Grantwriting, Fundraising & Driver’s Ed

You ask me about how to write a grant.

You ask about fundraising.

My question to you is: Can you drive a car with no gas?

You have something that you are passionate about, something you believe deeply in.  It may be something you feel you were meant to do and share with the world.  

It can be a series of paintings, a book, a play, a desire to make the world a better, a more beautiful place.  Something you are uniquely positioned to do.

Maybe you are building your practice, you may be in a MFA program or both.

The most important question you have is: How will you create a life around making art or your passion project that can sustain you?

Which brings me to grantwriting and fundraising.

Learning how to write a grant that gets funded or creating ways for people to donate money to you is like learning how to drive a car to get someplace.  It is understanding how to navigate the world of foundations, philanthropy and donors.  Conceptually, it is not too different from mastering the rules of the road behind the wheel of a car.

Picture yourself in the driver’s seat after you have just learned how to drive.  You will need a few things before you get going:

  • A destination – do you know where you are going?
  • Directions – what is the best way to get there?
  • Gas – have you got what you need to power your car?

The same is true in grantwriting.  Knowing how to put together a competitive proposal is only part of the process.  To turn that proposal into a successful grant award you will need to do a few other things:

  • Give the funder what they want

Think of it this way: You want something, they want something.  A grant, like most human interactions, is a fair exchange between people. Give funders what they want first before you start asking.  Do your homework. Answer the questions clearly.  Respect word limits. Address the criteria. Granting an award to someone is like saying yes to the right partnership. Understanding what is important to a funder and positioning yourself as the one who can deliver that is what you give in exchange for a grant award. Make it about them.

Tip: Always give first.

  • Give the funder a place to jump in

Why just ask for money?  If you create an experience where you can invite the funder to see themselves as a part of beyond funding it, you will open up the door for so many other ways you can work together.  

Tip: Give something bigger.

  • Give the funder confidence

What do you need before you invest your money or your time into something?  You will probably do some research and talk to people you trust.  

A grant review panel is no different.  They will be looking closely at your background, your letters of reference.  They will scrutinize your budget to see if your numbers reflect fair market values. You need to give them everything they need to give them the confidence to invest grant dollars in you.  

Tip: Create trust

Approach your grantwriting and fundraising efforts with these mindsets and you will get much more than success and confidence in achieving your grantwriting goals.  Get to your destination and enjoy the ride.

The Most Valuable Thing You Keep Forgetting You Possess

“But I ‘m no expert.”

Funny how people go into instant confidence annihilation as soon as opportunity knocks.

And here’s more ammo:

“Who is going to listen to me?”

“There are so many other people out there doing this already.”

“What if I fail?”

“I have to go back to school.”

At a recent New York literary event, I was talking to the woman who put everything, and I mean everything, together.

This room was filled with best selling, award winning authors, their friends, family, a Nobel Laureate, philanthropists, screenwriters, producers and people who love literature.

Hors d’oeuvres were passed.

Drinks were clinked.

Money was raised.

Great buzz. Great event.

And yet, she was worried.

“I’m thinking of going back to graduate school.  I really need to learn more about grant writing and fundraising,”  she confided.  “What do you think?”

I put my drink down before I dropped it in disbelief.

Should I put a gun in her hand and tell her to shoot herself in the foot?

That is so not me.

My right brain was ready to explode with reasons why this was not a good idea:

  • You will learn theory, not practice
  • Nobody gets hired because they know theory
  • Nobody deserves your valuable time and money without giving you a job in return
  • Nobody gets hired because they have a fancy diploma

But true insight comes from self awareness.

She needed to arrive at the answer herself.

So I said, “Do you need to go into debt to learn how to beg for money?”

Then I leaned in with a meaningful wink, “Bad idea.  Bad for you skin.”

 

She took a moment before she answered me.

“Let me get you another drink and introduce you to someone I think you will love talking to,”  she smiled and we did a shoulder samba over to a young French filmmaker with soulful eyes sipping a flute of Veuve Cliquot.

