If you have been clicking around QCA’s hoempage recently you have probably noticed a ton of material related to grants. That’s because it is Queens Arts Fund season again!
So why not ask Melissa Sandor a few questions about grantwriting (with a focus on the narrative sections)?
Melissa is a dear friend of QCA and has helped us run some fantastic professional development workshops in the past. She is the Principal of Melissa Sandor, Inc. has 20 years of experience in not-for-profit fund raising in New York City and nationally, with a particular expertise in the arts & culture field. She has provided services in strategic planning, capital campaigns, corporate and foundation relations, major gifts, prospect research, and special events.
How did you get started as a grant writer?
I started right out of college. I began volunteering at the Burchfield Penney Art Center at in Buffalo, NY. My supervisor knew I was interested in writing and the arts. When she was tapped to be the executive director of the Greater Buffalo Opera Company, she was able to bring me along with her and I began working in development.
Can you describe your proudest moment as a grant writer?
Actually it was probably at in my first position at the opera company. It was really just the two of us [myself and my supervisor] working on development at this small organization and one which was looking to engage a larger audience. My proudest moment came when we needed to raise funds for the mounting of “King Roger” by Karl Szymanowski.
I began doing research on who may support the organization and found a private foundation that was actually located in a suburb of Buffalo. I reached out the foundation, and wrote a grant proposal that was successful in raising $9,000 for the opera’s programming. Since then I have written million-dollar proposals for various organizations but I still look back upon this first success as life changing.
Researching and engaging new donors is incredibly important. People can feel disappointed about a sluggish economy, but there is money to be raised and engaging new donors in thoughtful ways is key.
Does repetitive language hurt or help a grant proposal?
Each narrative needs to be approached as its own entity. Repetitive language can be helpful to drive home a point. But it has to be used strategically. Insider jargon should be limited and not repeated.
Do not use repetitive language as filler; if it feels like filler to you [the writer], then the panelists and/or funders will likely read it as filler. I am a big advocate of having at least one second reader, preferably someone not so familiar with your work or genre. Definitely not an insider as panels are made up of diverse individuals and having a roster of diverse readers for your work is invaluable.
I am not confident in my artwork. Can a well-crafted narrative save it? Give it to me straight, doc.
Artists work in solitude often-times, and it can be difficult to judge your own work. The onus is on the artist to dig deep and determine the root of the lack of confidence in their work. How one feels about their creative process will naturally inform their writing about it and the many ways they out that work forth in the world.
Artist statements can be notoriously difficult to write. This is the best place for the applicant seeking funding can really show up on a personal level, but sometimes they can get too bogged down in art-speak and heady language. Any thoughts on striking that balance between standing-out among the crowd and not sounding like you’ve been reading Adorno up your butt with a flashlight?
It’s incredibly important to show a real-world approach [to your proposed project] and still show your artistic knowledge and love for the genre. Some of that should be critical, and show a deep knowledge of the genre, its development and importance in the larger community. But clarity and simplicity in language is helpful for a panel who will be reading many applications and who are diverse in their life experiences.
Say I’m writing a grant for my film for a panel of film professionals—in that case I can choose to use film and media language. But I would still strive to keep sentences short, direct and clear. No large words for the sake of using large words.
If you find yourself trying too hard to sound intelligent, you will sound like you are trying too hard. Again I encourage the grant writer to get a second reader—a grant buddy—to look over your language.
Also, take a look at other artist statements for guidance. Read how your favorite artists write about their work.
Any other things you would like to add about writing the narrative section of your grant?
If there is a requirement to complete a budget, make sure the budget is based on real world figures. If you are constructing a wooden set for a play, look online to see what a woodworker or contractor in your area would charge for a similarly scaled project. It is also incredibly important that things mentioned in your narrative are reflected directly in your budget.
And use QCA staff as a resource. They can always offer great tips and advice.
Hi artists, arts administrators, and nonprofit managers who wish to increase their artistic programming!
This is not a breaking-news post, but an important reminder nonetheless: We are holding a slew of Queens Arts Fund workshops all over Queens, August 20 through September 30 (click here for the full schedule). We are also holding one-on-one meetings with QCA staff (experts!)
