5 Tips for Grant Research
It's easy to get excited about the prospect of grant funding : grants carry with them a certain amount of prestige and the assurance that your work is (at least somewhat) funded, not to mention the fact that, if a funder is willing to give you a grant, they respect your work.
But as the saying goes, only fools rush in. Foundation funding is highly competitive, and usually grantmakers are very specific about what they will and will not fund - they might have regional priorities, budgetary restrictions, or stipulations about the type of art they're interested in funding. Still, they receive a LOT of applications, the vast majority of which aren't funded, often because the applicant's work simply doesn't fit within the specified funding priorities.
With this in mind, it's important to take time to compile a list of funders whose funding priorities are in line with your mission and activities. This way, you're not spending unnecessary time and resources applying for grants that aren't a good fit for you, nor are you asking the funder to review a grant application that falls outside their scope.
Here are a few tips and resources to keep in mind when commencing the grant research process:
- Know your needs: Before you can start the process of compiling a list of grants that might be a good fit for you, it's important to sit down and really clarify what you need. This can include ironing out a budget (even if it's rough), determining when you'll need funding, and clarifying your mission and need. While these will all be important points to address in the grant writing process, they will also provide the foundation for your research.
- Know your tools: When it comes to grant research, a Google search is probably not going to cut it. There are a number of online resources designed to help with the process of grant research, which provide the in depth information you'll need to determine whether a funder is a good fit for you. I often start with The Foundation Center's Foundation Directory Online, which offers comprehensive, detailed information on thousands of grantmakers. From there, I often cross reference NYFA Source and GuideStar. Now don't get me wrong - I usually do a Google search too, but these three more specialized resources are essential to give you the detailed information you'll need to compile and refine your list of potential grantmakers.
- Don't reinvent the wheel: Another great tool at your disposal is other artists and arts organizations, like you. Find artists or companies whose mission, budget size, or activities are similar to yours, and see if you can learn what foundations and grantmakers have given to them in the past. This, in addition to a general search, can yield results for your list that you already know might be a good fit for you.
- Dig deep: The goal of grant research is to compile a list of funders who are a good fit for your work, and you're not going to be able to determine that unless your research digs deep. Grantmakers are usually very up front and specific about their funding priorities, and it's important to carefully read their guidelines to determine whether your project fits within the scope of those priorities. In addition to reading the guidelines, you'll also want to find out if your ask amount fits within their typical range, if they give within your region, and whether you have any personal connections with their staff or board. Much of this information can be found on the above resources, but it's also never a bad idea to peruse a funder's 990, which should be publicly available online. Applying for grants is a time consuming process, and you don't want to begin the application until you've fully investigated whether a funder is a good match for you.
- Ask questions: For any information you can't find in your research, ask! While some foundations specifically note they don't take calls (and if they state this, don't call), many welcome inquiries and phonecalls from prospective applicants. Before you begin writing the grant, you can reach out to them to confirm their funding priorities or ask any questions about their application process. This will help you determine if the funder is a good fit, and ensure you have everything you need to get started on the application itself.
When it comes to applying for grants, knowledge is power. If you take the time to do thorough research, you not only compile a list of grantmakers who might help fund your work, you also gain knowledge and understanding for the applications themselves. It's important to tailor grant applications to the individual funder you're applying to, and the more you know about that funder, the better you can hone your application to be for them specifically. Taking this time for research will inform not only who you apply to, but how you apply.