The Most Powerful Question You Need To Answer To Get A Grant




A million words must be shed.

Countless coffee urns and late afternoon cookie trays must be filled.

Hundreds of donuts, glazed like the eyes of the people plodding through a sea of grant applications, will be munched on until all that is left is a communal sugar buzz.

Many artists want to know how to write a rocking proposal that gets a grant and ask, “What can I do to impress a grant panel?”

Good question.

You always want to know how to stand out in a competitive field.

Are there phrases, preferences, passions or priorities you need to be focusing on?

Really good question.

But honestly, you would know all of this because you’ve already done your research, right?

There is a better question.

This is the most important question you need to get right because if you don’t, nothing else will matter.

Answer this question

What is the transformation my art will make for my audience?

This is the question Why?

Why are you making this piece of art?

This question is not about how many paintings you will make, or the materials you will be using for your sculpture or how many musicians will be performing.

Most artists default to answers like that without truly answering the far more important question – Why?

Before a funder will give you money for your project, they need to be convinced of the benefit of your project, the impact it will have on the people they care about.

If you are aligned with your funder’s mission, passion and audience, this will be easy for you.

In other words, sell Paris, not the plane.

Two artists, two answers to Why?

In a recent small group workshop, 2 artists brought proposals to work on.

The first artist described her project in great detail:  the number of paintings, how they would be installed, the subject matter and how it related to the history of the community.

“OK, that tells me what you will be doing,”  I said.  “Now tell me why.”

She paused for a moment, “Well, I am obsessed by a beautiful tree in my neighborhood and I want to capture it in a  series of paintings.”

The sentence hung in the air.

I asked my famous question,” What is the unique transformation your art will provide for your audience?”

I asked this question several times until she came to the answer – I created these paintings of this tree to remind people to experience joy and wonder in the beauty that exists in their everyday life.

She said that a few times and said, “It seems so bold somehow, but that’s exactly what I feel inside.  Can I really just say that?”

Be bold, be bigger

How can it be that artists, the cool people who take big, bold risks in their art, are so timid about telling people stuff like this?

This is exactly what I want to know before I know anything else.

Be bold, be big or go home

Here’s a hot tip: Grant reviewers are people.  And like anyone else, we long to be delighted and amazed.  

If I am not sold on the Why?, then What you do does not interest me.

The second artist had a project that had been turned down but she had called for panel comments so she knew where her proposal fell short.

“I did not show how my project would include this specific community,” she said.  “So I will use all locally found materials and place my finished art pieces in specific locations throughout this particular neighborhood.”

Again, I asked my famous question, “What is the unique transformation you art will provide for your audience?”

Her answer, after drilling down with this question several more times, was this:  My art project asks people to think about how they place value in things, what they keep, what they discard, and what they replace.

Nothing is more impressive than an artist who can square their shoulders with a light in their eyes and tell you why their art will rock your world.

All you have to do is answer the question.


Hoong Yee

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer.

Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view to help you get a grant and get your work out there!


The Cultural Equity T Shirt Project


How do you support artists whose work questions, argues, provokes, disrupts and refuses to accept anything less than an equitable cultural ecosystem?

This is the question that drove me to the 2015 Americans for the Arts Pre-Conference on Cultural Equity in Chicago.

I am looking for answers.

I am looking for some clear footing to build action steps forward.  Now.


Because I, and many of my friends and colleagues have spent way too much time talking, and not doing.

What I want answers to

Let me begin with some questions that came up in response to Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy, a report released by the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy (NCPR) by Holly Sidford at the 2011 Grantmakers in the Arts conference in San Francisco.

Questions such as:

  • Is equity about access, outreach, and distribution of philanthropic funds?
  • Or is it about the essential roles that art and culture play in public life and social well-being?
  • How does equity in arts and cultural funding relate to racial and ethnic equity?
  • What about equity in arts and culturally based economic development?

Discussing these questions led to more questions.  More questions, more talk.  More talk, less action.


In response to the following questions, I offer a series of T shirts that can be worn on select occasions such as budget testimony hearings or community board meetings…

What are we talking about when we talk about cultural equity?