UPDATE: All slots for September 10 and 17 are taken. If you wish to schedule an appointment please email Sam at email@example.com with your availability.
Attending a workshop or one-on-one meeting is a requirement for first-time applicants and is highly recommended for all who plan on applying (especially given a couple small changes to the grants we offer).
We like to keep these workshops relatively flexible and informal, but the general structure will be:
- An overview of the Queens Arts Fund guidelines
- An overview of the application
- A Q&A
If you plan on attending one of the workshops, try and tailor any questions you bring in a general direction. Please don’t bring your series of forty new lithographs and ask us and attendees to provide an informed critique. Keep the group in mind.
And hey: I am also available to answer questions in the comments below, by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or by phone: 347-505-3019.
By now you know what I’m going to tell you.
Successful grants are engineered and properly executed strategies.
If you follow the right sequence, you will get the grant and more.
This post is all about creating a way to build up power and momentum with something I call the Grantstacking Sequence.
You can download the free PDF here:
CLICK HERE: the Grantstacking Sequence
I’m Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer and I have worked with hundreds of artists by giving grants and advice to build successful art careers.
If you haven’t read the first two bonus Grantwriting 101 Tutorial posts where I talk about finding funders and budgeting, you really should. It will help you get the most out of this sequence.
Here’s a link to the posts:
CLiCK HERE: Finding Funders & Getting Them To Love You And What You Do
CLICK HERE: Budgeting & Beyond: 3 Common Mistakes That Can Cost You Time, Money & Heartache
What is the Grantstacking Sequence?
At least once a week I get into a conversation with someone who is trying to get a grant for some sort of new project, an artistic endeavor or some major shift in direction in their creative process.
And usually they are frustrated because they are stuck.
“Where do I get started?”
“How do I find the right funding resources and make requests so they are funded?”
“What are the key factors involved?”
“I need to know what the granting agency wants to hear about my work so that I don’t waste my desperately precious time writing something foolish.”
Does this sound familiar?
These are some of the survey responses I received when I asked you what your top grantwriting frustrations and challenges are.
I know a lot of you would love some silver bullet tactics to write winning grants.
Well, I am going to give you a lot of tips and tactics you can use right away but what I really want you to understand is the strategy.
Tactics are like trends or catch phrases of the moment.
They will come and go with time. Strategy endures.
It is the DNA of grantwriting success.
The Give/Get Mindset
My mom doesn’t really know what I do.
Sure, she loves going to see all of the artist openings and performances that I take her to. She knows I work with a lot of artists.
“So nice for everyone to enjoy,” she says.
And even if she can’t quite figure out what my part in it was, she is proud that whatever it is that I do, it makes people happy.
And, that is the essence of it all.
Connect and give people what they need.
Simple, and yet so rare.
This is what I call the Give/Get Mindset. In this mindset you give first and give generously.
- Get in the room
- Give something unexpected
To check myself, I add the following sentence to the project description:
“This project helps others by – ”
The stronger your answer, the more powerful your proposal will be.
The Grantstacking Sequence
This is an action plan.
It will give you the basic steps to create a pipeline of funders and supporters over and over again.
I see evidence of these steps in every successfully funded grant that has crossed my desk as a grant giver and as a grant panelist.
Setting Up Your House
- Focusing on who you are and what you do that sets you apart from others
- Embracing your competition: being part of what is going on in your field
Your Grant Conversation
- Understanding your funder: what they want, trends, criteria, how you can uniquely help them fulfill their mission
- Building your circle of funders & supporters: cultivating gratitude, giving generously
Your Grant Proposal
- Organizing a proposal: description, budget, work samples
- Writing a Project Description: persuasive writing, tone, jargon, catch phrases
- Creating a Budget: planning, researching, getting other sources, in kind resources
- Presenting Work Samples: how to choose, how to present
- Say thank you. Celebrate!
- Continue your grant conversation. Continue giving.
No to Yes
- Call for comments.
- Continue your grant conversation. Continue giving.
What is holding you back?
I have been doing this for a long time and I’ve seen artists with tremendous successes and struggles.
