In this article I will take you through the main steps when writing a grant proposal and you can download your grant proposal template to better compose your own application in the future.
At the moment we are planning an upcoming exhibition with our course mates and are sending grant proposals left, right and center.
A tedious job, but a necessary one – at some point you do want to get funding for your artistic work and projects, which will enable you to truly focus on only one thing and not worry about your financial situation.
1. Make your proposal clear and easy to read
For many grants, the main criteria is usually clarity – how well can you articulate your goals? This is because the judges read the proposals before they see the photographs. So do not rely on the images alone, since they can only provide the visual narrative.
For software, I use Photoshop or Indesign, since I’m already accustomed with them and they are simple to use with any level on skill.
You have to accurately describe the type of work you make. The more elaborated writing you can provide, the more efficient your application will be.
When you are writing your proposal, answer these questions
- What is your project about? (Theme, starting point, societal reference)
- Why are you applying for the grant? (material costs, exhibition costs, working grant)
- Why should you get the grant ? (Your project is significant for _ reason)
2. Explain your goals for the grant
I’ve talked with multiple artists who have received grants, and they all had one thing they wanted to underline: the best proposals were “very clear about their goals.” Photographers need to explain the story they want to tell, and how the grant will help them tell that story.
There are a lot of proposals that just ramble on about the topic, but you never have an idea of what they want to do or where they were going to take it. Shorter is even better, if it clearly explained.
3. Submit photos that show your previous work
Some applications require a specific amount of images from your previous series or projects. However, in some cases, a broader portfolio is welcomed. The most successful portfolios show the strongest work that are hand-picked from the sea of your produced photographs. The photos you submit should reflect your ability to complete the project successfully. Killing your darlings is a skill not many can master; showing only the work that is meaningful in this specific application with this required criteria. Less in more, and showing too much, will only leave your audience confused. To learn how to edit your photo series, you can check this article here.
4. Add a cost estimate if necessary
Judges need to be confident that if you receive the grant, you can execute your proposal.
This requires you to be brutally honest about your costs surrounding the project you’re applying the funding for. Breakdown of material costs, rental costs and other unexpected costs to the point will communicate that you are indeed aware of what your practice consists of and makes it easier for the judges to see your ability to plan ahead on where the funding is going to go.
5. Make one now and refine it for every new application
The best proposals are the ones where the person has already started on it, so you get a hint of what this project will look like. Help the judges connect the dots by getting a jumpstart on your proposal. How can they say no when you’ve already proven that it’s great?
I hear a lot of the same questions artists ask when they are planning to apply for a grant. The first is what kinds of research can you do to make sure your application is going to stand out. A really, really important thing in doing a successful grant proposal is to first research the grant organization itself. What kind of grants have they approved in the past? The amounts and the backgrounds of the artists applying is essential. You will get a feel of what you could apply for with your experience and proposal.
One of the things you can do with any responsible granting organization is to reach out to them to inquire about the criteria they have and if your project will fall within the frame of their themes.
And I recommend reaching out early— not waiting until the last 72 hours — because you’ll be much less likely to get a thoughtful response at the last minute nor still have the time to make a well-built proposal.
Especially early on, I’d be amazed how many people would submit things with no consciousness of who won the grant the previous year. You need to do your research on what kind of themes have been winning during previous years.
Very rarely is any organization going to give a grant on the same subject matter two years running. So you really need to know the history of the granting organization.
For example, during these times the grants I applied to were granted to artists who had suffered from this ongoing state of the world. They said they specifically wanted to support projects that could be socially impactful and could financially support the production of photographic projects.
So I went back to my proposal and decided to go with this story I have been working on for years all while meeting a need that isn’t being covered in other projects — and this was the year I won the grant. It obviously also has to do with the strength of your photographs but if your proposal is really good, it’ll get you to the finalist stage.
Also, don’t give up on applying for grants. Anything worth having for requires work; I applied for 4 times until I was accepted to an Art University. I know people who give up after once and I’m like “no, no, no! Keep going!” I applied many times with my mother project and didn’t get the grant. But I kept applying; different amounts for different aspects of the projects – sometimes it would be for material costs and another time it would be a working grant. Because the essence of the project might change overtime too.
Organizations want to see that you’re at a turning point in your work and your career and you have to be able to write about why it matters. There’s a confidence they look for. And they are the ones who can provide you the tools to develop your work further.
Another question I was asked was whether to talk to judges: Never approach the judges. But you can talk to other photographers, especially other photographers who have won in the past.
If you want to get more detailed information about the application process, I’ve also created the no-frill Grant Proposal Guide.
This guide has everything you’ll need to know about the process and a step-by-step structure with the actual application I’ve used when winning my first grant.
What are you waiting for? LET’S GET STARTED!
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