Winning funding for an informal STEM learning project requires a strong match between the funder’s priorities and your project’s goals, audiences and final product. Before searching for sources of funding, estimate the project’s:
- Scope and scale
Use these as a starting point to narrow the search for sources of funding that align with your project’s goals and intended audience. Use the InformalScience.org Advanced Search Funding filter to get a sense of what types of projects particular funders support (or click on the hyperlinks in the list of funding sources below to see search results for each).
Consider a range of funding sources, including private foundations, corporations, and federal, state, and local government programs.
- Search for funding sources that are aligned by audiences, goals, priorities and values
- Review what a Grantor won’t fund
- Note eligibility requirements for the funding program or institution
- If approaching a private funder, you can review their IRS-990 form which provides financial data, Trustees or Board officers, and a grants list.
Sources frequently funding informal STEM education
- National Science Foundation (NSF)
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- National Institutes of Health
- Institute of Museum and Library Sciences
- U.S. Department of Education
- National Endowment for the Humanities
- National Endowment for the Arts
Private Foundations who fund STEM learning, engagement and science communication:
- STEM Funders Network
- Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
- Simons Foundation
- MacArthur Foundation
- Rita Allen Foundation
- Sloan Foundation
- Kavli Foundation
- Cognizant Foundation
- Pisces Foundation
- The C.S. Mott Foundation funds statewide afterschool networks, many of which have a variety of STEM programs.
Additional funders can be found at the
Preparing a Proposal
- Plan for enough time to develop and write the proposal. Two to three months prior to the deadline is ideal.
- Read the funding program’s guidelines carefully, for example the Grant Proposal Guidelines that the National Science Foundation updates on a regular basis.
- Review past successful proposals from the funder you intend to approach.
- Discuss your idea with a program officer that oversees the funding program.
- You may need to provide documents establishing the credibility and ability of your organization to receive and manage a grant, such as articles of incorporation, tax exempt status, bylaws, short biographies of board members and key staff, and financial and operations descriptions. Determine what is needed and start gathering this documentation early, since it can take time to pull together.
- A strong proposal, regardless of what organization it will be submitted to, will include:
- The need or problem the project intends to address, and build the case for how your project will address the need. Include project goals, objectives, audience, activities, timeline, key staff, and project partners, collaborators, and advisors.
- Evidence for key choices in the proposal: the need, the approach, or intervention that the project intends to use to address it, and a plan for gathering data and evidence about the effectiveness of the approach is successful A review of relevant peer-reviewed and grey literature, as well as any systematically gathered wisdom from practice on other projects, approaches that have addressed a parallel need
- Citations of relevant evaluation reports of past work of similar projects
- A coherent description of the setting, experience or activity design
- Highlights of and emphasis on the innovative features of the proposed project
- Features for future sustainability or scalability beyond the grant period
- A detailed budget that clearly aligns with the project description
- A dissemination plan for the sharing the project’s outcomes, products, research findings, and/or evaluation reports.
Other NSF-funded resource centers have created materials to help guide the proposal development process, and can be found on the Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning (CIRCL), Community for Advancing Discovery Research in Education (CADRE), STEM Learning and Research Center (STELAR), Math and Science Partnership Network (MSPNet), and the recently sunsetted and Academic Research Center (ARC) websites.
Managing the Grant
Since 2008, CAISE has conducted the National Science Foundation Advancing Informal STEM Learning program Principal Investigators (PI) meeting. These typically include technical assistance sessions on managing NSF AISL awards. The presentation by the NSF Division of Grants and Agreements at the 2016 PI meeting can be found here.