Everyone has a lot of questions that can sometimes stop you dead in your tracks like these:
Do you have advice for first time grantwriters?
Can I make a confession?
Every time I set out to write a grant I feel like a beginner.
But I get into my Grantwriting 101 Mindset and I follow the sequence.
It just works.
I’m overwhelmed, I don’t know where to start to look for funders.
A lot of people think they can become successful on their own.
The truth is, you can but your success will be limited in proportion to your sole efforts.
It takes a team to win big and you will be a bigger success and happier in the long run if you learn to embrace and befriend your competition.
Who do you look up to in your field? Who is doing amazing things?
Start by seeing who is in their tribe, who supports them.
Then start your grant conversation…
Can I apply for other kinds of grants outside of the creative arts?
This is a fabulous question!
Apply the Give/Get mindset and ask yourself: What room do I need to get in? What can I give that is needed and make it creative, cool & unexpected?
How can I fill in the end of the sentence, “My project helps others by…”
I’m out of my comfort zone…
Maybe some of you are thinking, “All this for a grant? Hey, I’m an artist, I don’t feel comfortable doing this.”
All growth happens at the edge of your comfort zone.
I am willing to bet some of your best work came from you getting out of your comfort zone to try something new.
You are an artist. You know creative growth comes from risk.
My vision for you
I believe it is my job to have a bigger vision for your future.
I have spent a lot of time around artists and creative professionals like you and I have seen too many people make incredible changes in their lives by using this sequence and sometimes just pieces of it.
They become successful, they build big careers & lives they love so they can create wonderful art that touches the rest of us.
They change the world. And so can you.
I absolutely love seeing the impact it makes in people’s lives especially beginners because I remember when I was just starting out.
Remember my confession? Every new dream makes us beginners.
You have a decision to make.
Are you ready to step out of your comfort zone and creative a bigger life?
OK, I’ve given you 3 full posts about my grantwriting strategy.
If you just follow the thinking and the sequence you will be amazed by what you can achieve.
I love being in this field, I love working with artists and what I really love is seeing the impact of their success in the world around them.
We all benefit when artists can do what they love to do – create art that makes life beautiful for all of us.
If you are ready to take your grantwriting skills to the next level, keep your eyes open because I am going to open the Grantwriting 101 Tutorial for a limited registration period very soon. Once the spots are filled registration will close immediately so that the tutorial sessions can start right away.
My next post will be all about moving forward and it will give you more program details.
OK, now you have a whole lot of material to go over and to think about as you create your own grantstacking sequence for your artistic success.
Do me big favor – hit the Like button and leave me a comment!
Tell me how I can help you plan your success with your next grant.
Here’s to your success,
Has this happened to you?
There you are, busy putting together another proposal,, when suddenly an email sails into your inbox.
“We regret to inform you that we cannot fund your proposal…” flashes across your screen and rips a hole in your heart.
The short form letter spits out the language of rejection.
No reason. Sincerely yours.
Then another rejection comes in just as abruptly, and then another funder tells you they will be cycling you out of the grantee pool.
Um, what’s going on?
Puzzled, you rummage through your files. Thoughts ricochet through your mind…
“I’m overwhelmed. What do these panelists want?”
“How do I stand out to a committee when every applicant sends in a letter saying “I need this money to pay for studio, materials, and etc”?”
“But I followed everything the grantwriting professional said in the workshop. What could I possibly be doing wrong?”
I am sure you are doing a lot of things correctly. A grantwriting professional knows how to write a grant.
Here’s the bad news…
Unless she has sat on the other side of the table as a grant giver, she will not know how to write a grant that gets funded.
“Maybe I just need someone to walk me through how this all works.”
OK, here’s the good news…
I will be releasing the new Grantwriting 101 Tutorial soon to help you not only get grants, but to help you create an art career and life that you love.
What if you could you could walk into your studio every morning knowing all of your expenses for your upcoming show were covered? What if your your fans were also your supporters who eagerly follow your work and look forward to your events? And imagine if you could create such unique positioning in your field that allows you to become a force – a creative industry.
Grantwriting is not just about writing great proposals. There is a lot more that goes on behind the package.