Confidence is the only pedigree you need.

You go grasshopper!

How To Get A Grant In Literature

lip books

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GRANTS PANELIST

Bowed by the heat of August, and somewhat intimidated by the willowy and unspeakably beautiful models wafting into the elevator, matchsticks stemming out of stilettos, maybe a hundred or so per elevator car, I emerged, ego crushed, onto the tenth floor of 300 park avenue south where I would spend the next two days poring over literature grant applications at the New York State Council on the Arts, seeking  coffee and people who looked, and thought and talked more or less like, well, me.

I spend a lot of time around grants, grants panels, grantmakers conferences.  big, small, national, regional, family foundations as well as my own council grantmaking activities. At the end of the day, after every rating has been entered, every comment logged, every cookie eaten, there is always that sigh that rushes through the group that wishes the applicants could have done this better, or avoided doing that, we grumble about the bigger picture, the smaller pool of money, we long for more time to talk about what we just went through, call it a policy discussion, a debriefing or simply going out for drinks around the corner.

For those of you who want to surf on that collective sigh as one of the bright spots, one riding the crest of the next ratings sheet, here are my comments on this panel:

NUTS & BOLTS

To give you an idea of what an actual day of panel is like,  I list a few of my own personal criteria.  Why is this important?  Panelists are human beings too, and the distinction in this case is that we have already spent hours reading and reviewing pages upon pages of grant applications and are about to confer the almighty rating to determine their funding status. Be nice to us.

    1. Care of panelists
      1. food:  Fresh fruit, homemade cookies, lovely berries.  Coffee available upon arrival.
      2. egrant interface:  Wonky at first, who knew you had to send in an affiliation statement?  I would have preferred having all applications and work sample materials available in one place.  Not two screens.  What about prescoring?  That would save some time and provide a place to start from.  It is also really interesting to see if panelists change their scores upon discussion.
      3. panel experience:  In these literature panels, we are daytrippers, dipping our toes into poetry, unleashing flashes of philosophy, self deprecating humor, bookish, fierce, loving.  We opened  our first day with a reading of a poem by Jorge Valente entitled, “Song” followed by a metaphor by one fellow panelist about how being in the lobby of a modeling agency immersed among throngs of the most beautiful people on the planet reminded him of what Billy Joel said as he was standing next to Christie Brinkley, his ex wife and gorgeous person, “I feel like a slab of bacon.”  Another voice piped in quickly, “But people love bacon!”
    2. number of applicants:  27
    3. amount of money to be granted: Unknown, but last year I hear it was about $960,000.00

WHAT CAN HELP YOU GET YOUR NEXT GRANT

The Most Common Mistakes

BUDGET NOTES:

I think most of us are willing to fund an organization showing a deficit, possibly a string of them, as long as there is an explanation about it and they are thoughtful about describing their plans to address it.

SELECTION PROCESS: 

We want to know your strategy for making choices.  How are schools and artists chosen? Can you explain your curation process?

TYPOS:

Are you kidding? This is a literature panel.  You will not be punished for bad grammar, misspelling and typos.  You will be crucified.

 

THINGS THAT MAKE A PANEL LOVE YOU

UNABASHED COMMITMENT:

Care and feeding of writers and all their needs including laundering their linen.  This is the philosophy of a small and dedicated organization, passionate to its dyed hair roots, serving up literature, at its very, loving best.

 

HONESTY:

Be fearless and honest about stating your challenges.  We will sooner sympathize and rally around a sinner than a whitewashed prayer. We appreciate honesty and actually see glimpses of growth in your challenge areas.

 

RAPID RE-INVENTION:

Project funding is rapidly sinking in the rearview mirror of the program funding roadster hugging the curves of economic development.  I love how some groups embrace the new reality by being proactive in working with the big guns in establishing their internal capitalization structure, creating risk capital and pointing their navigators forward into a wider range of future partnerships.

Hmmm, that sounded really clunky, way too much jargon.

Let me say that in English:  Be creative about making the new economic realities work for your bottom line.

 

SOLVE A REAL PROBLEM

Seize a problem and do something about it.  Like a project that seeds a group of diverse interns in the white publishing industry.  (Grumbling point:  This application could have been more specific about the backgrounds of the interns).

What a political statement, an unapologetic shot across the bow of the publishing industry!

FROM THE WATERCOOLER

Looking back over my notes, these are the topics that kept coming up throughout our review. I think they are illuminating and can help guide your thinking as you write your next grant.

    1. EXPECTATIONS, UNEXPLORED POTENTIAL & INNOVATION:  Expectations shift with every group. What is acceptable for a small group in a remote rural area is not acceptable for an organization immersed in urban density because of the difference in  unexplored potential. So, is potential, unexplored or not, a criteria on the list?  Going forward, what are you doing that is new and innovative?  This is a benchmark question that only two or three groups answered successfully by stepping into the discomfort of being different and defining what success looks like, talks like and behaves like in their own particular universes.  The key here is to create a set of finite local successes that not only address immediate problems but resonate deeply in the universe of human experience.
    2. MULTIYEAR FUNDING:  How do you give and manage multiyear funding to organizations in flux and change?
    3. DIVERSITY, RACE & THE UNDERSERVED:  This goes beyond the easily pencilled in categroies of white, black, hispanic and asian.  How do you define these in your practice and community?  Are the developmentally disabled, queer, aging, youth at risk, jail spouses, foster children, migrant workers, deaf and refugee populations included in your definition of diversity or underserved?  aAre the underserved the same as marginalized?  Is it about access and opportunity?  Who are the gatekeepers?

 TWO PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS

    1. There is great interest in the idea of reinvention. For example, Joyce Carol Oates reclaiming the gothic novel as a feminist novel, a feminist press reconfiguring women in pulp novels from the 50’s that were originally anti feminist in tone, indie presses reinventing the independent book store as an Amazon model of niche, curated ebook sites.   This lead to the the question:  How hard is it to reinvent oneself, to keep the verve and vibrant energy of more youthful years, in an organization for so many years?
    2. Great panelist comment about an idiosyncratic, yet successful, applicant: “They will never be world class, but they will be classy in their own world”

I think that people who need to have their passion for literature funded should start asking themselves it the things they do really, I mean really, deserve to exist.  Clearly, people want literature to make life unapologetically rich, full and open to unexpected fullness.

Who doesn’t want that?

I hope that my punch list of observations, tips, hints at greatness and fiercely held preferences guide you in writing the great american novel of grant applications.

To your success!

Can a Poem Save the World?

 

We are all in love with the written word

The annual LitTAP convening draws people out of their insular silos and into a space where we are startled by the presence of so many others just like us – lovers of the written word.

Actually, I am hopping around in the space where text, image and  restless thought live at the center of the Venn diagram of my life.  I wrestle with each demon that fights for center stage.

 

It is a stage as gracious as the head of a pin.

This recent convening took place on another kind of stage. A sound stage at Kaufman Astoria Studios at the intersection of creative industry, Queens Council on the Arts, fabulous food, the Museum of the Moving Image and the flagship performing high school created by the Sinatra family and Tony Bennett, Astoria’s home boy.

A perfect place to make visual how one board member’s passion for the work of the Queens Council on the Arts became the site of a statewide discussion on how we and our board members can be better champions of the literary world. H

Here are some things I heard that stuck with me:

  • Mission gives you the power to say no.
  • Don’t be afraid to make the ask. Think of it as a chance for someone to invest in something they care about.
  • “No” is often code for “not yet”.
  • Say “Thank you” a lot.
  • I don’t know what to do first. Maybe I should eat this cookie.

 

Love those Poets in Unexpected Places!

I captured what I could with my Flip video camera.  Watch the magic here!

 

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