Dos & Don’ts of Grant Writing for Arts Organizations

dos and donts of grant writing header

The Greater Hartford Arts Council recently held a grant prep seminar for nonprofit organizations and artists at the Connecticut Historical Society. With the help of Diane Gedeon-Martin (Grant Writer & Consultant, The Write Source, LLC) and Dina Silva (Director of Development at TheaterWorks) we reviewed grant opportunities in the region, gave a primer on the dos and don’ts of grant writing, and a provided a “from the trenches” view of what it means to be a grant writer.

With the autumn granting season underway, we’ve rounded up some of the best dos and don’ts from the seminar, as well as answers to your most frequently asked questions.

DOs

  1. Plan ahead. Grant applications usually require an Intent to Apply before submitting a formal application, so planning ahead is crucial to meeting research grant deadlines, requirements, the funder’s service area. All of this information should be found on the funder’s website!

Planning ahead will also give you enough time to gather all the materials needed to apply, make sure your facts are straight and that data is as accurate as possible.

Helpful hint:   Always look for the frequently asked questions page of a grant website and read the guidelines thoroughly.

  1. Involve your colleagues in developing a program plan for your grant.

You may have a designated staff person or grant consultant who writes the grant, but they’re not often those who will be implementing and running the funded program.  Program staff should work closely with the grant writer to help explain the ins and outs of the project so that the grant writer is able to write the proposal to the best of their ability.

  1. Follow the directions.

While formatting guidelines and requirements can seem unimportant, they actually help reviewers quickly find the content they need while processing dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of applications. And, of course, it’s vital that reviewers can quickly and easily find the right info in your application, so be sure to follow all uniform formatting guidelines!

Helpful hint: In addition to following formatting guidelines, be sure to answer the questions being asked and don’t let your answers wander into other aspects of your organization or other programs you provide.

  1. Remember that funders are people, too.

Funders really do want to answer your questions and see projects succeed. So, if you do have a question about an application that you can’t find the answer to on their website, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask.

  1. Take advantage of the other resources funders have to offer.

Many funders offer resources like workshops, webinars, links to consultants and grant writing help sites. Take advantage! Some funders event offer feedback for non-funded projects to help you better understand why your project or program didn’t receive funding this time around.

  1. Communicate with your funders after you’ve received the grant.

Funders want to know how your project is going. A quick email update in-between the receipt of the initial award letter and the submission of the final report is all it takes to remind a funder of the good work and great progress your organization is helping to make. Or, if a project runs into difficulties, be sure to let your funder know. Funders understand that project plans can change, but any changes need to be communicated and discussed.

DON’Ts

  1. Don’t wait until the last minute.

Make a calendar of upcoming deadlines so that you can plan ahead and start letters of intent, gather letters of support, financials and other supporting documents as early as possible. And remember, if you call a funder with questions on the day the application is due, they may not be available to take your call, so don’t wait!

  1. Don’t give up.

Application processes can be extremely competitive. If your application is declined, it doesn’t necessarily reflect badly on you, your proposal, or the hard work you have put in. Follow up with the funder for feedback to help increase your changes next time!

At the end of the day, remember that your funders believe in your mission and that means that your mission aligns with their mission. At the end of the day we are all working to make the world a better place.

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