Finding grants to start a private, nonprofit school
May 16, 2012 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Some folks in a small town dear to my heart are hoping to start a private, non-profit elementary school. I've offered to help out finding grants. But it's... confusing.

After a few hours of aimless googling, it appears that most grants out there want you to apply with a specific project -- say, asking for funding for a robotics club, or something -- and that they don't so much like providing start-up funding for actually getting a school off the ground. Is this actually the case? Are there any broad-based grants for getting a school up and running? The school will be bilingual (English/Spanish), if that helps at all. Point me in the right direction, if there is one!
posted by staboo to Education (4 answers total)
Yes, it is difficult to get grant funding for capital projects. This is for some good reasons. If you don't have any of the parts in place yet, you have no proven track record, and there is also no proof that you have the ability to sustain the programs you are planning to accomplish. Funders consider you 'high risk'. Their concern is, once you get the school up and running, do you have the necessary skills, motivation, and resources to keep it running?

I am not a grants expert by any means, but I can tell you that in my experience the few funders who do provide capital project funding are inundated with applications. I would imagine you would probably do better if you could show a funder that you have raised a certain amount of the funds you need yourself, and that you are only asking them for a proportion of the money.

I recommend rather than using aimless Googling, to use the Foundation Center, which is a huge database of funders/grant opportunities. If your group does not want to pay for access, many libraries offer free public access. Council on Foundations might also be good. Here are a few other links. Hopefully you're in the U.S. as the links are American.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:54 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

You may find more options/clarity by searching "charter school grants", if you've not tried that terminology yet.
posted by batmonkey at 1:01 PM on May 16, 2012

It would help to know what state/country/whatever they are in.

Where I am, you don't start a school with a "grant", it just doesn't work that way for a lot of reasons.
posted by HuronBob at 1:29 PM on May 16, 2012

Grant writer here, currently in higher ed but used to work for a charter school.

This is going to be difficult and complicated with lots of special snowflake stuff to your actual situation and location, but a few general things:

1) The very first thing you need to do is actually get your non-profit IRS status. For tax and legal purposes, most foundations/federal orgs/corporate foundations will not give any sort of grant money to an org without non-profit status.

2) Capital grants or capacity grants to start something up, build a building, renovate a building, give people starting salaries - are the hardest sorts of grants to get. To start a school, a grant alone won't do. You need a major campaign. This would first involve getting significant gifts from the board, from friends, from generous donors in your community who believe in your cause, and then doing research (via Foundation Center, Foundation Search, or similar databases) to find grantmakers that would consider funding you - after you've got some seed money. No foundations are going to fund your entire operating/capital budget, and very few would even consider being the lead donor on a major project like starting a school.

3) The real issue is what this school will offer that isn't already offered in town. Is it the bilingual aspect? Is it something like Reggio or Montessori? These are things to consider when looking for the right type of funder that really aligns with your own mission and goals. You'll have to really show why this project is critical in your community and why it should be funded.

My suggestion would be to maybe think about starting something small like a home-schooling situation, in someone's house even, using volunteer resources. Do this while you get your NPO status paperwork together, but a board together, start building a little momentum, get some recognition, make some connections with your community and state. In a year or two, start thinking more seriously about grant funding if it seems like your at a point where you want to grow, expand, pay salaries, etc.

Individual elementary schools will be difficult to grant fund. Not impossible, but it's not the type of situation where you can simply google a foundation, apply for a bunch of seed money, and be on your way. There's got to be a pretty broad financing strategy to doing something on that scale.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:41 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

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