Writing a grant proposal can be challenging enough when you're seeking funding for an organization, so it's understandable to feel even more intimidated when trying to raise money for an artistic project all by your lonesome. What are some ways in which an individual grantseeker can approach the grantwriting process with as much confidence as an organization?
Author Gigi Rosenberg recently penned a book specifically tailored toward individual artists on the hunt for funding, titled The Artist's Guide to Grant Writing: How to Find Funds and Write Foolproof Proposals for the Visual, Literary, and Performing Artist. In conjunction with her new book's publication, Gigi visited the Foundation Center on March 28 to offer a Meet the Author workshop for grantseeking artists, in which she discussed some of the highlights of the book and answered questions from the audience. Here are a few of Gigi's key tips for success in seeking grants on the individual level:
View your proposal not just as a fundraising tool, but as an action plan. While you enjoy working on your artistic craft, you might not be looking forward to drafting your grant proposal. However, it might help you along if you understand that a detailed, written explanation of your project is helpful not just to your potential funder, but to you as well. While it's certainly not easy or fun to explain your work as an artist, and to explain why it's important and deserving of financial support, it gives you valuable practice in articulating your artistic vision. It helps you to clarify your mission, organize your creative ideas, and it gives you a chance to practice asking for help, which is something that a lot of independently minded artists are not comfortable doing.
Once you've put together a complete grant proposal, the act of seeing your entire project explained clearly, step-by-step, complete with a detailed budget, can give you a crucial influx of energy and momentum to move forward with your project and with your fundraising efforts.
Build a team to help you. Gigi emphasized that one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to send out your grant proposal without showing it to anyone. From amongst your friends, family, or colleagues, choose a few people to read your proposal and offer advice, proofreading, and edits. The ideal scenario is to find another artist who has applied for either this grant or similar grants in the past, and use this person as your brainstorming partner. Your partner can help you research your funding options, find good statistics and arguments to back up your case for funding, and help you articulate your project as best you can.
It's also good to have someone read through your budget and make sure that the numbers add up, that the contents of the budget match the narrative in the rest of your proposal, and that the items and amounts generally make sense and appear reasonable.
In your proposal, don't be needy! Yes, you do need funding, so you might feel needy. But be careful not to let any of that desperation seep into your application. Most funders do not want to be your only hope for financial survival. As far as your funder needs to know, your project is the hottest ticket in town, and you've got plenty of irons in the fire; if they don't fund your project, someone else will. Give your funder the impression that your project is already a moving train, guaranteed to be a success, and that they won't regret signing on to be a part of it.
Putting forth a confident attitude in your proposal may be tricky when you're worried about keeping yourself afloat, but even if some desperation slips out on to the page during your initial draft, you can edit out any of those forlorn-sounding lines when you reread it later.
If you get rejected, ask for feedback. After pouring so much time and energy into crafting what you thought was the perfect proposal, your biggest fear is probably the prospect of rejection from the funder. However, the rejection should not be the end of your encounter! Unless the funder specifically states that no feedback can be offered, call them up and ask for some constructive criticism on why you were rejected. (Understandably, you may not feel like making this call on the very day of your rejection; as long as you call within about two weeks, all should be well.) Was the problem that you didn't follow the directions correctly? Or perhaps you weren't the right fit for their funding criteria? Or maybe this was simply a very competitive year, and they would have gladly funded you if there weren't already so many other terrific projects in the pipeline?
Whatever the reason, see if you can find out what it is, and use it as a lesson for your next round of applications. Also, if your rejection letter asks you to apply again next year, find out whether or not that's actually true. There's a possibility that the funder sent that same letter to all of the rejected applicants, and there's also an equally feasible possibility that there were two different sets of rejection letters sent out, and that they really do want you to apply again next year. If so, you can also ask whether it's okay to apply with the same project, or to use new material.
These are just a few of the main tips offered by Gigi in her seminar and in her book. The Artist's Guide to Grant Writing is available in the Foundation Center's library, where you can feel free to browse it anytime. There is also an excerpt available online.
For even more help, visit the Individual Grantseekers section of our web site, have a look at our Knowledge Base article, "Where can I find grants for individual artists?", and try attending one of the sessions of our free class, Grantseeking Basics for Individuals in the Arts. We hope these tools will help you to get well on your way to successful fundraising!
-- Tracy Kaufman, Library Assistant