The #1 Mistake Grant Applicants Make
Updated: Oct 17, 2017
If you're in the cultural sector, be it as a freelance artist or as an administrator (or both, as many of us are), chances are you've heard someone in the industry kvetch* about the following two things:
1) Funding cuts
2) How much they hate grant writing
It's no secret that funding for the arts, especially when it comes to funding for individual creators and artists, is constantly evolving. At any given time, artists are either worrying about funding getting cut across the board, or about the art form they practice no longer being "sexy" to funders... or both. But this can result in a grant writing no-no that sets the wrong tone for your readers.
Grant applications, no matter the size or the purpose, always have at least this question or a variation of it:
Why should we give you this money?
Depending on the funder's interests, they may want information about your artistic merit, your reputation, your track record with completing projects, or recognition of your past work. But the many possible variations of that question are there to find out why you stand out.
What the question is not asking, and unfortunately what people seem to gravitate towards when answering this question, is:
Why does this grant exist?
It can be tempting to talk about sector-wide funding cuts, the precariousness of the field, and the injustices caused by changes in government spending. But remember the first rule of grant writing: you have to put yourself in your reader's shoes. And the reader is a) probably aware of the situation and b) choosing between applicants who are all in the same boat. The reviewer who is reading your application, as a rule, agrees with you that the arts deserve funding. That is why they are sitting somewhere trying to decide how to divvy up whatever pie they have available. And, like any human being, they are forming first impressions subconsciously and are going to gravitate toward an optimistic story.
So, here are some quick fixes that will help strengthen your next application:
1) Keep it positive.
Instead of saying: "Due to recent work falling through, I am no longer able to dedicate all my time to my art. This grant would help me take more auditions that I currently cannot pursue due to the day job I was forced to take."
Try something like: "I am keen to pursue more auditions in order to access new opportunities that will help kickstart my career."
2) Position yourself as the exception, not as the norm.
Instead of saying: "Like many organizations, our funding was reduced unexpectedly in the midst of the most recent recession, which caused a one-time deficit from which we are still trying to recover."
Try something like: "Our organization has consistently stood out, even during economically challenging times. While many organizations like ours struggled for years after the recession, we righted the course within a single year and have been able to gradually correct our one-time deficit, which we are on track to eliminate by 2019 or sooner."
3) Thank, don't guilt.
Instead of saying: "My art form is dying and artists like me require external funding to be able to pursue this as a career."
Try something like: "Funders like you are driving my art form. Thanks to you, artists like me are able to breathe a new life into the sector and find new ways to share our passion.
In short, turn that frown upside down. Feeling too dejected to put a positive spin on things? Proscenium always looks on the bright side. Find out how we can help.
Committed to your success,
*You need the word "kvetch" in your life. "Gripe" just doesn't cut it, don't you agree?