Local Institutional Grants: Usually low in award amounts, these grants are typically limited in scope to a department or program on campus.
- Association Grants: Often offered to encourage the development of a study or cross-institution collaborative projects under a particular practice or initiative.
- State Grants: Much like association grants, state grants look for collaboration across institution types.
- Federal Grants: Usually high funding for multiple-institution, multiple-year projects.
Keep these in mind as you read through grant request for proposal (RFP) documents. In first grant writing attempts, it might be worthwhile to apply for lower funding opportunities. Look to whom will own the findings; most often these are shared, but not always. Decide early on if you are looking for a grant to fund equipment investments, to offer stipends to participants, or both, as this decision may change how you work internally, especially across institutions. I have found with equipment funding, the only tracking besides your research is inventory. Offering stipends, while a great incentive, often leads to much more administrative oversight and management—understandably so. You will need to check with IR to see if there are any human subjects paperwork or oversight required with including individuals in your research and the payment of stipends.
Once a grant application has been determined, follow the procedures as closely as possible and ensure that you are explicit in your research and assessment instruments, clear in local responsibilities, and stick to internal timelines. Whether the grant has a review board or an individual reviewer, it will be rejected if everything is not correct and a lot of time will have been wasted on both sides. Again, your IR will be able to assist. Within the grant, there may be an in-kind contribution from the institution(s) as well; this will be a locally funded percentage of the grant. At times, it is possible to claim computers, office spaces, and the like used in the grant process as in-kind contributions; however, and for the most part, these usually do not count. This is especially true of state grants applied for by state agencies, as these equipment items have already been purchased with state money. The local institution may require a percentage of the funding, if granted, when a local account is made to cover local costs of managing the awarded grant. My institution receives 35%.
In my experience, grant applications are already preformatted by the granting agency. The documents may be Microsoft Word or fillable Adobe PDF files where the structure is laid out in a manner that leads you through the process of writing, addressing particular requirements of the grant, and grant criteria specified either within the RFP or self-expressed in the application submittal.
A primary investigator (PI) (or several) will need to be determined for the application and your institution. This person (or persons) serves as the lead for all things related to this grant, including the responsible party for the local grant account and reporting deadlines. In some grants, because of the additional work involved for the PI, a stipend is allowed from a percentage of the award—usually 5–10% but can be specified otherwise. For cross-institution projects, I recommend listing a PI from each participating institution to divide responsibilities and ownership.
In the case you are not awarded the grant, have a Plan B. Do not let a good project fail because of initial lack of funding.
When you do receive a grant, your post-application work begins, first by connecting with your IR and finance departments—generally they will have been notified already, but be proactive—as well as your PR department; they love this stuff. If the granting agency supplied you with a press release, ensure PR receives a copy of it. If you do not have an IT representative on your team already, invite them to participate.
In meetings, which should be frequent, document as much information as you can to use in required reports and assessments. If you can, have something to show, because people are generally visual and having tangible items to share with colleagues and supervisors is an enormous help in explaining your project, getting additional buy-in, and justifying time. There may be times when you have to remind people that although the grant was awarded, you still actually have to complete it.
Some grant timelines are a few months while others could be multiple years. I also recommend formal presentations at your institutions at each grant timeline milestone to give interested colleagues an update on your progress and an opportunity to receive additional insights into your project from those not involved. This can be very helpful for your team and may also lead to additional grant, presentation, or publishing opportunities down the road. At the very least, these feedbacks will help you hone reports, because if your colleagues do not understand your presentation, it is likely neither will the grant reviewers.
Run your grant, whatever this means for you. Keep it timely, alive, and aligned with requirements. Once your project is finished, share your experiences of incredible success, facepalm horror, and over-the-top comedy by writing an article and/or giving a presentation. As with any project, the opportunity to work with individuals at their best and sometimes not-so-best is a reward in and of itself. Fostering collaboration, creating synergies, getting others excited about possibilities, and spending a lot of money on neat toys … I mean, tools … toward any sort of idea and then delivering on that idea to help enhance students' educational, social, and growth opportunities is what we do.