Based on my experience writing multiple personal project grants, receiving the Minnesota State Arts Board Grant, writing grants for organizations, and assisting on a grant review panel, I’ve come across themes and tips to help artists with writing their own grants.
1. No Art Jargon!
Even though I went to art school, sometimes I have no idea what certain art-speak words mean that are in a grant proposal. Spell it out for me (the reviewer or reader). Explain phrases, words, or processes that a key to the project proposal. It is a-okay to throw in a definition of the word if it’s important to your work or how you talk about your work. Not all grant reviewers are artists who went to school for art, know fancy techniques, or know what that certain word means. If you are lucky, the reviewer will stop reading the proposal to look it up and return to the proposal, but don’t be surprised if they skim over the word.
2. List out Every Single Section the Grant Wants
If they ask for a background section, you had better write a project goals section! And on that note, if you are supposed to include something specific in the grant, well you had better have that in there too! Don’t leave anything out.
Some grant proposals simply give you a narrative section and a word limit. Sometimes grants without sections and specific questions are harder to write because you need to format the narrative so it flows while making a case for your proposal.
3. Use the Grant’s Vocabulary
The grant application packet will use certain words, phrases, and language to describe components and aspects of the grant. If they use the words, “community component” then use that phrase instead of public event or another synonym. Follow in the application’s footsteps, it will guide you, and you are meant to follow it.
4. Short sentences. Simple sentences.
Run-on sentences are really distracting especially when the grant reviewer has no idea what the first part of the sentence was about and even more so when you miss a comma and they notice it which will bring us to tip number 5.
5. Correct Spelling & Punctuation
It doesn’t get any more basic than that. You would be surprised how many simple spelling mistakes and grammatical errors show up on proposals, don’t do it. Read the proposal aloud, you will catch the grammatical mistakes more easily.
6. Don’t be Vague
If I have to assume you are doing something based on something you kinda-sorta said somewhere in the grant in some section, I’m going to think you don’t quite know what you are doing. Plan out the details and then tell the reader the details. Every single sentence should be there to describe and tell the grant reviewer about the proposal and why you deserve funding.
7. And You Are…?
While the application will have your name plugged into the top of the proposal, once the reviewer scans through all the outcomes and statistical information, we will most likely forget your name. So when you begin the grant, introduce yourself.
8. No Weird Formatting
Most proposals are online. This means that most formatting is done for you already. Don’t add fancy bullets and indents if you don’t need them because they will look funny when the computer sorts them into a re-viewable format for the grant reviewer. For example, bullet points often turn into question marks when you are submitting copy-pasted text into a form. Keep it simple.
9. Simple, Clear Lists
I noticed about a quarter of the grant proposals had clear and concise lists for action steps, major goals, or budgets. This made it super clear to read. Consider if writing out a section of the grant works best or if a concise neat list delivers your material and concepts better. Review tip 8 if you are going to use a list in your proposal,
10. No Repeats
No use repeating yourself. When you repeat the content, information, statements, and tasks of your proposal, you are essentially eating up word space you can use to tell me other details and information about the project. If it was in there once and it was clear, the panelist read it. No use repeating yourself.
11. Solidify as Many Details as Possible
Solidify names of people, places, or organizations who have already agreed to help with seeing your project out. You can also include dates of specific progress points in the project. It illustrates your dedication to the project and that you have many of the fine details planned. Consider planning out as much as you possibly can so you can tell the grant panel all aspects of the project.
12. Include Budgeting in the Narrative
If you are describing that you will be spending some of the budget on studio space I have used the technique where Insert a parenthesis into the written proposal and include the budget amount ($3000 for 1-year rent). You don’t want the reviewer to scroll down to the budget and surprise see that you are spending 2k on some equipment that you forgot to mention in the proposal. Keep your budget and your proposal parallel, combine as much budget into the written proposal as you can.