Hunting grants & funding?
Here are 6 steps to help you create compelling proposals
So you are poised for your next tremendous thing, but seeking the funds to make it happen.
You’re eying up grants or loans or seedfunding, striking up a side hustle or some extra shifts at work, or maxing out your credit card and favours from those who believe in you. Maybe contemplating selling your stuff or your soul…
There are countless income-generation avenues to navigate - and I’ll be exploring many of these in future posts - but here I’d love to unpack grants and funding with you.
To be clear, I can’t guarantee anyone success as these programs are highly competitive, and increasingly so with the changing public and private funding environment. So I encourage you to have several strategies for generating income - here's some reasons why!
However I'm glad to here share valuable insights from both sides of the funding equation. Over the the years I’ve applied for lots of arts, community, education and business opportunities - for myself and others - and am super grateful to have contributed to several successful grant outcomes. I’ve also worked with funding bodies, assessment processes, and the experts tasked with the challenge of making tough decisions of where the money goes. So I offer this general foundational advice to help with choosing the right opportunities and honing your proposal to be most competitive, but don't pretend that applications are as blissfully easy as a stroll in the park.
Before your dive into applications, I recommend you consider these 6 basic steps…
1. Scan the horizon.
Now is a great time to map out opportunities, priorities and deadlines for the year ahead.
Research opportunities promoted within your immediate field and also google beyond - are there other business sponsorships and grants, crowdfunding, philanthropy or local programs that may not be on your radar?
You can also sign up for updates from key funding and professional organisations in your field, to keep posted about new initiatives or call-outs as they are announced.
Organise your own list of opportunities, details and weblinks, and note key deadlines in your calendar or planner.
2. Find the right fit.
Be clear on what you seek to achieve, why and how. Start nutting out your logistics and budget. There could be many ways to slice and dice your Awesome New Thing into project phases or outcomes, and it’s great to think creatively about this.
However don't feel you should jump through every hoop for every opportunity, as many may not align with what you set out to do. Applications demand lots of time and energy, and you will need to choose where to best allocate these precious resources.
Make time to sift through the opportunity list and consider which are right for you right now.
Review the guidelines and objectives for each program. Be clear on funding limits and eligibility requirements. When projects can start and the responsibilities you might have if you are successful - such as reporting, promoting, or consulting with your funders about any changes. Check out who has been successful in the past, the $$$ and resources they were awarded, and for what.
Gather all the information you can to assess really whether this is the right fit for you.
If you’ve got some questions, it can be valuable to speak to someone involved with the program (if you can). It’s unlikely they will give you advice about your ideas or proposal itself, to be fair to others, but they may help you clarify your understanding of their priorities and whether there’s a good match.
3. Strong support
The people and organisations that support you will help demonstrate the viability and merit of your proposal. So I encourage you to seek out letters or emails from folks you may be working with.
Such support materials should confirm the funding or in-kind support, partners or venue you may have lined up. Your collaborators or mentors could write a glowing account of why and how they are working with you. Each supporter can share their own compelling reasons why you should be funded!
It is important to respectfully observe protocols if you intend to work with cultural groups, practices or ideas. There are many resources online to support your respectful engagement with Indigenous Australians and other cultural and community groups. Research what is appropriate, and allow time to reach out to leaders and stakeholders for consultation and support.
Not everyone has time to create lovely support letters, so you can offer to help them with a whizzbang template or some prompts of key points you’d like them to address. Give them lots of time before the application deadline, to minimise last minute pressure for either of you.
If you are not sure about who to seek support from or to work with, start reaching out to those you admire or may have a good alignment with your goals. If they are not ready now, there could be future chances to connect and collaborate!
This glittery creation courtesy my 2yo. You may choose other enthralling rich media to support your proposal!
You want to have the most compelling proposal that you possibly can. To capture assessors’ interest with you and your story. To resoundingly meet their criteria. To convey viability and awesomeness. To inspire their support.
Writing may not be your forte, but practice is invaluable to clarify your ideas and language.
Make it clear, interesting and easy to read. Without dumbing things down, it’s generally best to avoid jargon or overcomplicating things, to help engage people who may not know you or have expertise in your field. Own your strengths and the significance of what you are setting out to achieve. Read it out aloud, to check your writing flows and makes sense.
Your budget needs to balance and be plausible. Ideally you can include other income (confirmed or pending) to help show the viability and credibility of your project. It can help to show you have skin in the game to, by counting your in-kind and/or financial contribution to the budget. But don’t undersell yourself or the time of the people who may be working with you - it’s important that everyone is getting paid fairly. Research your expected costs and income, and it can be helpful to include notes to explain your figures.
If you don’t like the money or maths side of things, get help to ensure the budget adds up. You may also seek support for auspicing funds. You will likely need to report on how you spend the money and achieved what you proposed, so good planning and records are important.
It’s awesome to get feedback from people you know and trust. Or you can seek support from people who write or review proposals (let me know if you’d like to chat about this).
You may also be invited to dazzle with visual or audio media, weblinks, or lovely design or formatting. In whatever media you use, aim to showcase your ideas, skills and experience, to win folks over with the amazingness of your vision, as richly and interestingly as you can. But first always check application form or guidelines to make sure your efforts are welcome (or not).
Creating your stunnerama proposal can be laborious and unfun, I admit. But it should also be useful for refining your idea and planning, and you can reuse the new written and rich content for other opportunities and marketing materials.
So you've got your compelling proposal. You know that it's a good fit for this opportunity.
I recommend you check again to make sure everything is on-spec and fits the guidelines.
Support materials, word count, character count, formatting, file naming, upload limits, rich media or URL support - there are so many variables that can be agonising or impossible to tackle at the 11th hour....
I recommend you do all of this as early as possible before the deadline itself, in case of any technical hitches or unforeseen delays. Online systems can get swamped by traffic when everyone is trying to apply, and there may not be any flexibility or support around glitches.
Congrats on your getting your proposal in - woot!
6. What next…
Here's hoping that you are successful - to your creation flying, the impact you make, your success and accolades! Share the good news, do the great things, and do let me know all about it too :)
However - let’s face it - these are very competitive programs and many of us are not successful. And as disappointing and challenging rejection can be, there are positives. Your proposal has been carefully considered by discerning and influential funders. You may be able to get feedback and improve your chances for next time. You have progressed your ideas and planning, and developed some relationships in beautiful alignment with your vision. This is all part of the journey...
There are always other opportunities. There are other ways to make money.
Return to scanning the horizon and gearing up for the next great leap in the right direction.
In the meantime, I look forward to seeing you create, connect and thrive!