Grant “writing” does not begin with writing; it begins with gathering people and information. Successful grants are not created and implemented in a vacuum. Grants are a collaborative process and include those who are willing to assume one or more roles:

• Visionary[ies]: those who can take information (data) and identify trends and needs
• Communication expert[s]: those who can successfully communicate needs, form partnerships, communicate data results, and draw conclusions
• Data trackers: those who can design methods of collecting data and track the data to show whether the needs are being met
• Community liaisons: those people who “know people”
• Stakeholders: those who will peripherally benefit from grant sponsored programs
• Target population: those who will receive direct benefits from grant monies

Once the possible members of your grant network have been identified, we have to look at the information that will help us pinpoint the goals and objectives. The most important question that will determine the contents of the grant is: what does your group of teens NEED?

How do we answer that question? Who could we talk to? Parents? Teachers? School librarians? Public librarians? Social services? Local police enforcement? Teens? The answer is “all of the above.” The truth is that we librarians are only one part of a community of teen resources. We have only one piece of a huge puzzle that is teen life, and in order to make our grant goals and objectives relative to our community, we must seek information from that community.

Needs assessment surveys can give us very valuable information that will hone our grant goals and connect them to the unique community the grant will serve. Surveys should be short, simple, and to the point. Questions can be open-ended like: What do you see as the greatest need for teens in our community? Questions can include lists where the responder chooses the “top three” most important concerns for community teens: technology skills, information literacy skills, literacy skills (reading & writing), information about drug/alcohol abuse, health information, test skills, study skills, career information, internet safety, job application/interview skills, and “other.” Questions can also include Likert scale questions such as: Our [community/school] library offers teen programming that is relevant to teen interests and needs: Agree, agree mostly, not sure, disagree.

Questions should fit the kind of information you are looking for such as Likert scale questions are good for assessing the effectiveness of your program. Open-ended questions are good for gathering new ideas, and list questions can help you hone in on areas that have already been identified but now you can prioritize. Surveys can now be electronic using tools such as Zoomerang and SurveyMonkey then posted on library web sites or on our school library web page. We can get the word out that we need people to respond to our survey through our social networks such as Facebook and/or Twitter. We can also send our emails to local community groups and ask that they give us feedback. We can place a “Want Ad” in the local newspaper to ask for responders and talk to our school librarians or public librarians and ask them to participate and encourage teens to fill out the survey. We can also send the information to our local schools and ask educators to send word home to parents.

In the beginning, you have the idea that teens in your community have needs that are not being addressed. It is important to keep an open mind about possible collaborative partners that may share the work as stakeholders. Don’t forget valuable community resources such as museums, social services, law enforcement agencies, local businesses, technology specialists, and local historians. Grants start with “big ideas,” and get more focused as we begin to work with the data and prioritize needs. Then we can begin thinking about a collaborative teen program that will interest, motivate, and enhance teens’ living and learning environment as well as reading and leisure time interests.

About Paula Griffith

Paula Griffith teaches young adult literature at the University of Houston Clear Lake. She is a member of YALSA's Legislative Committee.

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