What a Cakebox Can Teach You About Getting a Grant


A mentsch is a nice person.

Everybody should aspire to be one.

For many reasons.  One of which is, people will like you.

And some of those people will actually fund you because they like what you do and – they like you.

An artist, leaning defiantly against her easel, asked me, “Why does this matter?  My art speaks for itself and that is what people will buy.”

I suppose that may be true if you happen to be the only artist within a hundred mile radius of barren nothingness and people are dying for something to smack them out of oppressive boredom.

However, here in Queens and New York City, people will step on your art to get closer to the person who not only speaks for their art, but adds unexpected value.

What is unexpected value?

As my dear Jewish mother-in-law, Mildred Phyllis Krakauer would say, clutching her pearls gazing upwards:

“Never show up without a cake box in your hand.”

Think about it.

What can a cake box do?

Well, it speaks volumes about the person bringing it:

  • that they thought about it
  • that they took the time to get it
  • that, if my mother-in-law had anything to do with it, it was probably the hostess’s favorite and from the nut-free bakery in New Rochelle, God forbid anyone has a terrible allergic reaction
  • and if my mother-in-law did indeed bring the cake, it was from the Harbor Bakery in Rockaway Beach – home of the most amazing chocolate meltaway cake and guaranteed to make the hostess look like a rock star!

So tremendous unexpected value has been built here – for everyone.

Who wouldn’t want Mildred on their guest list?

How you can add value in your grantwriting

“But what can I do to add value to a funder?”  wailed the artist with the talking painting.

I get this question a lot.

You are a creative person, you can come up with ways to amaze, delight and help people.  You know what to do.

Actually, the question you should be focusing on is:  Why should you add value to a funder?

Do not underestimate the power of a generous spirit.  Adding value is one of the primary power strategies I truly believe in and teach in THE GRANTWINNING BOOTCAMP.  You can get your hands on my FREE MASTER GRANT STRATEGY WORKSHEET to get you started in getting grants to get your work out into the world.

But I suggest you start by adding value.

Clearly, this requires a different kind of cakebox.

Here’s how one of our grantees did it:

Recently, as I was leaving a packed must-be-there must-be-seen event, a woman waved me over to a camera and asked me if I could say a few words about the arts in Queens.  She captured a quick soundbyte with me and bounded over to her next interviewee.

Was this her event?  No.

What was she doing this for?

All of the interviews would eventually be edited down into a tight little video for the organizers of the event to use in their marketing, on their website, and to share with their audience.

Who wouldn’t love to have someone do that for them?  To actually shoot the footage, edit and make everyone look good?  As a gift of added value.

Who do you think becomes instantly top of mind for people?

katha-kooky-at-the-step-and-repeat 2

Check out Katha Cato and the Queens World Film Festival, one of our 2016 Queens Art Fund grantees and definitely top of mind for me.

She is a mentsch to be reckoned with.

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Hoong Yee


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.




The Grant Secrets T Shirt Project: How Did The Winners of The NPCC 2015 Nonprofit Excellence Awards Get To The Top?


6 finalists, neck to neck in their scores.

40 grant reviewers, wedged shoulder to shoulder around the table balancing coffee cups on a sea of paper.

And from the head of the table, our esteemed Selection Committee Chair, representatives from The New York Commnunity Trust, Philanthropy New York and the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York gazing around the room with one eye on the clock.

We are a mixed crew of people who bring a wide range of expertise to this grant review process that drills down into 8 key areas of nonprofit excellence and, at the end of this day, will decide who the top 3 2015 nonprofit winners are.

At this stage of the game, the finalists have clearly set themselves apart and have demonstrated excellence above the rest of the applicant pool.

Contrary to popular belief, budget size, age and size of an organization has little to do with being an excellent nonprofit.

This group had budgets ranging from $1M to $117M.

Some were founded as far back as 1869 and as recently as 2009.

Some had 0 volunteers, others had over 14,000 volunteers.


Well, what about their management strengths?

Enlightened use of human resources?  

Well, of course!


Strong, transparent financial management?

Who doesn’t?



That, too.


Diverse, culturally competent and responsive?

Let’s just say there’s room for improvement for all.


Effective communication strategy?

Par for course…


How then, do you elbow your way to the top of such a close and competitive group?


Some of you may be thinking this is really like squeezing blood from a rock after putting such a tremendous effort in just being excellent enough to get into the finalist pool.

What else could you possibly do?


People say that when a language fades, its people speak in poetry.


In some ways this is true when there is nothing more that can be said but needs to be communicated.

So after many conversations over a long grant review process spanning many months, my fellow selection committee members and I found ourselves squeezed around a table and pressed for words and finally erupting in metaphors and sound bytes in an attempt to grasp that elusive winning quality.


From this year’s pool of finalists, here are the ones I remember:



There ARE other potatoes in the bin…

The insight here: Avoid arrogance in presentation. Deadly.

Let’s grow the sector

The insight here: Have a vision that is bigger than you and your organization


Comfortable with being uncomfortable

The insight here: Being transparent is part of honest leadership

Are you punching above your weight?

