Have you ever been baffled by failure to get the funding you’ve been counting on? That grant you applied for and got the dreaded ‘unsuccessful submission’ email, that wickedly compelling artistic rationale, that water-tight budget, that impressive CV that bizarrely didn’t rate?

You didn’t make the cut. What happened? What did you do wrong?!?? The disappointment of not getting the grant you really needed can be absolutely crushing and can desiccate your enthusiasm for a script idea you once loved like a wee-wickle baby. The truth is, most regrettably, that arts funding is crazy competitive. There’s only so much money, and only so many projects that can ‘get a guernsey’. There are some things I know about grants. I write an awful lot of them. Want to know how to increase your chances?

When I wrote my first ever arts grant back in 1993, the internet didn’t exist. To write a grant literally meant typing your answers into a document, printing that out, then literally cutting the text out and pasting it into the answer space on the form, then photocopying the grant form to make it look nice, then packaging it up with the support material and sending it snail mail to the grant office, postmarked by the due date. It was so time consuming and tediously detailed. Times have changed…

Let’s be clear, though. Writing a grant should be time consuming. They should be tediously detailed. You are making a case for funding from public coffers (tax payer’s money) or the private stash of someone’s treasured legacy (philanthropic) or an organisation’s heartfelt vision for a better world. (a corporate grant) You owe it to yourself as an artist and the tax payers or the bequeather or the organisation to put the time in.

  1. Start early. You will have anywhere between 3 weeks and 8 weeks between grant opening and grant closing to prepare but you have to start early. Why’s that? because you will need time to develop a depth of your rationale, sure, but mostly because those letters of support are critical and they don’t write themselves and it is a rare thing for a letter of support to come in way before the closing date. I could write a whole post about letters of support. They are critical.

    Plus, start early because I want you to remember something that I have made my grant-writing mantra: TECHNOLOGY. WILL. LET. YOU. DOWN. If you leave things to the last minute, chances are your technology will stuff you around somehow (a crashed computer, an electrical blackout, an online platform freeze, a bounced email, a spinning circle of doom on your computer screen) I swear, it will get you if you are depending on it last minute.
  2. Do your research. Read the funding guidelines. Seriously. Read all that boring stuff. Confirm your eligibility. Look for tricky details like ‘you can only apply for up to 60% of your total budget’. Go look at what sort of projects were previously successful in getting funded. Check and recheck the closing time of the submission deadline. If the granting body allows you or encourages you to speak with a grant officer, DO IT. Ring up, tell them your project and get some firsthand feedback. Grant managers/officers are not on the assessment panel, but they can be so useful. They often sit in on the assessment process even though they have no say in the decisions— the fact that they know about your project seems a plus.
  3. Understand the purpose of the grant (what is their mission, what outcomes are they keen to see, what benefits are they looking for- this is so core, trust me) When you write the grant, write so that the project meets their purpose, benefit, outcomes. If you read the grant has been created to raise awareness of X, empower the voices of Y, and create pathways for Z, you make sure these outcomes are the exactly the aims of your project. Use their words and phrasing— raise awareness of, empower the voice of, create pathways for— that’s what you write about. I know, I know, this appears like you are shaping your artistic project on someone else’s vision. And you are. Because you are asking to use someone else’s money and so, yeah, they have an agenda that you need to work with.
  4. Answer the damn question. “Describe your writing project in detail, outlining what you plan to do, how you plan to do it and what you want to achieve” …. means exactly that. Divide the sections of your answer up to address every part of that question. Use subheadings if that helps. Project Outline (overview of your project), Project Planned Delivery (what you plan to do it), Anticipated Outcomes (what you want to achieve) This is not the time to give loads of background info, or non-essential observations, unless it is really relevant and cool.

    Don’t forget to drop a little story pitch in there as well. Grip the assessors with the potency of the script or the project concept. Three lines or so— not much else needed—but enough to whet appetites. Touch on the theme, demonstrate the currency of it by pointing to recent research/information/news available online. Which reminds me…
  5. If you make a bold claim, back it up. If your project is based on a model that worked somewhere else and you cite that success, you MUST back up the claim by pointing to case studies or reports that came out of that original model. If you say the project will empower youth with transferable skills, you need to cite evidence of that somewhere online or have a statistical report as an attachment. And by the way, making bold claims is good grant business and citing evidence makes it clear you know your stuff.
  6. If the question asks for a word limit (or god forbid, a character count) you need to write to that. Often grants won’t let you write more than the limit, so be concise obviously. But if you are allowed answer with 700 words, it’s a good rule of thumb to write all the way up to the limit. Why is that? Because they offered you 700 words space because they suspect you will need 700 words to answer properly. Only writing 320 words is slack as. Lightweight answers don’t fly as much as you think they might.
  7. Work offline. Use a word document to answer each question, working on getting the best answer within the word limit you have been given. If you try to work online it’s messy and you’ll lose information if the online platform glitches or reloads or times out without you having saved. (Technology will let you down) Write your answer offline, then copy and paste—see it’s still a copy and paste job after all these years!
  8. Yes, by all means use AI technology to help you answer concisely. But DO NOT make the error of depending on AI to get the answers right. ChatGPT hallucinates all the time and you may end up with a completely inappropriate answer if you don’t pick through what it spits out at you. Plus I’ve noticed ChatGPT doesn’t yet know how to do word counts (I’ve tried so many times to prompt it properly but to no avail!)
  9. Check all the required support material and then go ahead and check it all again. You will be stunned at how many times support material gets omitted, or obviously superseded information is presented, or technology has let you down by not loading it properly.
  10. Check your budget. A budget that doesn’t balance between income and expenses is a grant killer.

That’s not an exhaustive list of grant doings to be mindful of, but if you can even do this much, you’re be writing cracking good grants in no time.

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