A year ago, if someone asked me what I thought about applying for Grants, I would have told them I’d rather poke hot coals into my eyes. The amount of work, effort, hours spent, and budget detailing, with so much competition and so little likelihood of return was enough to put my intuitive, creative brain into a tailspin of overwhelming boredom.
Then the strikes/layoffs/show cancellation torment began and after being out of work month after month after month, my perspective began to shift as I realized that there might be nothing better to do with my time than sit down, put my nose to the grindstone and begin the fundraising/grant writing tap dance I had tried to avoid for so long.
‘If they can do it, I can do it’ became my mantra as day after day I scoured what’s available out there in the business of funding the creative world and how I might convince an organization that I was worthy of their limited sources of funds.
And business it is. Even if you’re dealing with a non-profit, you’re still dealing with a mindset that often feels totally contrary to the intuitive, imagination-flowing world we are used to happening in our minds and processes. When you’re dealing with non-creatives (though I believe everyone is a creative at some level), you need to put yourself into their brains which will have more to do with numbers, bottom line, representation boxes, and people above them who are warding off the hordes of writers, producers, directors etc. constantly hurling themselves at their feet, trying desperately to collect a few crumbs so they can pay their rent, put food on the table, and somehow keep their blessed/cursed beings from crumbling into mush at the foot of a cynical, nay-saying, you’re-not-good enough world. Omigod – it sounds so depressing! But if you do manage to convince the pen-pushers that you are worth the investment of their hard-earned money, the exhilaration and joy (Good Heavens – someone believes in my talent! I am worthy!) make all of the handwringing, depression, and desperation disappear in a heartbeat.
It’s never been easy to be an artist and right now, it’s harder than ever. What was called Patronage during the Renaissance, where an artist was supported by a wealthy personal funder, has evolved into a system of arts-funding organizations (mostly private but some public) and in the last few years, a lot of that funding has been shrinking and disappearing.
According to a 2020 Forbes Magazine: “Recently released data paints a sobering picture about the state of funding for the arts. While overall giving by the approximately 86,000 private foundations in the United States rose by 12 percent in 2017, the most recent data available, funding for arts and culture organizations actually decreased by 1 percent, according to Candid, which tracks financial trends in the non-profit sector.”
Sobering indeed for American artists and even in Canada and Europe, where the arts are state-supported, budgets have been tightening and it’s getting harder and harder to access funds. Obviously, there are no guarantees, and there are way more rejections than acceptances, BUT it’s still possible.
So…. if you think you want to jump into the frigid waters, let’s talk about what/where/when/how, etc.
Finding grant or foundation support is like panning for gold. You need to make sure you’re looking in the right ‘river’ and you need to research what is available and for whom.
In the olden days, there was a Research Library in Manhattan (it’s probably still there) where you could park yourself for the day and look up every manner of companies, foundations, governments, etc. that have funds to share with those they deem worthy.
With online research, it’s so much easier. Start by making a list of everything you bring to the table and how you might qualify for a given grant. There are many factors that can influence what you might be eligible for in both the private and government worlds.
- What nationality are you? What is available in your country federally? Regionally?
- Do you have any other citizenship? Do your parents? (there are often scholarships and aid available for immigrant communities that can be looked at).
- Do you have a company or are you an independent artist? (sometimes it helps to have a company and sometimes it doesn’t matter)
- How old are you? Some grants have caps or limits on particular demographics.
- Here’s an interesting one: Did your parents work for a major company? Attend a certain university? Sometimes there are educational grants available for the children of workers for a major corporation or graduates of a college.
- Are you part of an underrepresented community? Now, more than ever, there are organizations helping artists from all sorts of backgrounds so do your homework and find out whose grants can apply to you.
- Attend webinars, workshops, and social events with relevant organizations. You never know what kind of inside information you might find out while networking and schmoozing at these events.
- See who they have awarded previously. Try to get a feel for what’s important to them.
- Once you’ve identified and sourced whatever organizations or communities you want to target, join those organizations, or at least get on their mailing list so you know when and what kind of grants will be coming up in the future.
- When you’ve found a grant or fund, competition, or scholarship you believe you are eligible for, read the requirements VERY carefully paying close attention to eligibility, dates and exactly what you need to send in with your application.
- Make sure you begin your application well ahead of the deadline. If you’re technically challenged like me, chances are you will run into difficulties, so don’t wait until the last minute when many others are submitting to the same organization and things can get jammed up.
READ THE FINE PRINT
- Again, don’t go to the trouble of filling out a long application only to find out there’s some small detail that you missed that makes you ineligible for the grant.
- Make sure not to write over the word limit in your boxes. Even more important, make sure not to go over the character limit if that’s what’s stipulated. Easy mistake to make (I’ve made it too many times!).
- Look for the Save button on a long application form in case you don’t finish it all in one go. You don’t want to close your computer only to find out that everything has disappeared when you return. If you can’t save as you go, make sure to back up your words on a Word document that you can refer to.
CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY
- If you’ve done your research, make sure you are addressing what’s important to the targeted organization when you answer the questions or make a video. You need to convince them that their money is going to a deserving recipient, and they will be proud to advertise that they supported you.
PITCH TO WIN
- Present yourself in the most positive light possible. People like to give money to those they believe will be successful. So, shine a light, baby! And get that grant!
The wheels of bureaucracy turn VERY slowly. Don’t keep yourself up at night by worrying about whether you got the grant or not. Remember that most funding organizations receive way, way more applications than they can grant so chances aren’t great that you’ll receive funding. BUT, and it’s a big one, many of these organizations routinely never give a grant on a first try. Some of them want to get to know you better and would like to see improvements in your work over time. So, if you get refused, ask them:
- If they will give you feedback on why they refused
- If it’s alright to come back to them in the future, once you have created more work or advanced on the work you first applied with.
- If you are successful (and I hope you are!), you’ll also need to read the fine print about the requirements after you have spent the money. Many require a final cost report or written materials, or even examples on what your costs are. And if you spent it differently than what you thought you were going to, you will sometimes have to justify it. So…
- Keep receipts!!! They need the information for their bookkeeping so are usually pretty clear about the consequences if you don’t fulfill these requirements. (like they won’t give you money again!).
- Also, remember to thank them publicly in any social media posts or articles that are written about what you are doing as a result of their help. They (like everyone else) like to be appreciated.
It seems like a lot of work, and it is, but the benefits of receiving financial assistance in your chosen field far outweigh the tedious effort it takes to climb these particular mountains. Once you are a recipient of a grant, it often makes it easier to get more grants, either from that organization or others, when they see it on your resume.
There are a lot of grants out there and, of course, they change all the time. But here’s one that could get you started: https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/film-grants/.
And if it all becomes too much and you happen to have lots of cash floating around, there are professional grant writers out there who are happy to take your money and do it for you. Good luck, and keep going!!