The insight here: Lift as you climb


The insight here: This is a quality that truly illuminates your humanity

Passion maintenance

The insight here is: Not sure how you do this but I like this as an organizational priority


Thought diversity

The insight here: Value creative dissension – I call it brain diversity – as well as all of the usual suspects, race, sex, gender, age… in your mix


Hire hard or manage hard

The insight here: Focus first on thoughtful talent selection

Create conversations

The insight here: How do you differentiate yourself? This is how one group defined true branding





2015-03-28 22.09.37








Hoong Yee


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.




How To Create A Get-To-Yes Grant Budget


He looked familiar but I wasn’t sure why.

Did I meet him at an art opening, maybe a recent reception?  Why couldn’t I place him in my memory?

His eyes landed on my puzzled brow and he broke into a huge smile, the kind that can light up a room.  “Your ratios!  Your percentages!  They changed everything for me.”

If you are one of those people who inevitably chides people like me who possess less than a photographic memory for remembering everybody I have ever met, you might try this little technique of mine:

To put a name with a face, use an equation.  Numbers don’t lie.

With those magic words, I remembered immediately who he was.



For some people, especially people who are artists trying to build their creative careers and get their work out there, the process of getting grants is not at the top of their list of gratifying artistic activities.  It can be an extremely frustrating and mystifying process. How do some artists get those grants that boost them to the next level bringing them cash awards, recognition and prestige?  Do they have connections, the right words, were they let in on the secret handshake?

What about you?

Foundations give away over $4 billion dollars a year.  They exist to do exactly that – give away money.  There are many successful artists who write grants so they can afford to spend more time creating their work, practicing their craft and building up their careers by leveraging the recognition and prestige that comes with each award.  There has never been a better time than now for you to be one of them.

Narrative, budget, work samples, criteria…  It seems like a daunting task to make sense of all of it.

What do funders want to see?  What are the right catch phrases to use?  And what really happens once you Hail Mary your grant proposal out into that black hole?  It all seems so mysterious when you don’t know how it all works.

Let me pull back the curtain and give you a peek at what goes on once your proposal lands on the table to give you an insight that can help you Get To Yes with your grant budget.

Like ratios.

OK, enough teasing.  I am going to tell you exactly what ratios are and how they can be game changers for you.



The Positioning Behind A GET TO YES Grant Project

Before you pick up your pen, pick your positioning


I like to teach artists a powerful strategy I call positioning.  It is one of 3 cornerstone mindsets of grantwriting concepts I teach in my Grantwriting Roundup course to set them up for success.  Your grant budget is one of the most important components of your proposal.  It is the structure that supports your project and it is here where grant reviewers can see your proposal’s strengths and weaknesses.

Here’s how positioning works:

It’s Saturday night and you are looking for a great place to have dinner.  You drive around and you see a restaurant that looks interesting.  However, there are no cars in the parking lot and there are hardly any customers inside.

Across the street is another restaurant.  Business is booming, the tables are full.

Which place would you go to?

People are influenced by something called social proof.  We will follow the wisdom of the crowd, in this case – the busier restaurant.  Think about it: who wants to be the guinea pig, or take a risk being the only customer in a sea of empty tables?

Grant reviewers are no different.  We want to see who else is on board in your project and we don’t want to be the only funder.  In fact, we prefer being the last dollar in, not the first.

In most cases, funders will not fund more than 50% of your project.

You want to find other sources of funding to support your project so that your grant request is less than half of your budget expenses.


Project income

1,500       Donation from a local bank

3,000       Kickstarter

2,700       Sale of artwork

    500       Community grant

7,700       SUBTOTAL 

2,300       Grant request      

10,000       TOTAL


The grant request of $2,300 is 23%, way below 50%.


And if you have some overhead in your project, you want to show that you are spending at least 65% of your money on your programming and 35% on your administrative costs.

This is one of the most common mistakes artists make in their grant budgets.  It sends up a red flag and that can be a deal breaker.

You can do this.


Two simple ratios:



If you can keep those ratios in mind as you create your budget, you will be way ahead of the others in the applicant pool.

Position yourself as someone like a busy restaurant with lots of customers.  Like a winner with lots of supporters.

What do funders want?

They want to be confident in you to put money into your project.  You can easily reverse engineer your proposal to give funders what they need to green light your grant proposal if your budget aligns with these 2 ratios.


Need help remembering this?

  • Position yourself like a popular restaurant  Everyone likes to hang out with the good news and be where the buzz is.
  • 50:50  Show you have other money, other supporters, other raving fans.  At least over 50%.  I can already see some of you pursing your lips and thinking, “At least over?  How much is that percentage?  You know what I mean – enough to be able to say, “Hop on the bandwagon!”
  • 65:35  There is no reward in grant heaven for martyrs.  Are you asking us to believe that you can write your play, cast it, sew costumes for the cast, paint the sets, and sell tickets?  The opposite is true.  You will gain more respect by building in line items for people to do these very necessary things at 35% so you can do what you are best at doing at 65%.
  • Sell confidence   What are grant reviewers really looking to fund?  The best artist?  The best written proposal?   The answer is:  Funders want to fund the best candidate for the grant, someone who they are confident can deliver what they propose to do.


So there you have it.

Add these strategies to your grantwriting skill set to create a powerful and persuasive budget.  Numbers don’t lie.

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Hoong Yee





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.







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.


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.


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.






2015-03-28 22.09.37










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.