My first real job out of college (aside from my brief and miserable stint as a hotel sales coordinator) was as a development associate for Arts Midwest, one of the best arts organizations of all time, ever. In my role, I got to write a lot of grants. And as I developed my own art, I became more and more immersed in the fund-seeking world.
Recently, I’ve been given the opportunity to participate in the other side of the grant world—as a grant reviewer. It’s been an eye-opening and highly educational experience. For those of you out there trying to raise money to support the beautiful and world-changing artistic work you do, here are seven things you can do to make your grant applications stronger:
1. Describe your project like you’d describe it to your parents’ neighbors. There’s no use in being artistically ambiguous or pretentious in your project description. The reader wants to understand what you’re going to do, how you’ll do it and why it’s important. And they want to understand it quickly.
2. Don’t wing it. If you’re not sure how to complete a component of the application (a timeline, a line-item budget, etc.), do some research (Google). The world wide web is filled with examples, so go out and find them. You’ll start to see the differences between the good examples and the bad examples, so model your work after the good ones.
3. Read the questions. Then answer them. It’s as simple as that. If you find yourself writing the same answer for question 7 that you wrote for question 5, you missed a detail somewhere. Go back, figure out the differences between the questions and be specific in your responses.
4. Ask someone to proofread your work. Remember that friend in college who was super nit-picky about commas? Bribe her to help you out. If you’re the only person who reads your proposal, you’re 97% likely to miss a silly error. (I’m almost positive that’s a real statistic.) Anything you can do to make your proposal clear and easy to read will improve your chances.
5. Demonstrate capability. The reader assumes that if you can plan your project, you can (probably) pull it off. So if the application asks how you’ll evaluate the success of your work, don’t say you’ll figure it out later. Make a plan and describe it.
6. Craft and edit your artist statement. Your statement doesn’t just describe what you do; it contextualizes it. It should give the reader insight into your creative brain and make them want to experience your unique creations. Why are you making art? What inspires you? It’s okay to get a little cerebral, but keep your parents’ neighbors in mind. Be brief and clear.
7. Take it one step at a time. Grant applications can be long and a little overwhelming. Give yourself ample time to read the guidelines and the questions before launching into your narrative. It’s easy to separate the thoughtful proposals from the ones written at the last minute.