(This post is from Naomi Worthington, consultant at Grants Plus. Read other Grants Plus posts here.)
Earlier this month, the Cuyahoga Arts and Culture Board of Trustees approved the distribution of their 2014 grant funds for Project Support. Since 2007, Cuyahoga Arts and Culture has awarded grants in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, funded by a voter-approved cigarette tax, “to promote public access to arts and culture activities and encourage the breadth of arts and cultural programming in our community.” Grants are awarded in two categories—Project Support and General Operating Support.
Most notable about the Cuyahoga Arts and Culture grant review process is its transparency. In October, a panel of nine arts professionals from a variety of arts organizations throughout the United States gathered to discuss and score applications. Each application was first reviewed by two panelists who presented comments to the panel, and then discussed by the entire panel in a completely public forum—open to the public to attend and listen in, either in person or online.
This type of glimpse behind the curtain is so rare in grant seeking, and we heard several nuggets of wisdom invaluable to us as grant writers. We share the best with you below:
- Be honest about any barriers you may have or anticipate which will impede success of the proposed project. Funders like Cuyahoga Arts and Culture appreciate this honesty and it helps them feel like a collaborator in the process.
- Be sure and proofread your proposal. While this really should go without saying, the fact that it was noted indicates it bears repeating here.
- Ensure that your tone and language are professional in nature. Avoid using social media or florid and hyperbolic language.
- Listing partner organizations is not enough information. Clearly describe and specify the roles of partners and collaborators. Reviewers want to understand how each individual and/or organization will work together to achieve the project goals.
- Instill confidence with your writing. Don't use word "hope" where it should be "plan" or "intend."
- Be sure staff resumes and bios are well-written, applicable to the project, and up to date. A description of strong, skilled, experienced staff adds value to a proposed project.
- Great applications convey great excitement, love and passion (and can cover up flaws!)
- Organizations should see themselves (and portray themselves through a proposal) in service to the community. This shows authenticity and passion for their work.
- If you have questions on the proposal as you are working on it, contact the staff. They are there to help.
- Don’t write the proposal as if your organization exists in a vacuum. Most funders know that other organizations exist that provide similar or the same services to thecommunity as yours. Describe the role of your organization in the context of others.
While the guidance above was specifically directed to grant seekers for Cuyahoga County Arts and Culture grants, it certainly applies to many other funders. We salute Cuyahoga Arts and Culture for its open process and the sage advice it has offered to grant writers in our community.