Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth – JFK
What a load of bollocks. In the world of grant writing you conform or you die. You have to work the system and you have to work it hard.
Diligence and focus
You must stay on the path. Loose your way and you’ll never see the green glow of that successful grant application email. It’s time to throw out all that free thinking and become a full time researcher. Objectivity is your best friend and advice from the right sources will help form a solid grant application that will give you every chance of turning it in to a successful one.
Going after grants for the arts
I’ve successfully applied for grants for the arts on numerous occasions, I’ve also been unsuccessful as many times. Luckily the lack of success was mostly in the beginning. Successful grant writing must meet some basic criteria otherwise you’ll stand no chance. When I was at University I found I was competing against my lecturers for funding, and the judging panels often comprised of university lecturers. That’s not to accuse funding bodies of bias, it’s a recognition of the size of the Australian art funding community and how fierce the competition is. So yes, practise makes perfect, and failure is a step closer to success. I learned from my experiences and have distilled them into a very neat numbered bullet list for you.
Work the programme
- RESEARCH WHAT’S OUT THERE
You’ll be surprised at how many grants are available. Every funding body will have comprehensive funding guidelines that will be specific to the grants on offer but be aware of the stipulations that they attach to their funding as a whole. You have to get this right. You will often find there may be a more suitable funding option even within the stable of the same funding body, you just have to find it… or perhaps you need to make a call.
- TALK TO PEOPLE ABOUT SUCCESSFUL GRANT WRITING
I’ve never applied for a grant without consulting the funding body directly, sometimes by email but usually by phone. You will always have a list of grey areas when you start getting to the meat of any grant application but before you even get that far I would call their help line and discuss your idea with them. Don’t sugar coat it, that’s what they are there to advise you on, and if they don’t think it’s worth sweetening then you’ve saved yourself lot of time and energy.
I will take weeks to write a comprehensive grant… and I don’t mean 2 weeks. Perhaps 4, but I usually allow 5/6 weeks ahead of the deadline for actual writing but I will target funding months in advance and start the ground work sometimes a year ahead of the deadline. Remember, if you put too much pressure on yourself you will make mistakes and grant applications with mistakes are not successful.
I’ve never applied for a grant without a solid referee. If I was on a judging panel for a funding body, I’d want to read one. Always be on the lookout for a suitable referee like a gallery director, lecturer or an accomplished artist or gallery owner. Most of these people understand how funding works and will be happy to help if they think your worth it… which of course you are!
- BE OBJECTIVE
Objectivity as an artist is a constant. You may hate paperwork, you may hate writing and you may hate the idea of stringing together a budget but guess what, you have to do it and you need to be honest with yourself when you do. It needs to be meticulous, comprehensive and objective.
- THE VALUE OF YOUR IDEA AND YOURSELF
Most grant applications I have applied for have involved paying myself. Every grant application I have applied for has required a budget. This is an important part of arts funding, perhaps the whole point. Don’t under value yourself. Put a realistic labour component in your grant if it is applicable and pay your self a market rate. Where the budget as a whole is concerned, there is no point fluffing a budget if it sounds completely unrealistic. You must be comprehensive… the devil is in the detail… check and double check you figures. A poorly constructed budget is very obvious to a judging panel.
*Note, a grant application that asks for too little is just as bad as an over inflated one.
- THE ELEVATOR PITCH
Sell it. You need to create the greatest distillation of your idea with the greatest impact.
Tell them what you are going to tell them – Tell them – Tell them what you told them.
Don’t be afraid of being repetitive. No, I don’t mean bore the shit out of them. Repeat your elevator pitch whenever you can and whenever appropriate. That is to say that once you have determine your language and rhetoric, emphasise it at every chance you get. Bring the message home.
- HABLO ESPAÑOL
Do you speak the language? After you have read through the various funding body’s criteria you will notice a use of the same keywords. Identifying these and utilising them in your application will not only make your proposal stronger but it may help guide you in the way that you prepare your submission.
- THE NUTS AND BOLTS
A funding body needs to know that you are capable of utilising the funds appropriately. You’ll have to convince them that you understand the basics of pushing a project through from start to finish. They need to know Why you need it, When and How.
*Remember, many funding bodies will require an acquittal. They are backing you, so you’ll need to follow through and be organised in the process.
- DON’T BE A WANKER
Don’t try to be clever, you are far better off sticking to the idea and letting it do the talking than to fluff it up with a gaggle of fancy phrases. It’s distracting and will turn people off.
- FILES AND FORMAT
Read the guidelines! Do they want jpegs? What is the maximum size? Will they accept postal applications? What is the cut off date?!
*Be careful if you cut and paste into the online submission fields. They will most likely cut off at the maximum word count which make a mess of your writing.
Always have a local copy on a word processor.
- THE PROOF IS IN THE READING
Grammar errors are the road to ruin. I’ll proof my proposals 50 times and then I’ll ask anyone that is willing to check it for me. If you have a referee ask them to look at it also as it’s likely they will have a better understanding of the process than you.
- TREAT YOURSELF, YOU’RE NOW ON THE PATH TO SUCCESSFUL GRANT WRITING
You’ve done what you can so try to suppress the desire to check for funding correspondence emails before the announcement date – which is nearly impossible – and make alternate plans so that the devastation of all of your hard work being rejected won’t dissuade you from trying again!
Here’s some links that you might find useful:
— AUS —
Regional Arts Fund
The Australian Cultural Fund
Australian Network of Art and Technology
Australian Government Grants
— USA —
National Endowment for the Arts
The Awesome Foundation
Grantmakers in the Arts
Here’s a good explanation of how funding is set up in the US