It’s no secret that the grant writing world is a competitive place. When there are countless applicants and only one prize, the majority will, unfortunately, not receive the news they hope for. There is much to be said for being at the right grant at the right time and simply connecting with the panel on some level that maybe isn’t quantifiable. But there are also some very concrete things that contribute to the success of some grant applications over others. Having a compelling project is only one piece of the puzzle. There is a lot of fascinating art being made out in the world. Knowing some of the keys to submitting a winning grant proposal can give you the leg up you need to land the grants you want.
Have a solid plan
Before you even begin searching for grants, you need to know what your plans are. If you don’t have a specific project you want to be funded, you might need to hold off on applying for a grant. While there are some grants that are more generalized in nature, emergency grants, those for cost of living or supplies, many of them want to read a detailed proposal of your intent.
Know your grant inside and out
Before you type so much as one letter of a grant application, spend a good deal of time getting to know not only the grant itself but the foundation behind it. Be sure your project matches the parameters and that you fall within the required geographical range. Don’t waste your own time on something that you aren’t actually qualified for.
To a T
Essentially everyone who works with grants in any capacity agrees that the fastest way to have your proposal rejected is to not follow instructions. Some organizations will shelve an application after the first mistake so make sure you are absolutely meticulous when it comes to the guidelines of your chosen grant. Pay attention to word counts, and answer the questions being asked. Do not embellish your responses with information the application hasn’t called for. Be clear and concise and go in with a solid understanding of exactly what you hope to have funded.
As you write your proposal, keep things simple and to the point. Lay out your project and needs at the outset and avoid jargon, artspeak, and any ancillary details. This is a basic statement of need. You are explaining the who, what, where, when, and why of your intent for the money on offer. Read questions carefully then be sure you are actually answering them.
While being clear is of critical importance, your writing should also be compelling. Make sure your grammar and style are in check and avoid passive voice. Passive voice refers to the action of your writing and is one of the keys to compelling content. Simply put, whenever possible, write direct action. For example:
Rather than saying:
I was selected to participate in a juried show by the Rock Creek League of Artists.
The Rock Creek League of Artists selected me to participate in a juried show.
Identify which agents in your sentences are performing what actions and write them directly.
Things like style, grammar, and passive voice just do not come naturally to everyone. Hiring an editor to help refine your application can be a solid investment. If you are fortunate enough to have people in your life who have the skills to edit on a professional level, by all means, ask for help. Otherwise, seek out an editor who has experience with grants and hand yours over. Keep an open mind remembering that they are there to help, not to make you feel bad about your writing.
While this could appear near the top of the list because it is important to be organized as you enter into the grant writing process (checklists are your friends!) in this case I am talking about organizing your writing. Work toward maximum readability. Remember that the decision makers will read dozens if not hundreds of proposals. You want yours to be easy to digest and never confusing. Lay out your proposal and needs in an orderly fashion and use headings to separate ideas when applicable.
Proofread, then proofread again
I can’t stress this enough. I don’t care if you hire the best editor money can buy, before you send your application off you need to proofread. Give yourself enough time to walk away for a day before coming back to proof your final draft. If you’re unsure about any word usage, look it up. If you don’t quite know whether you used the correct form of it’s/its or their/they’re/there look it up.
You are a professional. Art is your livelihood. While there is no foolproof way to ensure you win a grant, there are definite things that will take you out of the running. You wouldn’t submit a CV riddled with mistakes, and grant proposals demand the same high standards. Know your guidelines, know your proposal.