Give me money, please? Or, Grant Writing 101 (part 1)

Trees IThis is a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time. I sit on a Craft Council committee that is occupied with, among its other responsibilities, reviewing grant proposals and awarding funding. We see dozens upon dozens of proposals on a regular basis from craftspeople of all sorts, from the well-established to the fledgling and everywhere in-between. We also, correspondingly, see an astonishing array of proposals. Some are for truly massive projects, others are for smaller endeavours. We get scholarship applications, applications for help in setting up studios, applications from folks who want to work with students on a particular idea and so on.

Most of the concepts are interesting. Most of the craftspeople are genuinely enthusiastic and have a fairly clear idea of what they want to do. Sometimes, however, it becomes apparently that either the proposal or the communication thereof is not entirely thought through.

If your proposal sucks, so do your chances of getting money, no matter how great your idea is.

So here are some helpful hints on how to put together a grant proposal for funding a project. Really, these can apply to any sort of proposal at all, but I’ve written them with a focus on craft.

1.  Begin well in advance of the application deadline.

Months in advance. You have a lot to get ready and will need time for the proposal, processing and then to actually start the project. In some cases, you will need time to order supplies and time to prep your workspace. Many projects must be completed by the end of the fiscal year. Ask about this timing before applying.

2.  Find out all applicable deadlines. Write them down. Put them in your calendar.

This includes deadlines for the main proposal, deadlines for supporting materials, deadlines by which the project must be completed. All sorts of deadlines.

3.  Start and keep some sort of “About Me” folder.

This isn’t really advice for a grant, as such, but more a good general practice that comes in handy when you suddenly want to apply for a grant.  Such a folder should contain your C.V., any news clippings you might have about your work, programmes from any shows, a few 8×10 photos (if you have them – digital photos are well and good, but a few hard copies of select photos are nice, too), a bio and basically any information about you and what you do that has ever been put on paper. If there hasn’t been anything put on paper, start now. Write up a C.V. or resumé (Google search curriculum vitae or resumé for artists, if you need formatting help). Write your bio. Start the process. Add to it as things happen to you. Then, when you need to apply for a grant, you can reach out and grab it off the shelf.

4.  Get all the information on the grant for which you’re applying. Print it out. Read the brochure. Get the forms (if applicable).

5.  READ EVERYTHING.

Right now you’re thinking, “Yeah, of course I’ll read everything. Does she think I’m a moron?” No, but if you’re like most other people applying for money, you’re swimming in papers, forms and information. Sit down. Clear your head. Start at the beginning and read. Read the basic eligibility requirements. Read the requirements for documentation. Read how the grant works. READ. READ. READ.

6. Note any questions that you have as you read. Ask them.

If something is unclear, highlight it. If you have any queries or concerns, contact the folks in charge of administering the grant BEFORE you apply. Interest and relevant queries are rarely seen as a nuisance. Asking questions now may save you headache and heartache later.

7. Write, in your own words and without worrying about grammar or punctuation, what you want to do.

Jot it down. Write what you want to do and why you want to do it. Don’t worry about how pretty it looks. Get it clear in your head first. Beauty comes later. Point form is fine. Just put on paper (or screen) the basics of your intended project.  Does what you want to do fit the parameters of the grant for which you’re applying? If yes, continue. If no, either modify your idea or look for another grant or funding source.

8. When writing out your proposal, cut and paste the grant instructions to the top of the page.

These are the sentences that say things like:

Provide full description of the design work to be undertaken, including the applicant’s description of his or her future direction and an explanation of how this project will contribute to that direction and to the viability of the applicant’s craft business.  The description may be written, although working drawings or other materials to help the jury understand the nature of the work to be undertaken would be helpful.

Pop this on to the top of your word processing screen so that you can see what is required. Write each section as if addressing or responding to the grant proposal. This will help you structure your proposal and will make sure that you have covered all the bases. Check back periodically with that little summary you wrote for Point Number 7, to see if you’re on track.

9.  Fill out the forms truthfully and accurately.

Don’t lie. ‘Nuff said.

10.  If you will need letters of reference or recommendation, determine who you’ll ask and ask them early.

Tell them generally what you’ll be doing and ask if they’d be willing to write you a good letter. If they say they will, give them the following (email it to them or put it on paper, preferably):

  • Copy of the information about the grant for which you are applying.
  • Copy of at least part of your proposal. Even the introductory part, where you tell what you’re going to do.
  • Address/email/fax of where to send the letter.
  • Date by which the letter should be sent (I would suggest telling them it needs to be received well in advance of the proposal deadline).
  • Any other info that you need them to know or include (i.e. tell them if they should mention how long they’ve known you, what your connection is, their own credentials as a teacher/employer/etc.). Don’t assume they’ll remember everything.
  • Do not ask your mother, your father, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, or anyone closely related to you. We know your boyfriend or girlfriend thinks you’re great. Your mom probably does, too. We don’t care. We’d rather hear what your art school/high school/university teacher or even your employer thinks of you because their opinion of you is more likely to be professional. When you’re applying for money, be professional. Fake it if you must. If you fake it for long enough, it starts to become true.

Next stop…. editing and the budget.

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