In a session intriguingly titled, Art as a Force for Equity,  here are some answers, retorts and challenges offered by Chay Yew, Victory Gardens Theater, Maria Gaspar, 96 Acres Project, Jane M. Saks, Project&, David Feiner, Albany Park Theater and Sixto Wagan, University of Houston.

artflow_2015061520491Give the community radical access to creative process

Give people a place for:

  • access
  • equity
  • agency
  • reflection

Give art respect

Art is a distinct and powerful experience, dangerous in the most possible ways

Art is not a first responder. It is a second responder that provides:

  • sustenance
  • humanity
  • healing, teaching
  • an experience of beauty
  • a way to feel human, to respect human dignity

The challenge is: how do second responders shift paradigms?

Art has the power to shift the canon, to create something that would not have been, to create value for the unrealized

To realize the dream, speak the dream out loud. Again. Again, many times and with many people

Appreciate the merits of jumping first. Here’s a secret insight: people will follow if you do something first

What is the purpose of revolutionary artist?

This question was raised in a session titled, Partnership & Power, and met with responses from Pemon Rami, DuSable Museum of African American History, Masequa Myers, South Side Community Art Center, Bill Michel & Emily H. Lansana, Logan Center for the Arts, Rebecca Zorach, University of Chicago, Heather Robinson, Beverly Art Center and John Haworth, National Museum of the American Indian.


Art is the rehearsal for revolution

The purpose of the revolutionary artist is revolution


See me

“That was a good spreadsheet, I think of it often.”

What can the artists’ role be in the future of public art?

Within the Short Stacks: Artist Talks presentations by Sara Daleiden, MKE<-> LAX, Lauren Woods, Artist, Maria Gaspar, Artist and Jean Shin, Artist, the seed of a new MFA curriculum course emerged:

The Art of Shapeshifting

This crucial skill set not found in traditional MFA programs develops:

  • active mobility
  • flexing through cultural zones
  • focus on new mobilities vs cultural divides
  • placing the arts in decision making structures
  • how to build relationships with creative thought partners to do these projects

What is my opportunity as an individual artist for my city?

Finally, in his keynote presentation, Theaster Gates offers the following insights on the topic of Empowering the Voices Inside Communities Through the Arts:


The Power of Two

Art is a spiritual conduit for humanity

Art can make new questions emerge in public dialogue

You need to get little bit out, a little Bootsy, a little Sun Ra

Can we be inside and outside our studios?

“I’m never lonely.”

Steve Colbert: You’re turning things into art I didn’t have to think about.

Why? Art makes things visible, legible – like your consciousness, and puts it in front of people

You do the life

Then it is on people

That’s what that does

Wear your passions proudly people.

Hoong Yee

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

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How To Write A Grant In A Hamster Wheel

After weeks and days of a winter that just won’t let go, nothing brings home the promise of spring and new beginnings than a smack in the head from the universe.

That’s right.  I just got drop kicked into a hamster wheel of deadlines of Things That Must Be Done Now and true to my Number 1 Daughter DNA, I dug in and worked my tail off.

Until I fell off the hamster wheel.

Sidelined with a hoarse cough that racks my entire body, a pounding headache and the inability to remain vertical for any length of time.

And through it all, confident that everything going out will be killer.

Here’s the secret:

The slow death of a hamster wheel comes from smart organizational skills.

Need your latest 900 or audited statement?  No problem.

What about the latest press pieces about you and work?  Piece of cake.

And what if this proposal is similar to one you just wrote?  Cut & paste.

A file on my computer named Knowledge Management is what keeps me sane.  It keeps me nimble and quick to seize unexpected opportunities because I know where I can get my hands on what I need.  Fast.

Here’s what mine looks like:


This is a big file.  I keep current and prospective funders in here with a chronological list of proposals.  I further break them into these categories:

  • Foundation
  • Corporate
  • Legislative
  • Family
  • Other

Having all of your proposals filed accordingly creates a Swipe File for you – a place where you can lift, cut and paste text that you wrote for one funder that you could use for another.