There is a strategy…a sequence, a kind of blueprint that can get you there. It is a proven tested system that I have worked on for over 15 years and I am going to share it with you in this tutorial.
Here’s the link below to sign up for more great grantwriting tips:
CLICK HERE: the Grantwriting 101 Tutorial
Ask yourself: where will you be in a year from now?
Will you be doing the same thing you’re doing now still struggling to get a grant as an artist, or will you be a successful artist with a strong base of funders?
Here’s the story…
I don’t know about you, but when I started writing grants and fundraising, boy, did I make a ton of mistakes!
And to all those wise people who smile at you as you are picking yourself up from the floor with a big dent on your head and say, “We all learn from our mistakes”, I can only sigh and say that it is true and I have earned the equivalent of a masters degree from all of my mistakes.
Thankfully, your mistakes can be fixed. Making mistakes is a good thing — provided you learn from them.
I am still twitching just thinking about some of mine…
But if you’re thinking, “OK. As long as I learn from my mistakes, I’m good,” I have to tell you something …
…and you won’t like it.
You may not even know you’re making a mistake.
And that can really cause you and all of your grantwriting efforts a lot of needless pain.
Who needs that?
Even a rookie mistake can lose you potential funders, ruin your reputation, and continue to cost you precious time and energy if you don’t fix it in time.
But you have probably corrected the usual mistakes beginning grant writers make.
I bet you learned a couple of cool tips and tricks along the way…
But do you know what can secretly destroy everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve?
Hey, thanks again for all of your responses to my survey.
So many of you have questions about budgets and how to start putting one together.
” what is the hidden agenda in budgets”
“how do I plan a budget?”
“where do I start?”
OK everyone, this is your time to make your creative career succeed by getting a grant. And the budget is the most important part of the proposal. It put the numbers behind the narrative and if they don’t match up, you are out of luck and money.
I will spend an entire session answering these questions in the upcoming Grantwriting 101 Tutorial.
So in this post I am going to cut to the chase to save you time and heartache.
I am going to reveal some of the most common budgeting mistakes you may not know you are making that wildly successful grantwriters never make so you can avoid these errors in your next proposal.
At the end of a recent grant panel I asked my fellow reviewers a few questions about the experience we had just gone through to see what impressed them and what turned them off.
Over twenty applicants were looking for a piece of a million dollar pie.
In every pool, what usually happens is that a small percentage, maybe 5%, are clear slam-dunk rock stars and they get funded.
This is where you want to be.
Then we have another small percentage that are really bad and we just eliminate them for many of the reasons I will go into later.
This is where you definitely don’t want to be.
Here are the top 3 budget mistakes you may be completely unaware that you are making. Steer clear of them and you can become a slam-dunk rock star in that top 5%.
1. You are not paying yourself enough money
Outside of commissioning grants that can go entirely to the artist, or if it specifically says not to do so in the guidelines, pay yourself what it costs to do your project either as the artist or the manager.
Projects do not run themselves. Panelists will question the ability of the project to succeed if there is no money allocated to the administration of it.
Do not be afraid to make a case for ensuring that your project runs smoothly. An administration expense that is too low actually raises a red flag and reduces the confidence a panel has about the ability of the project to succeed.
How much should you pay yourself?
Make sure you ask that question when you are doing your research. Not all funders are the same.
I like to see at least 20%, no more than 32% of the budget go to the artist/applicant in a project budget.
2. Your project has no other funders
This one is a surefire bottom feeder.
What this says to me and the rest of the panel is –
- nobody else believes in your project
- if we don’t fund it, no one else will
Funders are like people looking for a good restaurant to have dinner. Who would want to go in to a place with no customers? The restaurant with the waiting list and the crowded bar is a much more appealing place to park their dollars.
Other sources of funding in your budget are social proof that other people willing to put their money where their mouth is on your behalf and surefire way to convince a curious funder who may be sitting on the fence.
3. You write for humans, not lizards
I have a tough time focusing on financial stuff after lunch. Or late in the afternoon.
Warning: my foggy mindset could be your downfall…
Think about it. If I feel this way, chances are the rest of the panel feels the same way. And unfortunately, you have no idea when your proposal will come up for review.
