14 May 2020
How to Write Grant Applications
Life is tough right now, project grants and hardship funds are more important than ever. You can improve your chances of success by the way you write your application. Here are some tips that might help.
Speak with confidence
The best tip I was ever given was to write the application like you already have the grant. Not in the past tense, but with a high level of confidence in your plan of action and the expected results. Remove all words like ‘may’ or ‘might’ or ‘most likely’ and replace with ‘will’.
“we think the audience may”
“I will probably use the money for X”
“The audience will”
“The money will go on X costing £Y”
Sound confident and they will invest that confidence in your application.
Know your numbers
Knowing the cost of things lets the funder know that you’ve done your research and you know your stuff. Research and learn your required input and output. Be it audience numbers, amount of days the fund would cover you for, the cost of the expenses or the potential income after investment/output. If it’s within a range be honest but choose the upper end, you’re worth believing in. If it’s project funding knowing the union rates for freelancers is important. Arts Council England (ACE) now has a specific question that asks how you’ve arrived at your fees. Using union agreements is the best practise here (and in general!).
Be as clear and precise as possible
Flowery and emotive language isn’t always the best way to write your application, especially with ACE (they’ve said this repeatedly). The chances are that decision panels will have to go through a lot of these and it will come down to numbers and metrics, the clearer you can be in what you need and what your use of the money will achieve even down to bullet points will help those deciding be able to put your application against their pre-existing criteria and work out whether it hits the desired targets. In terms of emergency funding it’s worth explaining in plain terms what the money will mean (covering rent / expenses) don’t shy away from the truth of why and what you need. The simple facts will serve you better than hyperbole.
Back yourself up where you can
The fund applications will differ but if there is a way for you to back yourself up by giving examples of the venues or organisations you have worked with you can attach more clout to your name. I know this is complete rubbish, you can be the worst artist and get a gig at a stellar venue through nepotism or be a freelance artist who makes the most incredible work independently but remember, this is a game and there are some things you can do to help yourself and this is one of them. Mention the most high profile relevant connections you have if the fund gives you the chance/looks like it wants that type of information. Also numbers can look good. If your audience numbers are solid, if you’ve sold out previous shows, if you’ve won any awards however small, if you have had repeat commissions from the same source etc. All of this breeds trust in your ability and their investment. Whatever your most enthusiastic relative would say about your career, put that in.
Where it’s not possible to attach full references you can include pull-quotes or direct feedback from participants / partners within your answers. This can be helpful to evidence past successes of relevant activity or demonstrate need or support for your planned activity.
Arts Council England: Grants for the Arts used to have a section where you would upload evidence to show your ability, this was always done best with letters from respected venues (the AD of a venue you were part of a development programme in) backing you in terms of artistic ability/potential. They’ve since changed this and allowed one link to a website or PDF (this is for ACE Grants for the Arts rather than the Covid-19 individual fund).
Match Funding (not relevant for hardship grants)
With project grants (not individual support grants or hardship funds) some funders will ask for match funding and/or support in kind. This means either money that has come from another source (match funding) or donations of time or space (support in kind). The more you have of this the better your application’s chances are. For ACE Grants for the Arts for example, they stipulate 10% minimum [EDIT: This has been suspended as of July 2020 until April 2021 to take in to account COVID 19 challenges – although they still recommend you add in any match funding you do have in your application]. Straight up money is great (it’s very common for companies to crowd fund this) but also a venue giving you space to rehearse counts as ‘in kind’. Ask them what the cost would be to a paying customer and count that as in kind support (Arts venues in particular will be very used to doing this to support applications, it’s completely ok to ask). If a mate who is a marketing professional gives you a half day of their time for free to advise on your project, work out what their freelance rate would be and add it in, that counts. This is all part of you proving that you have a strong and supportive network and community around you. Funders need as much proof as possible that their investment in you will be secure. They can provide money but the time and expertise of your network is also vital to your success.
Look for the clues
A lot of applications will publish information detailing what the grant is for. Really, really read those, they will tell you more than anything else what to include in your application.
Regional Arts Councils will publish a paper every four years or so that lays out their intention for their funding strategy/the art they want to support. These are usually responsive and inclusive of larger governmental dictates / societal issues. Read this (or any equivalent part from a different funder – even just the website) and it will give you an idea of what they are going to fund and if it’s worth the time to apply. This above everything should influence your project/decision to apply.
Arts Council England also host events (outside Covid-19 times) and have online resources and blogs dedicated to supporting applicants. Hunt them down, they are often guides for exactly what to say or do, and tend to contain relevant info for other grant applications.
Use the funder’s language
Answer the specific question in front of you and use the funder’s language in your answer (where it feels appropriate) as it helps those assessing your application pick up on key funding criteria.
So for example;
Q: How does your application demonstrate value for money?
A: Our application demonstrates value for money because XXXX
A: XXXX which demonstrates value for money.
And depending on the funder it’s worth exploring if someone from the organisation is happy to have a chat with you before you submit your application. I know that hasn’t been possible with some of the emergency grants but they may be able to help answer questions, offer additional insight etc. and it’s nice to have a personal contact.
Include your access needs
If you have access needs, a lot of the funds allow for extra to cover this.
Everything from childcare to mental health support, if relevant, can be accommodated for as part of access needs. It’s ok to ask for what you really need. Funds will have had a lot of feedback about this and they understand.
Read other people's reports
Not always relevant but lots of companies and organisations have successfully achieved grants and if you know any it’s ok to ask to see their application. The Facebook group for UK producers is a gold mine of extra information, search the group for any keyword relating to what you are stuck on and there will almost certainly be several posts with producers helping each other out.
Some extra things to bear in mind when you have applied: You can sometimes reapply
If your application is turned down, some grants allow you to immediately reapply (with the exception of Covid-19 ACE individual grants – definitely check the individual grant’s T&Cs). The most vital thing is that your dates match and the date of the first day of any activity or work ABSOLUTELY CANNOT be before the date of the grant announcement (ACE: 6 weeks for up to £15k). It’s a wise thing to account for two or three rounds of applications in your time scale. You will appear more organised and on it if you get your plans down with months to spare. They allow for confirmed and pending confirmations of assets or professional engagement because of this. It’s also ok if the artist you had down to do your sound design ends up getting another gig so you have to switch. They understand what freelance work and the arts are like. As long as the information is true when you write it it’s ok if it changes after you get the grant.
They may hold back the final payment until you submit an evaluation
Again for project grants (not ACE Covid-19 individual) some grants will withhold a small percentage (10% usually) of the grant until you complete an evaluation. Which has to happen after the last specified day of the project. It’s important to budget this final payment into your own payment schedule.
If you underspend, funders can and will ask for the spare money back. It’s important to keep as detailed a budget and breakdown of spending as possible with receipts and invoices to prove your expenditure just in case.
Remember that above all it’s a game. It’s never personal. Before lockdown the average success rate for ACE Grant for the Arts 15k was 1 in 3 (of those who had successfully passed all the eligibility criteria). Each funding body will have their own internal list of criteria and numbers they need to hit. Sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw if you don’t get your grant. But the more your application fits with what they need the higher your chances.
Essentially take every single doubt and self-depreciating sentence out of your application and replace it with an accurate and informed realistic best case scenario, and present it in a clear, informative and precise way. Good Luck.
With thanks to SBTD member Emma Tompkins and Joanna at Slung Low for her advice.