(This blog post originally appeared on ONWARD on December 1, 2013. We added or updated links to relevant Foundation Center sites.)
Grants from private foundations have been available to individual artists for a long time especially in the US, but the process of getting one is rather esoteric or, at the best, a guessing game to most photographers.
In order to demystify the process, we talked to people who are established in this field. Yes, there are people whose day job is to write grants to raise money for institutions. For this series of articles, we were fortunate to talk with Ken Goldman about how individual photographers should go about getting their projects funded.
Ken is a Senior Associate Vice President & Chief Philanthropic Officer at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. He has been raising crucial funding for cultural non-profit organizations all over the US. Prior to his current position, he worked for Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, WI, Playhouse Square Center in Cleveland, OH, the Memphis, TN Symphony Orchestra, the Pacific Symphony Orchestra in Orange County, CA, and the Motion Picture & Television Fund Foundation in Woodland Hills, CA.
With his generosity, we will be featuring Grant Writing for Photographers 101 in two parts this week: Searching for Grants and Writing for Grants. Our goal for these articles is simple: we want you to be savvy about the process of grant writing so that you can fund your personal projects. Ken is rich with invaluable information. So, let’s begin!
ONWARD: Let’s get to the point. Are there grants specific to photography as a medium?
Ken Goldman: Photographers take heart! There are philanthropic dollars out there to support your work in this art form. These grants can take many forms and are sometimes intended to encourage photography of a specific kind, such as capturing nature scenes or documenting a social issue. In addition to grants, there are competitions with cash prizes.
A simple Google search will help you find some opportunities, such as the PhotoPhilanthropy website.
Another good place to start would be government arts service agencies. In the United States, every state has a state arts council, and many cities and counties have their own local councils as well. The agencies usually make grants and offer assistance to help artists find additional support. A list of US state arts agencies can be found here.
ONWARD: These are great starting points! How about some places to look for sources of grants that may not seem obvious?
Ken: There are database organizations that specialize in compiling grant funding information. While they may allow an online visitor to do some basic searches based on a funder’s name or look for funders in a specific geographic area, this kind of broad searching is not that helpful when you are trying to find grant makers who support photography. You may need to make an investment in a membership that will give you the ability to search grantor funding interests.
One especially well-known database organization is the Foundation Center. An individual grant seeker can subscribe to [Foundation Directory Online] for as low as $19.95 for one month. The Foundation Center also has physical locations around the United States where one can go and use resources for free. They have primary locations and a host of associate locations. Start searching for a location near you here. (Note: we generally recommend using Foundation Directory Online only if you have a fiscal sponsor. Otherwise, you would be better served by using Foundation Grants to Individuals Online)
ONWARD: Who would know about these databases existed! Once we find one, what are things to consider when you begin your search for places to apply for grants?
Ken: Once you have used sources like those described above to identify a list of possible funders for your photography, you should try to do as much research about each funder as possible. Do not simply find their address and mail them a proposal. Review their website carefully or read about them through other sources. Funders do not want extraneous proposals that do not match their goals, so they usually try to be quite specific as to what sorts of things they are interested in supporting. They don’t want to waste their time – or yours. If your work doesn’t match their focus, move on – it is not worth your time to try and convince them otherwise. Also, many funders are geographically oriented so make sure they are willing to make grants in the location where you work.
If you think you have found a funder whose interests match your work, try to contact that funder by email or telephone to ask for a meeting or at least a teleconference to discuss your project. That’s the best way to know if your request will get serious consideration. Even if they won’t engage directly with you, funders usually have a process for fielding inquiries. They frequently do not want a full proposal as the first contact. Often they just want a short letter describing what you want to do, which is known as a “letter of inquiry.” If the funder thinks your project may coincide with its goals, you will be invited to submit a full proposal. That is still no guarantee you will get a grant but your project will get more serious attention.
ONWARD: Our audience comes from all over the globe. Are these opportunities limited to those who work in the US? If so, do you have any advice for those who are outside of the US?
Ken: The advice offered here is based on fund raising in the United States, which has a large private funding sector with many individuals, foundations and corporations active in it. American tax laws have encouraged the development of private giving over many decades. Similar funding environments are evolving in countries around the world but few (if any) have reached the same extent as in the United States. International photographers will need to conduct research through the Internet and other means to try and identify private sources in their respective countries. One funding sector, however, that may actually be better than the United States in many countries is government. Many countries place a high priority on their cultural heritage and creative economy, and devote significant resources to promoting them. So channels for government investment in artists — such as through a Ministry of Culture — are definitely worth exploring.
But some things will be the same wherever you go. Recognizing that fund raising is a business of relationships based on trust is a principle that should be applicable around the globe.
ONWARD: This is really invaluable advice that everyone can benefit from right away. We will continue with the interview focusing on advice for writing for grants this week. Thank you, Ken!