How to Write a Grant Proposal

Persuasive, cohesive grant proposals are key to winning funding for visual artists from private foundations, the federal government and individuals. Writing grant proposals is generally thought to be something that is extremely difficult and time-consuming, It doesn’t have to be. What distinguishes one proposal from another is thoughtful, systematic and cohesive writing.

There are three basic types of grant proposals:

  • A letter of inquiry (LOI) is a one-to-two page summary that outlines the project. Funders request a brief description of the project before making a decision on whether to ask for a longer and more comprehensive proposal.
  • A letter proposal is a three-five page description of the project plan, the purpose for which funds are being requested, and background information of the artist or group requesting funds.
  • The long proposal is the most common document that funders seek. Three to forty pages or longer, it contains the cover letter and proposal summary. The usual format for a long proposal includes the need statement, goals and objectives, methods, budget, and evaluation.

Here are some tips on how to craft winning grant proposals:

  • Begin with the need statement, a description of the artistic need that your project is addressing. (Some funders refer to the need statement as the “problem” statement.)
  • Support your need statement with persuasive evidence such as slides, photographs, news reports, etc.
  • Use language and a format that are easy to read and understand, and be sure your need statement is consistent with your ability to respond to it responsibly.

Next develop the goals and objectives. The goal defines the ultimate result of the change that is being proposed, whereas the objectives are the measurable steps you expect to accomplish in the process of reaching your goal. Simply put, a goal is the end result that the objectives help you to reach.

  • One way to write a good objective is to start your objective statement with wordings that suggest a purpose, such as “to reduce,” “to increase,” “to decrease,” and “to expand.” Here’s an example: “The objective of my photographic exhibition is to address the issue of child labor in South Asia.”
  • Objectives must be clear and concise. Your goals and objectives should tie directly to the need statement. The grant reviewer needs to be able to figure out that by the time the goals and objectives are met, the problem or need statement will have been addressed.

Then comes the methodology section, which refers to the methods you will use to reach your objectives. A method is a detailed description of the activities or strategies to be implemented in order to achieve the end specified in the objectives. This is the section in which you explain what methods you will be using for the artistic project and why you have selected those specific methods. The following tips can increase your chances of writing an effective methodology:

  • Specify the activities that need to be done to meet the objective.
  • State the starting and ending dates of the project.
  • Name the person(s) responsible for completing each activity.
  • Spell out the criteria for selecting participants.
  • Tell why this particular method was chosen.
  • Show how the methods are congruent with resources requested in the budget.
  • Specify the population that will be served and, if applicable, how they will be chosen.

Next, the budget section details the funds you will need to carry out the artistic project. This isn’t the place to surprise the reviewer with any unrelated expenses.

  • Every item that’s written in the budget must tie into the rest of the proposal. Funders want to know exactly where their dollars will be going.
  • The budget section can be itemized using topics such as art tools, framing costs, film rolls, personnel, salary, travel and living expenses.
  • If partial funding for the project has already been received, the budget section is the place to note it.

Finally, the evaluation section is where you show how you will measure the degree of success in meeting the objectives in the grant application. The fewer objectives you mention in the proposal, the easier it is to develop the evaluation plan, which should include several things:

  • The program’s objectives and how you (and the grantor and the public) will know if they have been met.
  • The data that will be collected to evaluate the project.
  • How the data will be analyzed.
  • Who will provide a report of the artistic project.
  • Closely tied to evaluation is dissemination. Most private foundations want their applicants to share the findings of the project with others. Dissemination refers to the spreading of the information, which can be achieved via a report, video, book, conference, radio program or any combination of these.

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The following is the opening section of a proposal I submitted to a private foundation. I requested funds to do a public art project on alcoholism:

Did you know that there are approximately 32 million people in the United States awaiting death row? That’s right—32 million alcoholics await execution through the lethal drug. Alcoholism claims one out of 10 people in the U.S. and is the number one drug killer.

During the last thirty years there has been a general understanding in the United States that alcoholism is a progressive family disease, and that it is treatable. This medical advancement has transformed lives of alcoholics and their families to step outside of their self-inflicted cells and to enjoy things in life besides alcohol.
Unfortunately, the majority of alcoholics and their families live in denial and transmit dysfunctional elements caused by the disease to the next generation.

“Living in a Box” will be a public art project taking place in Oregon. It will give visual representation to the insanity caused by alcoholism and how it shrinks the world of alcoholics into cells over a period of time. The goal of the public art project is to inspire alcoholics and their families to take the first step toward recovery, and that is to stop living in denial about the disease.

Notice the arresting opening sentence. It paints a graphic image of “thirty two million people awaiting death row.” Right at the start I convey the gravity of the problem through statistics and point out that there isn’t time to waste. Painting a vivid picture of the problem that’s being addressed and of what can be done to make the situation better are bonus points that bring your application a step closer to getting funded.

Some of the projects visual artists can seek funding for are organizing an exhibition, purchasing a camera or other artistic equipment, creating public art, producing a published work, enrollment in art instruction and traveling overseas to conduct artistic projects and research.

 

Preethi Burkholder is an artist and author. She writes grant proposals on behalf of individual artists and nonprofits. She can be contacted at preethiwriter@hotmail.com. Visit her website at www.giftedhandswriting.com.


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