Grant Readiness Checklist: 5 Ways to Know You're Prepared
Unsurprisingly, there aren't a ton of grant deadlines in the month of December. In fact, you're probably spending a lot of your efforts trying to gin up end-of-year giving from individual donors - and keep fighting that good fight. But now might also be the perfect opportunity to do a quick check-in on your arts practice or arts organization to evaluate your readiness for grant opportunities in the new year.
For those of you who've never applied for a grant before (and even for many of you who have) here are five juicy tidbits to stew on about as you determine your preparedness for the upcoming grants season.
- Track Record: If this is your first time at the rodeo, then you're probably not ready to apply for grants. While there are some organizations that offer seed money to new projects or new organizations, most institutional funders will find you a competitive applicant only after you have a body of work under your belt. For our fiscally sponsored projects, we also require that you raise at least $1,000 from individual donors before you are eligible to apply for grants through Fractured Atlas. Even after you've got $1,000 in the bank, you likely won't have a "grants-ready" track record under your belt for perhaps your first couple years in operation. Being able to point to a successful history at both creating art and raising funds can give a foundation confidence that, if they elect to award you a grant, their contribution will be in good hands to steward both your and their missions.
- Goals: Okay, so you've been creating your work or providing your services for a while and have shown aptitude at soliciting support from individual donors. The next things to consider are your mid- and long-term goals and how grant funding could fit into your plans. As grants from corporations, foundations, and the government are limited (and therefore extremely competitive), you need to realize that the role of grant funding is not to fill a budget shortfall - you can rarely guarantee that income will be there for you. Rather, you should determine how a grant could take your already-promising project or organization and make it that much more effective. With a grant, how many more people in your community can you reach, how can your project be even more impactful, or how can you expand your offerings to make the awesome work that you're doing even better? On the flip side, in addition to having clear goals, funders will also want you to know how you will evaluate your success at accomplishing them. So think about the specific evidence (anecdotal, numerical) that you'll need in order to know if you achieved what you set out to do and the ways in which you will obtain that evidence.
- Narrative: You better be sure to have a good storyteller leading the charge on your grant submissions. Effective proposals tell a compelling narrative about your project or organization. So do some self-reflection to see if you can piece together what your story is. Some things to think about: where did the idea for your work come from, what issues in your community are you addressing, who are the key players and what makes them uniquely suited to this project, what successes and challenges have you encountered so far, and what does the road ahead look like? Put yourself in the shoes of the person at the foundation reading your proposal. They will likely enjoy your proposal so much more if you're putting your communication skills to good use and telling them an engrossing story that they can read over their cup of coffee.
- Budget: Many, but not all, grant applications will ask for you to submit a budget. That said, if you've never created a budget for your work before, or if like many arts projects your budgeting is flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, you're probably not ready to apply for grants. Consider the fact that many funders ask for a final report 6 months or a year after they have awarded you a grant. This report might require you to compare your budgeted financials to your actual financials. If you didn't have a budget to begin with, that might be a tall order. Fortunately, there are many educational resources available online for you to learn more about crafting a budget. The Foundation Center has a quick tutorial. We also regularly give a webinar on creating budgets - click here for a recording of one of our recent budget webinars.
- Research: Once you've done some soul-searching to determine that you're ready to apply for grants, it's time to look outward and do some research on prospective funders to reach out to. We have already dedicated space on our blog to this topic; click here for more info about grant research. Last year, I also wrote a blog post about how to read a funder's 990. Research isn't the most exciting aspect of applying for a grant, but extremely necessary nonetheless. As you do this important homework, you can determine if a given funder is a good fit - so review their eligibility criteria and funding priorities to make sure that you are in alignment. This should go without saying - by all means look to see if the foundation that you're researching has a website. If they have a website, likely there will be contact info listed. Unless a funder's website explicitly says "no phone calls," we strongly encourage you to give them a call. Successful grantseeking is often about building a relationship between yourself and a funder, so introduce yourself to them and get the chance to know them better before submitting a proposal if at all possible. A great friend to Fractured Atlas, who is a skilled fundraiser that has raised millions of dollars for New York City cultural institutions, once told us that her successful grant submissions (where she actually received an award) came only after she had first established a relationship with someone at the foundation.
Many of you already know that grantseeking is hard - and occasionally rewarding - work. Hopefully this article gave you some food for thought as you consider your approach to applying for grants in the near future. A little mindfulness can go a long way. Godspeed!
For further reading, check out these resources: