How To Get A Grant In Literature

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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!

How To Measure Wonder

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There is nothing better than a great story in making a pitch.  But nothing beats data to drive it home.

What data, then?  And how do we measure it?

Measurement is the numbers loving superAsian cousin of curiousity

A more insightful question may be:  What are you curious about?

Or, simply:  What if?

These questions have revealed the secrets of nature, the foundations of civilizations, the beauty of the stars.  They bring together those of  like minds and passions who delight in poring over measured results, especially those who are concerned with consequences like survival, altered experiences, relevance.

And wonder.

 

 Curious about  how to measure wonder?

I just wrote a piece about this for the GIA Reader Summer edition about this.  Get the full story here:

http://www.giarts.org/article/how-measure-wonder

 

What do you wonder about?

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What My Jewish Mother-in-Law Can Teach You About Writing Headlines

Mildred

Mildred

The Truth About Being A Great Writer

While standing on line at the local butcher, Mildred, my mother-in-law, leaned over the counter and said softly, “So Bernie, how does Mrs. Fisch do her pot roast?”

His answer changed my life.

 

Bernie bellied up to the counter, his heavy lidded eyes rolling sideways before pushing over a scribbled piece of butcher paper with his grubby finger.  “What do you think of that, Mrs. K?”  Mildred adjusted her glasses and peered keenly at the note before her.  With a dismissive sniff, she slid the paper into her purse and smiled innocently.

“The best cooks are thieves,” he winked at me.  “Julia Child stole her sauce recipes from the French, Martha Stewart practically copied her Christmas cookie book from Good Housekeeping and Mrs. Krakauer here, let’s just say she borrows from everyone.  And so should you.”

 

Me?

I was stunned.  From the very first time I sat down to dinner cooked by my mother-in-law, I believed she was making everything from time honored, secretly guarded recipes handed down from generation to generation.  Someone else with a better recipe for brisket?  Are you meshugah or what?

Yet, here before my eyes was Bernie, the butcher, telling Mildred  that the key to great cooking is grand larceny.  And from what it sounds like, she has some pretty fancy partners in crime.

 

Who benefits from all this stealing?

I certainly do, as well as the rest of the Krakauer family.  Our dinners are exquisite culinary experiences.  I suppose dinners are just as fabulous at Mrs. Fisch’s, at Mrs. Murray’s, at Mrs. Cohen’s as well as every house in Rockaway that participates in this ecosystem of theft.  Or borrowing, as Mildred would quickly say.  Like a Robin Hood and his Merry Men, there goes Mildred, borrowing from the rich to give to the poor, only in her case, all of Bernie’s loyal customers are swooping down from the trees in Belle Harbor to fatten their recipe files and to share the wealth with their hungry families.
No easy task to keep knocking out great dinners night after night for these ladies.  No wonder they flock to Bernie for a tip or two, an unexpected ingredient, a twist to make their husbands turn their heads and say, “Wow, honey!  I love your kashe varnishes!”

If you have to turn out momentous meals every day, coming up with your own unique original ideas is gehackte tsuris – who needs it!

And its not because Mildred is lazy, she’s busy.

The only way to survive, look fabulous and stay in control is to steal a secret from Julia Child, Martha Stewart and Mildred P. Krakauer.

 

Copy from others knowing that true genius stands on the shoulder pads of others

What About Writing?

I couldn’t help but wonder, “Could it be possible I am needlessly killing myself trying to be original all the time?”  Of course  I am.  And so are you.  We are stressing, worrying and inwardly freaking out each time we come face to face with the blank page because we want so badly to write something fabulous, something that will transform a reader by the simple experience of reading our words.

OK, here is what I think, after being in the trenches for twelve years as a professional author & illustrator, grantwriter and blogger:

You can mistakenly believe you are the most original, prolific and constantly amazing writer in the world and sputter into a fit of depression when it becomes impossible to maintain these high standards for yourself.

Or,

You can steal.

Why am I telling you to do this?

Because I know that if you are serious about your writing, you will see very quickly that there are better ways to write better and more efficiently.  Many successful writers like, Shakespeare, Jefferson and Wilde have perfected the art of copying, or as Bernie would say, “borrowing”, from others because they quickly understood that true creativity is seizing the genius in the ideas of others and making it your own.

 

Let’s Look At Headlines

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”

A great quote from Simone Weil.

How do you attract and earn someone’s attention?

Let me borrow a great word from Mark Ragan, the force at Ragan Communications: Cosmotize.

I just adore that!

When you are standing on line at the supermarket, you know your eyes go right to those riveting covers of Cosmopolitan Magazine, Vogue and GQ.

Did you know those headlines are over half a century old?  The ideas behind them are basically the same, the wording or the language changed over time, and yours to steal for your next piece.  The raison d’etre for a headline is to get you, the reader, to read the first sentence.  And then the next sentence, and so on.  If you can’t get someone to read your headline, you can forget about them reading your article.

Everything starts with the headline.

Look at any great headline carefully and you can see its bones, its architecture, its template that will work for any topic.  Just like the recipes in Mildred’s trusty collection, I am building a swipe file with hundreds of headline templates on my computer where I can scan them whenever I need to craft a killer headline of my own.

 

A Shortcut To List Headlines – Snack Size Content that Readers Will Eat Up

Everywhere you look,  there’s a headline like this, “43 Ways To Drive Your Man Crazy In Bed.  Be Sure to Check Out #7”, or “101 Killer Resources To Make Money As A Mommyblogger”.  You see them on magazine covers, on the blogs you follow and on morning and evening news shows.

Why are they so popular?

They work.

 

After attending the Boot Camp for Nonprofits!  Power of Giving Forum an exclusive event for Con Edison partners presented by Ragan Communications as well as the Corporate Writers and Editors Conference  (hashtag #raganCWE) the following day, I have a new respect for the power of headlines.

To help you write something that has the power to be a transformative experience, like Mildred’s pot roast, let me square my shoulders and become one with Bernie, the butcher.  I will share what I learned in a roomful of PR and marketing professionals from experts in their industry that earns its right to exist by how well their communications can create profit from attention.

Mark opened the session by inviting us to ask ourselves, “would I pick this up at the newsstand?”,  or “will people want to read this and do I love producing this?”.  At the top of his list of tips was this: List story.

List story: organized thought with a teaser title.  This is hands down the most popular and most powerful headline and story one two punch combo in the history of writing.

 

Here’s What I Have For You:

 

I did a little research project in the magazine section of my local bookstore and analyzed the most frequently used list headlines into a short list of templates.  These templates are shortcuts that you can use to fill in the blanks and jumpstart your writing with a great headline.

1. 5 Ways to (do something)

Give people a little selection, not too much, and some meat on the bones for each way so that they feel they can make an informed choice.

Example:  7 Ways to Write a Better Grant

 

 

2. 52 Killer Resources for (audience)

This is a great way to dominate a narrow subject with a long list of bullet points.  Readers will shake their heads in amazement, “Wow!  There’s so much I didn’t know!”

Example:  101 Dumpling Ideas For Your Next Party

 

 

3. The Top 10 (techniques, resources, tips, you name it)

People love this.  They want their options reduced, reviewed, rated and presented to them in a tidy list.

Example:  The Top 10 Holiday Offers Your Customers Will Love

 

4. 11 (topic) Secrets Every (audience) Should Know

Curious about what secrets you are missing?  Your readers will be too.  This is one of the most effective and irresistible Cosmo headlines.

6 Sexy Secrets Every Cosmo Girl Should Know About Her Man

 

 

5.  7 Surprising Reasons (topic)

Instead of creating curiosity, tap into the curiosity that is already in your reader with this provoking headline.

Example:  15 Surprising Reasons Why You You Need Memory Boosters

 

 

6.  The 9 Laws for (topic)

Some people love being told the rules of the game.  Others want to study the law, figure out how to get around it and rebel against it.  For both, they will still want to read  what those rules are.

Example:  The 5 No Nonsense Laws of Nonprofit Fundraising

 

 

7. 5  Things your (audience) Needs to Hear You Say

If you are like me, you wonder a lot about if you said the right thing or if you just put your foot in your mouth.  Pick someone important to your audience to make the headline even more compelling.

Example:  Want a Raise?  7 Things Your Boss Needs to Hear You Say

 

 

Why kill yourself?

Mildred pulled a stubby pencil out of her purse, scribbled something on the butcher paper and pushed it back over the counter to Bernie.   She smiled.  He winked.  Then he looked up at me and said, “And what can I help you with today?”

I thought for a moment.

“I’ll have what Mrs. Krakauer is having,”  I held his gaze and said, “Theft and pot roast.”

 

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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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Measuring Success: What Kind Of Yardstick Do You Use?

 


shelves3

 

lovely photo from diane

 

post by Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer

 

 

 

Are all of the front desk assistants of the National Endowment for the Arts pregnant?

Some things you simply cannot avoid wondering about if you happen to be outnumbered by young women, hands cradling their swollen bellies, waddling around the hallowed halls of the NEA.  “It is a very busy time.  Everyone is going from one meeting to another,” murmured Vanessa, a slender woman – not pregnant – who greeted us at the offices for local arts agencies where we  were scheduled for a meeting.

This is our yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, a time for me to personally touch base with the folks who shepherd our grant requests through the labrynth of their panel process and with whom I have become good friends with over the years.  I like the train ride down to DC, wandering wide eyed through Union Station and stopping to say a quick hello to everyone before they duck into yet another meeting.

2013-02-06 11.07.51

the lovely ladies working for local arts agencies

“We love when people come to see us, especially now that our travel budgets have been cut.  I wish more people did,” said one director to me who I caught grabbing a quick lunch at the Indian take out place.  I have to admit I don’t understand why more nonprofits don’t make it a priority to visit funders.  Every time I sit down with the directors, it is a chance for me to let them know what we are doing, what we intend to apply for and very often I will gain a valuable insight or piece of advice that will make our proposal rock.  If you want to be a successful grantwriter, consider this:  there is an art to writing for money.

This time, the big thing is innovation and transformation.  They want something that presents new learning or insights.  Something replicable and measurable.

“What does that look like to you? ”  I asked.  “Can you give me an example?”

Answer the Question, Goddamnit!

The director smiled.  “We talk about that a lot  The answer to your question is that we will know it when we see it.”

This is an answer?

They don’t know what a successful innovative and transformative project is.  And if they don’t know that, they cannot describe it.  Or measure it.

LIke many other funding opportunities out there, the NEA wants to see their dollar make an important impact.  Something that changes and transforms lives.  A model that can be replicated in other places.  And it falls to the artists and creative thinkers to visualize a project that can do all that and, most of all, deliver such an experience that allows the vision of the funders to bundle up the act and set up shop in another place.

It is a competitive category.  We need to leave no doubt among the grant panelists that yes, we are worthy of funding.  Why?  Because we transform lives.

How do we do this?

By creating a picture of the success we intend to create and a space for a funder to feel part of something that is moving towards real and tangible goals with benchmarks that can feed back into the process.

 

Do They Know?

Anyone who tells you “they will know it when they see it” has no idea what “it” is, which actually is a very good thing.  It is an admission of not knowing what they want to achieve, only knowing why.  This is a very good thing.  It tells me funders are willing to be outcomes focused and open to anything  as long as it is new in philosophy and that it changes something. To make art make a difference.

 

 

What You Should Know

For us, transformation has to be demonstrated by what an artist does with the skills, learnings and confidence gained by being part of what Queens Council on the Arts provides.  It is no longer and, in my book, never was enough to describe success as well attended events or satisfied customers.  How do I know this and why do I believe so strongly in this comes from simply watching the body language, especially the eyes, of the directors.  Their eyes did not light up when we talked about how happy the artists were to be part of the workshops, and to learn new skills.  We will have to create a vivid image of success that we will set as our goal which will be the artist as a confident, engaged, creative professional whose art can change the world.  Our yardstick will be the gradual changes their art and their actions cause in the world.

Here’s an excerpt from Marion Conway’s summary of the 2013 Annual Letter by Bill Gates:

In the last year Beth Kanter has been talking about the importance of measurement to the networked nonprofit.  Now Bill Gates opens his 2013 Annual letter talking about it with a quote from William Rosen’s  “The Most Powerful Idea in the World.”  Bill writes: “Without feedback from precise measurement, Rosen writes, invention is “doomed to be rare and erratic.” With it, invention becomes “commonplace.”……..But in the past year I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. You can achieve amazing progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal-in a feedback loop similar to the one Rosen describes. This may seem pretty basic, but it is amazing to me how often it is not done and how hard it is to get right.

 

There, I said it.  And I believe it.

What does success look like, move like, sound like for what you do?

This way of thinking could be catching.  Unlike pregnancy, thank God.

 

 

 

 

 Subscribe and get a little Wow! every day

 

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Hoong Yee

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