some thoughts on grants

15 May '11

Some thoughts about grant writing and funding…

About more than just chasing money

Writing grants and applications is an opportunity to clarify the concept of your work before going to the trouble of creating and presenting it to an audience.

Usually you have to:

  • explain your goal
  • explain the steps to get there
  • explain why you can achieve those steps
  • work out a realistic budget

Good grant applications ask you specific questions to help you drill down to actionable steps and demand that the budget is set out in a standard way. Bad applications ask crazy airy fairy questions and let you slip by without nailing down a budget, specific goals or steps. I hate bad applications.

Grant writing and the real world

As it turns out, all this application writing actually trains you to create better projects and how to pitch them. Out in real life there are times when you need to pitch ideas without the comforting framework of an application. The same rules apply, you need to explain a clear goal and show how you can achieve it with a realistic budget.

When grants go wrong.

I think there are two big camps for funding rounds: those where 20% or 30% of applicants are funded and those where only one or two are funded out of many.

In the first case, you mainly lose by not selling your project well enough. With hindsight I can see some of my rejected applications had one or more of:

  • bad/boring concept
  • too broad scope (better to break into sub projects and apply for funding for only one)
  • bad argument that I could achieve the result

In the second case it’s possible to lose for no reason but the preference of the funding board, if they have five great projects but only one grant, they just have to choose whichever they like better or whichever is a better match to the aesthetic goals of their organisation. So, you can lose despite having an amazing application. It sucks.

I think the best comfort here is to see that there are always more opportunities for project ideas to come to life and sometimes you can’t see them until the application is written and you have a clear idea of the parameters of the project. Rather than think “there’s always next year”, think about where else this idea could go, even outside the world of formal funding applications.