In Greater Cleveland, Ohio we are fortunate to have Cuyahoga Arts and Culture (CAC), a public entity that directs funding to arts organizations in a variety of ways including general operating support and support for specific projects. CAC is an independent unit of government that collects a dedicated tax on cigarettes sold in Cuyahoga County, to fund local arts and culture organizations. Since 2007, CAC has invested more than $80 million in 182 local arts and cultural organizations.
At the close of their recent three-day review of 61 proposals for general operating support, the reviewers were invited by CAC Executive Director Karen Gahl-Mills to share advice with grantees.Their advice was especially acute and relevant to anyone writing a grant proposal for any type of project. It is rare to have the opportunity to hear this kind of frank feedback – and I wanted to share the best of it with you.
When writing about evaluation, make sure you are not only discussing how and what you will measure but also what you have learned from evaluation results to date and what you are going to do or have already done about it.
When outlining partnerships in which your organization is involved, don’t just list them. Explain what makes the partnership successful.
Be candid about challenges, changes, struggles, etc. We are all operating in a quickly changing environment. It is not realistic to portray that your organization has not had any bumps in the road. As one reviewer colorfully stated, “Cut the bull****.”
Don’t assume a reviewer knows anything about your organization or community. Large organizations should especially beware of this, because they can often assume funders know things they may actually not know. Make sure you are adequately articulating how you are serving the unique needs of the community and how you know you are successful in this endeavor.
Make sure your proposal is well-written and not redundant. Never forget that real people have to read and understand the proposal, and it is likely that the reviewer will be reading many others. Respect their time and make sure your proposal language is clear, readable and understandable.
Many thanks to CAC for its significant investments in the arts in Cuyahoga County and for its transparent grantmaking process. This type of advice is rare and so helpful in making all of us better advocates in seeking needed funding for our organizations.