The first application deadline for the 2021-22 Paul R. Judy Center for Innovation & Research Grant Program is October 1. The October 2021 cycle is open to all applicants. To learn more about the program and to submit your proposal CLICK HERE.
Below, Rachel Roberts, Director of the Institute for Music Leadership at the Eastman School of Music, offers five strategies to consider when preparing a grant application.
Writing a Grant? Five Strategies to Consider
When crafting grant proposals, one of the biggest questions on a writer’s mind is likely: what is the grant committee looking for? While a writer’s inclination is likely to address a specific audience (the review committee) or intent (exactly aligning an organization’s mission), these elements are far from being the only determining factor in submitting a successful proposal. Below are five key considerations for writers on how to prepare a strong grant proposal.
1. Do your homework.
Not every granting opportunity that you come across will be a right match for your project or organization. It is worth your time to conduct targeted research to identify potential funders that could be a logical partner in support of the work you want to do. In researching granting organizations, read everything you can about the organization you would like to receive funding from. What are the important details you have found on their website, granting FAQs, potential past grant recipients, and the organization’s vision and mission statements? If these details are a logical match to what you seek funding for, give serious consideration for how you will present your proposal. Do not stretch your project idea to make it fit to a proposal. Do genuinely consider how to present your ideas to align with what the granting organization is trying to achieve. Sending the right proposal to the right funder is key to finding a successful granting match.
2. Present a logical solution to a problem.
When crafting your proposal, consider how you logically describe your ideas to someone who has no background to you, your organization, or your project. Too often funders get lost when reading proposals because of important descriptive details being inadvertently left out. In the simplest of terms, you should tell the reader what you are doing to do, who is going to benefit, and why they should care. Grant proposals could also be thought of through the lens of storytelling: the beginning of the story states the problem you have identified; the middle describes the solution that you propose; the end articulates the desired results or outcomes of your work. Throughout your narrative, remember to demonstrate your creative spark. What makes your project / organization’s work unique? Dream big, articulate the need for your work, and communicate your intended results and/or impact on a defined community.
3. Convince the funder you know what you’re doing.
In reading your proposal, the grant review committee should have confidence that you / your project / your organization will be a responsible steward of their funds. How? Through (1) demonstrating a clear need for your project, (2) articulating a strong programmatic response, and (3) acknowledging the skills and experience of the leaders working with you on this project. If applicable, also identify what you are already doing to get the project started with minimal funding. The preview of the initial results / impact of your work will help review committees better understand the potential impacts at scale with their funding support. Additionally, one key credibility-building piece that is too often overlooked by applicants is your ability to follow all of the articulated grant instructions. Funders put deliberate thought into what they need to adequately review and assess in proposals submissions. Nothing will kill your proposal faster than ignoring the stated instructions. Read them, understand them, then double- and triple check that every step is followed before submitting your final proposal.
4. Your budget should tell the same story.
The budget cannot be an afterthought to your proposal! Instead, the budget is a great opportunity to tell the story of your project / organization’s need, as well as to demonstrate your project’s credibility. Grant reviewers often look at the budget very early in the review process. Every item in your budget should somehow bereflected in your proposal narrative. If the granting instructions say to include a detailed budget, don’t submit a $2,000 expense for “travel” without detailing how many flights, train tickets, or taxi rides you are planning for in that category. Your budget should not raise more questions than it answers.
5. Never stop learning.
Despite considering all of the above- named factors when grant writing, the outcome of your application is dependent solely upon the review committee’s weighting of your proposal against other applicants. This pool will change from application to application, and you will never be able to control the deliberations of the review committees. However, I firmly believe each experience, regardless of the outcome, is an opportunity to learn. If you are granted funds, congratulations! You now have the opportunity to work with the funder, build a relationship with this new partner, and understand more of both their granting process and funding priorities. If you were not awarded funds this time, you now have the opportunity to follow-up with the grantor and ask for feedback on your application, potentially creating a longer-term relationship building opportunities for future connections and/or funding. Sometimes this request is denied, though increasingly I have seen many grantors collecting committee deliberations and feedback specifically to share with applicants. Furthermore, if you have the opportunity, accept the offer to become a grant reader, even in a volunteer capacity. Doing so will allow you to directly participate in understanding how the entire grant review process works, as well as gain insight into what review committee deliberations are looking for. More importantly, you can see firsthand what mistakes can kill a proposal, and what types of details will make other proposals stand out. All of these learning moments are opportunities to better inform how you construct future grant applications.
There is not one “right” answer for what makes a grant proposal successful, though I’ll end with one final suggestion: amid calendars that are overflowing with too many appointments and never-ending to-do lists, successful grant proposals are rarely written in less than 24 hours, or even in a single week. Writing a grant proposal takes time, careful research, deliberate considerations, and multiple rounds of editing, yet the reward for these efforts could yield exceptional results.