Keep all of your pieces chronologically.


Keep a scanned copy of your materials here.


This is a great place to get quotes from .

Tip:  Always ask and always follow up with a short list of bulleted points you would like them to speak to.  Otherwise you will end up with something well intentioned but unfocused and often not useful.

Work Samples

Many of you have big files and store your work on other servers like Vimeo.  If you are like me, you probably have a huge list of passwords because you’ve forgotten what it was and had to reset it.

Tip:  TAKE THE TIME to note the new password in a secure file!  You will save yourself so much aggravation by doing so. 


This is a good place to store any kind of assessment tool you use like an audience survey, questionnaire, program evaluation form.  You can also keep anything you find that you think works well here and adapt it.


Boiler Plate

I keep my mission statement, list of board members, data such as audience attendance, demographics or trends, a chronological file of audited statements and annual reports, one page fact sheet here.  This is where I also kee

Tip:  Keep your electronic signature here.  It comes in handy when you are doing e grants or need to email signed documents and reports.


The key is to respect your information by updating and maintaining it on a consistent basis.

Believe me, all you need is your Knowledge Management file to slow down that hamster wheel to your own pace.






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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.






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Don’t Know What To Say To A Funder? Use Your Top Two Superpowers To Find Out



Is This A Time For The Big Guns?

He wore a bowtie.

But wait, that’s not all.

A classic harris tween cap, camel colored to match his burnished wingtip shoes.

A copy of my recent proposal covered with earnest comments sat squarely in front of him.

As his gaze lifted to meet mine, I wondered – Is this a time for the big guns?

We all do this.

A sudden or unexpected challenge can make the most experienced and confident among us knee jerk ourselves into a twitching heap of self doubt.  Believe me, when it comes to twitching, I am peerless.

What questions could this grant officer from a very prestigious foundation possibly have that would bring him out on a snowy unseasonably and unreasonably cold Saturday morning to conduct a site visit of my program?  Did I forget something important? What did I do wrong?

From the look in his eye there were quite a few.  My mind began a mental Google search for Brilliantly Clever Ways To Say Things.

I squared my shoulders and forced a casual and hopefully, confident smile.

I can do this…  I know exactly what to say…

He smiled back and began to speak.

I stared in disbelief.

From that moment on, I knew I had won.

What You Should Never Forget About Scary Situations

You are talented, passionate, endlessly creative.

You deserve to be doing what you love as you build a successful career as an artist, a creative professional.

People are drawn to you because of your energy.  People like funders and donors.

Even donors in intimidating bowties.

And we are really talking about people talking to people.

The trappings, the fancy offices, the clothes, the words… all these things we use to scare ourselves silly sometimes because we forget that.

That you have all the answers you need.

That you are the best candidate for the grant.

That at the end of the day, these people are looking for reasons to support you, not to tear you down.

And if you have done your homework, there is absolutely no reason in the world why you shouldn’t get the grant because you both share the same mission, the burning passion, the impact your work will have on people.

You are each other’s people.

Your Secret Weapon

Yes, this is a time to pull out the big guns.

Take a deep breath and shut up.

That’s right.

Use your ears and listen.

In a matter of minutes you will know everything you need to know to carry this conversation off successfully.

As he spoke I sensed his interest in what would make this program better, who else could benefit from it, how would it look in the next 3 -5 years?

Simply inquiring about what we do as someone interested in being a part of it in a bigger way than I had expected.

Aha, so that’s where this is going.

Definitely time for the big guns – my eyes.

So What Happened?

I waited a moment before I spoke.

“You have a piece of spinach between your teeth,”  I said.

He bolted out of his chair, papers fluttering to the floor as he staggered to the mirror.

“Whaugh innt yooo saaay humhink eeefore?”  he warbled wrestling the green speck from his teeth.

So much for jargon.

