Those of you who have been following my Twitter feed over the weekend were probably well acquainted with #grantwritingapalooza - a term lovingly coined by me to describe the sheer volume of grant writing my theatre company and I need to get done over the next little while. Now, I won't get into a discussion about Arts Funding (or the lack thereof). There are enough blogs out there who make a better case for it than I do. I personally think that the current financial model we artists are working in is completely nonviable and unsustainable. (There's actually a discussion about this going on at the Praxis Theatre blog right now.) I hate how much emphasis theatre companies and individuals (myself included) place on government funding, which is never guaranteed, and it breaks my fucking heart when I see projects unable to get off the ground due to a lack of money.
That said, there is money out there for the arts. It does exist. Now let's see if you are in a position to collect it.
According to the good people at Wikipedia, 'Grants are funds disbursed by one party (Grant Makers), often a Government Department, Corporation, Foundation or Trust, to a recipient, often (but not always) a nonprofit entity, educational institution, business or an individual. In order to receive a grant, some form of "Grant Writing" often referred to as either a proposal or an application is usually required.'
Let's get something straight. Grant writing is not fun. It's a long and convoluted process that makes you feel like you are jumping through a thousand hoops while being asked the same question over and over again in a million different ways. Take the hardest essays you have ever written, throw in a detailed budget, put your entire soul on the line, and presto! That? Is grant writing in a nutshell.
However, as a good friend pointed out to me, if you can't clearly express your project idea, why should anyone who doesn't know you give you any money?
So, first things first: Do Your Research Most grant applications require at least four months between the application deadline and the project start date so this is not something you want to get into two weeks before opening night. Also, will you be applying on behalf of yourself as an individual, a company or a collective? Is your company a non-profit organization or a registered charity? This will affect the types of grants you can apply for.
There are a few avenues available to you in your search for grants. I had written many of them out here, but it made for a very long blog post. Instead, I'll be creating another post later on with a list of links. If you have any suggestions for me, please add them in the comment list. *Ed. Note - Post with grant listings can be found here.*
So you know what you want to apply for, now what? See those contact names associated with the various application forms? Call them! Don't be shy. These people are paid to answer your questions and it is a really good idea to approach them with your project to see if it's even viable before you get into the tedious writing process.
Look Over the Application Requirements Carefully Will you need three copies or six? What kind of support materials are required? Will you need bios or resumes of the people involved in the project? Ect... Just because you might be applying for more than one grant for the same project does not mean all the requirements will be the same.
Start Writing There are a lot of opportunities to be creative in your application. It's not a bad idea to introduce yourself under the artistic description for the project to give the jury a better idea of who you are and why this project is important. Grant applications are all about the "Why?" If you are passionate about something, make sure it shines through.
At Evolution Theatre, we write as a group. Grants can usually be divided into three categories, which works well for us since there are three of us in the company. Our Artistic Director writes out the Artistic Vision, our General Manager works on the Budget, and I, as Director of Communications, take care of the Community Outreach/Marketing aspects. Then, once a first draft is done, we pass it around to each other for edits. The Track Changes function in Microsoft Word gets a lot of use in our world.
Be Concise Grant assessment juries can see hundreds of applications a year. Keep things brief and to the point. Bullet points are your friend!
Have a Realistic Budget Make sure your budget is balanced and makes sense. A couple tips: artist grants are usually meant to cover anything involving the "art" - keep your business and admin expenses low; Don't ask for a ridiculous amount of money with the "ask for more, get less" mentality - you might be shooting yourself in the foot with that one; Have detailed budget notes and make sure you have a back up plan in case you don't get the money (some applications may ask this question).
Speaking of being prepared in case you don't get the money: I've probably written about a dozen grant applications now (both as an individual and as a member of Evolution Theatre) and I have been successful in getting three. I'm not sure what the statistics are on this, but I think that's probably a pretty good average for an emerging artist.
Get Someone to Look It Over As I mentioned above, we're lucky because there are usually three of us working on a grant application at the same time. That said, I have done individual applications and, trust me, it never hurts to have a little outside input. They might see something you missed. However, make sure the person you ask has some experience with grant writing.
Ask for Postage Confirmation If you're like me, you'll be handing in/mailing out your application on the day it's due (which is not the smartest way to go about it people, trust me, it's stressful - do as I say, not as I do!). If you have to mail it out, ask for a post-dated confirmation from the post office. I didn't get a confirmation once and was told by a theatre company my application was three days late, even though I sent it out on the right day. I pleaded my case and they did allow my application, however this is not the norm! Typically, I may never have even known it was considered late until much later, if ever. Spend the extra money, it's worth it for your own peace of mind.
I hope these tips help you out in some way. If you have any of your own, please add them in the comment section below. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got two more applications due on Monday, which I really have to get to.