So, you’re a creative person with a big idea. You’ve fleshed out your new program, dreamed up a performance, or crafted a community class. But you’re missing one crucial detail. You can’t make your idea come to life without financial support.
As a dancer, choreographer, and filmmaker currently beginning a new creative process in New York City, I hear you! Rather than depleting your savings account or relying on generous donations from friends and family, it’s time to break into the big leagues for creative endeavors: grant writing.
Navigating the world of grant writing for nonprofits and artists can be a nebulous task. There’s enormous competition, a specific writing style, and what feels like a wealth of background knowledge required to navigate the grant writing process.
Luckily, there is a structure to follow which can make the process easier, and make your grant writing that much more persuasive. Whether you’re a choreographer, theater director, filmmaker, community activist, composer, multi-media artist, or non-profit administrator—all you need is a big idea, a beautiful visual document, and a few basic communication tools.
The structure for any successful grant writing project is simple:
- Know your audience
- Communicate your message
- Tell your story
Do research to understand what your audience really cares about.
How do you get the funder for your grant writing project onboard? You position your amazing big idea in a way that’s relatable to your specific audience. Doing your research on the organization, the people behind it, and who they’ve funded in the past, can help you reach them where they are.
If you’re looking for a grant from a local arts council, explain why your work in the community is important to their mission. Appealing to funders that have similar value systems to you and your work will be key in achieving resonant frequency—tapping into the same vibration, and together, creating a new sound.
Try to get past the prestige of an organization’s name, or the amount of money you’re reaching for. Painting a picture of who your audience is during their ordinary lives will help you connect with them and communicate from a place of empathy.
Define what’s at stake and be explicit in your request.
Cut to your request quickly in your grant writing, especially when presenting to executives. Clearly and concisely explain your request and how funding from this organization would make your big idea come to life. If the grant writing is clear on the answer to this question, chances are the recipient will be, too.
Here are some questions to consider when grant writing:
- Has a project been done like yours before?
- If so, how is what you’re doing pushing that idea forward?
- What would happen to the project if money from this funder didn’t come through?
- Why does your idea matter to you, to the funder, and to the world?
Oftentimes artists speak figuratively about the big picture, and in doing so, sacrifice the specific details and nuances that make our work unique. Now is the time to write with passion from your personal point of view. As Nancy Duarte wrote in her book HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations, “no presentation should be devoid of emotional content, no matter how cerebral the topic or audience.”
Create conflict by juxtaposing what is with what could be.
Toggling between what is and what could be is the key to making your argument in grant writing. That is, they alternately build tension and provide release by going back and forth between the status quo and a better way. For example, what work is being made right now, and how might the field be shifted or changed if your project came to life? Believe in the power of your big idea and speak with confidence about what the world will look like once your idea becomes a reality.
To all creatives out there – performers, makers, educators, nonprofit administrators, community workers – this is for you! Wishing you luck during the grant writing process for your next big project.
Illustrated by Sofia Gonzalez