We talked.  We laughed.  We had a conversation, we walked around and chatted with the artists in the room.  My eyes and ears told me that he was not really looking for hard and fast answers to his questions.  He was looking for a place to build those answers together so I shut up and let the others in the room speak.  At the end of the visit, we answered his questions with something more valuable than a direct reply: we responded with the promise of potential as partners.

And yes, we got the grant, which is wonderful.

More valuable to me is the relationship I have with my new friend who, before he left, quietly crossed out my request amount and doubled it.

Here’s What You Do

First of all, it’s OK to allow yourself a few minutes to panic, freak out and palpitate if you must.

Taking deep breath remembering to smile while you do it is a big help.

But don’t be shy about using your superpower secret weapons to carry the day and to make a friend.

Listen.  Look.

You will learn everything you need to know.

You will see everything as well.

Like a piece of spinach.

Let’s do this,

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.







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How To Connect With New & Young Money (Hint: Look At Your Phone)

Sarah Rose is 7 years old.

Her dad is a construction worker who fixes things in my house and then some.  By that I mean he will often notice a leaky faucet or a cracked floor tile, go back to his truck for whatever he needs to make things better.

I think this is where Sarah got the notion in her head to ask for 4 pairs of shoes for Christmas that year.

“Shoes?  OK, Sarah.  But why would you want 4 pairs of shoes,”  her dad asked.

“Oh, I don’t want the shoes for me, dad,”  Sarah answered.  “I want to give them to other people who need them.”

She got her 4 pairs of shoes that year.  And then she made sent some texts from her phone and asked her surprised teacher if her class could bring more shoes to school.  By the time the holidays were over, Sarah had collected hundreds of pairs of shoes to donate to a local charity and Sarah’s Shoes was born.  This campaign now receives shoe donations from almost every major sneaker manufacturer as well as her entire school.

Not bad for a third grader and QWERTY monster.

What is a QWERTY monster?

You see them everywhere.  Teenagers from 12 – 17 who constantly text on their mobile phones and according to recent studies, they are nipping at the heels of the Millennials as the next generation of nonprofit donors.

Millennials are an emerging demographic force to be reckoned with.  The Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University released a report describing how Millennial donors approach giving and suggests ways to build relationships with this extremely connected and global generation.

Currently Millennial donors give markedly less than their Gen X and Boomer counterparts. And they give less frequently.  But as they complete their education and begin to earn higher income, they are expected to give considerably more in the near future.

Ninety-three percent of Millennials regularly go online, with 50 percent of this population using mobile Internet.   Even though Millennials give in smaller amounts, the report also suggests that donation amounts are more keyed to where a person is in their phase of life – and that Millennials will be entering years of earning more money.

Are QWERTY monsters the nonprofit donors of the future?


In Dearborn, Michigan, the Teen Grantmaking Initiative (TGI), a group of 20 young philanthropists in Michigan sponsored by the Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP), awarded five $1,000 grants to area non-profit organizations serving youth in the metro Detroit community last July.

Over the past nine months, TGI members actively fundraised, learned about community needs, visited grantee organizations, participated in service projects, and reviewed grant proposals from prospective organizations.

TGI member Fatima Al-Hakim said she is proud of the work that the teens accomplished this year.

“Being a part of this program ignited my passion for philanthropy,” beamed Fatima Al-Hakim, a young TGI member. “The most important idea I took away from TGI is that you really have to start from your local community to make a lasting change throughout the world.”

One of the projects they funded is:

  • Arts and Scraps – $1,000 for art kits, marketing and promotion of projects, and staff time at an environmentally-friendly, curriculum based arts organization located in Detroit.


Brookline Teen Grantmakers

Young teens in Brookline Massachusetts have a tremendous opportunity to change their world as grantmakers and philanthropists by being part of the Brookline Teen Grantmakers (BTG), a program of the Brookline Community Foundation.  Teen grantmakers have awarded $34,000 to local nonprofits since 2011.  This past year, the grantmakers focused on awarding projects that created strong, vibrant communities through the arts.

