Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tips from the Grant Geek

I want to use this blog to share some reminders about applicable sources of funding and my personal perspective on effective grantwriting.

To clarify, all SG orgs are eligible to apply for grants from the Arts Work Fund. Although it is housed at the Trust, it is a collaborative fund comprised of about 10 contributors, so it is not considered a second grant from us. The next DEADLINE IS MAY 15, 2011.

You may also wish to check out
Living Philanthropic to see how a former SG grantee, Changing Worlds, was able to benefit from this new online fundraising opportunity.

Congratulations to Young Chicago Authors, another SG graduate, for being selected as the recipient of the $5,000 donation from the "Fake Rahm" twitter fun!

On a more serious note, here's my tip for today. The 3 most essential elements of a grant request are: 1) being on time, 2) being complete, and 3) being compelling. I hope the first two are self-evident, so I'll focus on my definition of "compelling" for the next couple of posts, and at the risk of sounding negative, I'll feature the most common things that are NOT COMPELLING!

Vague superlatives are not compelling. Every proposal I read, from mega-million dollar institutions to SG applicants, states repeatedly that their work (no matter what it is) is "high quality". The majority also use "world-class", "innovative", unique" and "award-winning" over and over again. Frankly, this is a waste of characters (given the limit) because it is so relative and subjective and vague that it becomes useless as an evaluative measure.

If your org has won an award (recently - within the last 3 years), state what it is. If you've performed internationally and received acclaim abroad, be specific.

In the arts, "quality" is similar to "beauty"; it is often in the eye of the beholder. People tend to assume that if an organization is prestigious and well-endowed that its work is high quality because it has attracted such wide attention and support; however, you will probably agree that small organizations that are lesser known can also produce work that some of these very same judges would regard as high quality, but of course, they don't know about it. There are always debates about who is the judge of "quality" in the arts, and that's probably healthy but it should not be the focus of grantmaking.

Think about the specific descriptors that are unique and measurable about your work. If it is arts ed, perhaps it is "effective" in achieving the stated student outcomes at a certain level that is measured over time. If your work strives to further the public understanding of a particular culture, then one specific factor would be "authenticity" - how authentic is the work you are doing, how well-researched, how deeply connected to its roots, etc. If "unique" or "innovative" is your point of difference, then you need to demonstrate that you've actually researched the other options in the region and can document that your org is the only one doing this work.

I know this is a geeky way to analyze grantwriting, but when you read hundreds of them (as I do), it seems like it would be helpful to share some of these insights.


  1. The link for Arts Work Fund above is broken. It should be Thanks for the tip. I will look into this.

    -Juan Dies, Sones de Mexico Ensemble

  2. Thanks for the clarification on the Arts Work Fund. Great to know that we can still apply for these grants.

  3. ALWAYS good to hear feedback from one who reads lots of grants. Thank you, Suzanne! and here's to being more compelling!


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