Assume you will be the last one in the pile on the last day when everyone just wants to go home.
Here’s my suggestion: write as if you are going on after the Beatles. Write for lizards, not sleepy humans.
Lizards are attracted by buttons and shiny objects.
Panelists are like that too. We like buttons, bullets… information that we can snap up easily. Give us short, clear budget notes, neat columns and tidy sums and we are happy.
What happens if we don’t get what we like?
I have seen this way too many times and it is not pretty…
We become cranky, not very happy about wading through a swamp of words and eventually, the inevitable happens –
Who needs this?
Do yourself a favor and make sure all your financial information look like something only a lizard could love.
In my first bonus Grantwriting 101 Tutorial post, I covered how to find funders and get them to love you and what you do. If you missed that, read it here.
Here’s the link to the post:
CLICK HERE: Finding Funders & Getting Them To Love You And What You Do
Look out for my next bonus Grantwriting 101 Tutorial post where I am going to go over each step of my grantstacking sequence that you can to get you in a successful fundraising flow that builds your creative career.
Here’s your link to sign up for more grantwriting know-how:
CLICK HERE: the Grantwriting 101 Tutorial
Got a question?
Ready to talk about creating a budget that is right for you?
Let’s button up your proposal budget to make funders instantly confident about you & your next project.
Do me a favor and hit the Like button and tell me how I can help you by leaving me a comment.
Here’s to your success,
You are alone in your studio.
You and your cup of coffee.
You think about what you really want to be creating. A deep sigh escapes from your soul.
Why did my last grant proposal get turned down?
Who else can I go to to for funding?
And how do other people get grants?
We all know that grantwriting is hard work, but what should you do when your efforts just don’t seem to pay off?
Do you cross your paint stained fingers and keep plugging away? Hope that your next proposal will be a winner? Pray that award letters will soon flood your inbox?
You need a new strategy, not wishful thinking.
When your grantwriting efforts aren’t doing as well as you’d like, don’t simply step up your efforts. And don’t give up.
Instead, take a step back and look at what you’ve done so far.
Do you have the right pieces – and the right thinking in place to impress panelists and win grants?
When I asked you to tell me what some of your top frustrations in grantwriting are, many of you said that knowing how to find funders and getting “detailed information on how to find those that have given grants in the past and those that would take grant submissions” were huge challenges.
This can be confusing but over the years I have developed a clear strategy for finding the right funders and building relationships. I go over this in the Grantwriting 101 Tutorial which will be released soon.
Go to the link below to sign up for more tips & updates:
CLICK HERE: the Grantwriting 101 Tutorial
If you want to create a simple strategy that will help you win more funders & fans, answer the four questions below.
Let’s start with understanding your funder.
1. Who is your one funder?
You might be aiming to send out proposals to several funders.
But if you think of large numbers of foundation, philanthropic, government and corporate funders, you turn them into a faceless crowd. And when you appeal to a faceless crowd, your writing becomes general, common, and boring.
OK, do you think Stephen King focuses on millions of readers when writing his bestsellers?
King tells us, in his book On Writing, he writes for one reader only — his wife. As he writes, he wonders, “What will Tabitha think about this section?”
Works pretty well for him.
When you write for one funder, your writing instantly becomes more engaging, focused, and persuasive. You’ll stand out more from the crowd, get more points for really knowing what is important to your funder, which will help you generate a higher ranking.
Do you know your one funder?
Can you imagine picking up the phone, introducing yourself and your project, and perhaps complimenting something you read on her website?
Have you had a conversation with any of the other artists listed on her website that have gotten grants?
Do you go to events that this funder supports? That is the best way to establish a personal contact.
And grantwriting is personal.
Foundations exist to give away money to fulfill their mission. But do you think they will give away money to someone they don’t know or trust?
Panelists look for a reason in your proposal to trust you with a grant to do your project. You can build that trust by doing a little homework to make your proposal more appealing.
To know your one funder, go beyond hitting the search button at the Foundation Center.
Dig a little deeper to understand their mission. Understand their priorities. Empathize with their goals, and inspire them with your ability to help them achieve their goals as well as yours.
2. Why would your funder fund you?
Your art might help you achieve a number of goals — increase your audience, build buzz, generate more sales in tickets or of your artwork, raise your profile, gain new collectors, etc.
But have you thought about what’s in it for your funder?
Why should she support you?
The panelists will read hundreds of proposals from people like you who will write all about the quality of their work and their artistic goals.
What can you do to stand out?
Here’s something to keep in mind:
- Funders have missions and goals that, at their core, are really about making the world a better place
- They have to give out money to people whose work is of high quality and aligns with those missions and goals
- Showing a funder how you are the best candidate to fulfill both her goals & yours is a smarter grantwriting strategy.
A few examples:
- As a painter, you might want to create new work and give an open studio tour for the community
- As a composer, you could help local music teachers and give a mini masterclass about engaging students in ensembles.
- As a dance company, you could give an open dress rehearsal for a neighborhood senior center
- As a multimedia artist, you might volunteer to create a set of awards for a local legislator to present to civic leaders
3. Are you crazy? I don’t have time to do all that!
To engage your funder and get a grant, you need to build a relationship.
To market your work and build an audience for your work, you have to do the same.
Don’t wait until you have spent all your time, money and energy creating work – and then start thinking about building support and awareness of your art.
Try thinking the other way around.
Consider the time you give in cultivating funders as an investment in marketing, promotion and building awareness of you & your art.
The world your funders occupy are full of people that could be your next raving fans, new collectors & buyers. Some of them are artists, many of them are art lovers.
And if you have a good relationship with a funder and she cannot fund you, she can recommend you to someone else who can. This happens more often than you think and you cannot get a better referral than that!
4. Do you build long-term relationships?
It’s easy to forget that people fund people. The concept is a cliché, but it’s true.
Before people will give you money, you need to build relationships:
- Invite them to your events, your studio. Many funders like to watch and observe what you are doing before giving you a grant.
- Attend events they are sponsoring. What a great way to meet them in person!
- If they have a blog, offer a guest blog or material for it. JetBlue, ConEdison and many other corporations have blogs that love feedback and input from the public. This can really help you build advocates on the inside and keep you top of mind for other unexpected opportunities.
To turn funders into supporters, be a good friend. Don’t treat them like numbers.
Here’s what to do next:
Ready to find funders & get them to love you and what you do?
Over the next 5 days, take 30 minutes a day and try my simple plan:
- DAY 1: create your profile and write down what makes your project unique
- DAY 2: make a list of 3-5 targeted funders and who they have funded. Study trade magazines like Poet & Writers. Contact your district legislators about funding opportunities. Check in with your local and state arts councils like Queens Council on the Arts.
- DAY 3: pick one funder and write down all of the ways your project meet their mission
- DAY 4: plan out your funder strategy. Can you contact a past grant awardee for some insight? (Hint: give them a compliment at the beginning of the conversation by congratulating them on their success) Have you checked the funder’s website or blog? Did you contact the funder’s office to ask for some advice regarding the application process? To answer another comment from the survey, “We need to know the trends that are being funded right now”, here’s your opportunity to find out.
- DAY 5: review all you have learned and decide it this is the funder for you
The simple truth about funders
Of course you’d love to get more grants. But the truth is, the money is less important than the relationship.
Authentic engagement with the people who can support you is what matters.
Develop relationships with your funders. Put them first and they will put you in their portfolio of successful grantees.
That’s how you win more grants.
Does your fundraising strategy keep funders engaged with your art and sync well with their missions?
What are you doing to build relationships with people who can support you?
I cover a lot more ground about this in the new Grantwriting 101 Tutorial where I really get into the one core strategy used by really smart grantwriters who consistently collect millions of dollars in grant awards.
Hang on to your calculators!
Look out for my next bonus Grantwriting 101 Tutorial post where I talk about all things budget such as how to avoid the 3 most common budget mistakes artists make.
Go to the link below to sign up for grantwriting strategies:
CLICK HERE: the Grantwriting 101 Tutorial
Got a question?
Let’s talk about finding funders that are right for you.
Do me a favor and hit the Like button and let me know how I can help you get funders excited about you & your next project in the comments below
Let’s get started,