Brookline Teen Grantmakers 2014 Grantees

Brookline Music School
Early Music Education Program

The goal of the Early Music Education Program is to provide high quality early music education to children from low-income families in Brookline; to engage children and their families in the shared experience of music and to create opportunities for youth to participate fully in the Brookline Music School (BMS) community. The grant supports the enrollment of six to eight children in classes during the 2014-2015 school year. BMS will partner with the Brookline Housing Authority, Brookline Early Education Program and the Parent Child Home Program to identify and recruit children and families who will most benefit from the program.

Council on Aging
Senior Theater Weekend

The Brookline Council on Aging (COA) works with Watertown’s New Repertory Theater to bring two theatrical performances per year to Brookline with the aim of reducing social isolation and increasing access to the arts for Brookline residents aged 60+. With this grant, the COA will offer tickets at a discount or free of charge to the town’s low-income seniors.

Devotion School Alliance
Devotion Scholars Program

The Devotion Scholars Program offers individual drum lessons to 25 students with behavioral and emotional challenges at Devotion School. This program gives students individual adult attention, an opportunity to excel in a non-academic school setting and through their June performance, the chance to be seen as contributing to the school community. The grant helps fund the salary and benefits of the drum instructor.

Gateway Arts/Vinfen
Up the Ladder

Gateway Arts, an internationally recognized arts-based vocational service of Vinfen, creates meaningful lives and careers in art for individuals with developmental, psychiatric and other disabilities. Gateway provides its participants with artistic instruction and social services that promote independent, pride filled lives through the production and sale of fine art and crafts, focusing on its artists’ abilities, not on their disabilities. The grant is helping to fund Gateway’s Up The Ladder program which works with 25 artists with disabilities by pairing them with accredited art professionals and by providing individualized facilitation in the studios, portfolio development and marketing outreach.

Ideas in Action
TedxBeacon Street Fall Conference

The grant will support the 2014 Ideas In Action program that includes TEDxBeaconStreet, TEDxYouth@BeaconStreet, TEDxBeaconStreet Adventures and an Adventure Catalyst Program the weekend of November 15-16, 2014. Emanating from the Lincoln School, with live telecasts to multiple venues, the speakers and participants will discuss innovative ideas, experience captivating adventures and use these experiences to learn, grow, change lives, create community impact and inspire societal change. Talks and adventures will be filmed, edited and posted to a website making them accessible worldwide.

Steps to Success
After Hours U/Teen Advantage Visual Thinking Skills Program

Steps to Success will support and strengthen the creative and critical thinking skills of its After Hours U/Teen Advantage (AH U/TA) program students, in partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). AH U/TA staff will be trained by MFA educators to teach the Visual Thinking Skills curriculum, a nationally and internationally recognized curriculum, to lead structured, open-ended student discussions of a diverse selection of artistic images over the course of a year, twice per month. The program will cumulate in a student visit to the MFA to use Visual Thinking Skills to explore the MFA’s extensive collection. AH U/TA staff will also lead weekly studio art sessions at the AH U/TA school sites.

Something To Think About

This is a definite change is the funding landscape and a difficult one to wrap your head around.  Especially if you are several generations away from these new funders.

If you are a large organization you may be able to throw staff time and resources at this.  But smaller organizations and individual artists don’t.

I suggest you start by taking small steps and do a test so you can measure the impact and learn from the experience.

Try this:  Focus your attention on your website.  Make sure it is easily read on a mobile phone.  Take some time to understand how your target audience is using your website and what they are most likely to consume on their mobile phones.

Larger organizations may have the capacity and resources to make a bigger investment.   But many smaller organizations don’t.  That’s why it is a good idea to start with small, incremental steps and a low-risk proof of pilot where you can measure the impact and learn.

For example, focusing it on an event or taking an easy first step of making sure your web site is readable on a mobile phone.   After all, it is your URL – whether people view on a big desktop computer screen or a tiny mobile screen.  This can be as simple as changing to a free responsive theme especially if your blog is on a WordPress platform.

You can do this.

I did.  I actually changed the theme of my blog, yes, the one you are reading now, to a free responsive WordPress theme all by myself, thank you very much.


And so can you!



About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.