You are alone in your studio.

You and your cup of coffee.

You think about what you really want to be creating. A deep sigh escapes from your soul.

Why did my last grant proposal get turned down?

Who else can I go to to for funding?

And how do other people get grants?

We all know that grantwriting is hard work, but what should you do when your efforts just don’t seem to pay off?

Do you cross your paint stained fingers and keep plugging away? Hope that your next proposal will be a winner? Pray that award letters will soon flood your inbox?

You need a new strategy, not wishful thinking.

When your grantwriting efforts aren’t doing as well as you’d like, don’t simply step up your efforts. And don’t give up.

Instead, take a step back and look at what you’ve done so far.

Do you have the right pieces – and the right thinking in place to impress panelists and win grants?

When I asked you to tell me what some of your top frustrations in grantwriting are, many of you said that knowing how to find funders and getting “detailed information on how to find those that have given grants in the past and those that would take grant submissions” were huge challenges.

This can be confusing but over the years I have developed a clear strategy for finding the right funders and building relationships. 

If you want to create a simple strategy that will help you win more funders & fans, answer the four questions below.

Sound good?

Let’s start with understanding your funder.

1. Who is your one funder?

You might be aiming to send out proposals to several funders.

But if you think of large numbers of foundation, philanthropic, government and corporate funders, you turn them into a faceless crowd.  And when you appeal to a faceless crowd, your writing becomes general, common, and boring.

OK, do you think Stephen King focuses on millions of readers when writing his bestsellers?

King tells us, in his book On Writing, he writes for one reader only — his wife. As he writes, he wonders, “What will Tabitha think about this section?”

Works pretty well for him.

When you write for one funder, your writing instantly becomes more engaging, focused, and persuasive. You’ll stand out more from the crowd, get more points for really knowing what is important to your funder, which will help you generate a higher ranking.

Do you know your one funder?

Can you imagine picking up the phone, introducing yourself and your project, and perhaps complimenting something you read on her website?

Have you had a conversation with any of the other artists listed on her website that have gotten grants?

Do you go to events that this funder supports?  That is the best way to establish a personal contact.

And grantwriting is personal.

Foundations exist to give away money to fulfill their mission.  But  do you think they will give away money to someone they don’t know or trust?

Panelists look for a reason in your proposal to trust you with a grant to do your project.  You can build that trust by doing a little homework to make your proposal more appealing.

To know your one funder, go beyond hitting the search button at the Foundation Center.

Dig a little deeper to understand their mission. Understand their priorities. Empathize with their goals, and inspire them with your ability to help them achieve their goals as well as yours.

2. Why would your funder fund you?

Your art might help you achieve a number of goals — increase your audience, build buzz,  generate more sales in tickets or of your artwork, raise your profile, gain new collectors, etc.

But have you thought about what’s in it for your funder?

Why should she support you?

The panelists will read hundreds of proposals from people like you who will write all about the quality of their work and their artistic goals.

What can you do to stand out?

Here’s something to keep in mind:

  1. Funders have missions and goals that, at their core, are really about making the world a better place
  2. They have to give out money to people whose work is of high quality and aligns with those missions and goals
  3. Showing a funder how you are the best candidate to fulfill both her goals & yours is a smarter grantwriting strategy.

A few examples:

  • As a painter, you might want to create new work and give an open studio tour for the community
  • As a composer, you could help local music teachers and give a mini masterclass about engaging students in ensembles.
  • As a dance company, you could give an open dress rehearsal for a neighborhood senior center
  • As a multimedia artist, you might volunteer to create a set of awards for a local legislator to present to civic leaders

3. Are you crazy?  I don’t have time to do all that!

To engage your funder and get a grant, you need to build a relationship.

To market your work and build an audience for your work, you have to do the same.

Don’t wait until you have spent all your time, money and energy creating work – and then start thinking about building support and awareness of your art.

Try thinking the other way around.

Consider the time you give in cultivating funders as an investment in marketing, promotion and building awareness of you & your art.

The world your funders occupy are full of people that could be your next raving fans, new collectors & buyers.  Some of them are artists, many of them are art lovers.

And if you have a good relationship with a funder and she cannot fund you, she can recommend you to someone else who can.  This happens more often than you think and you cannot get a better referral than that!

4. Do you build long-term relationships?

It’s easy to forget that people fund people. The concept is a cliché, but it’s true.

Before people will give you money, you need to build relationships:

  • Invite them to your events, your studio.  Many funders like to watch and observe what you are doing before giving you a grant.
  • Attend events they are sponsoring.  What a great way to meet them in person!
  • If they have a blog, offer a guest blog or material for it.  JetBlue, ConEdison and many other corporations have blogs that love feedback and input from the public.  This can really help you build advocates on the inside and keep you top of mind for other unexpected opportunities.

To turn funders into supporters, be a good friend. Don’t treat them like numbers.

Here’s what to do next:

Ready to find funders & get them to love you and what you do?

Over the next 5 days, take 30 minutes a day and try my simple plan:

  • DAY 1:  create your profile and write down what makes your project unique
  • DAY 2:  make a list of 3-5 targeted funders and who they have funded. Study trade magazines like Poet & Writers.  Contact your district legislators about funding opportunities.  Check in with your local and state arts councils like Queens Council on the Arts.
  • DAY 3:  pick one funder and write down all of the ways your project meet their mission
  • DAY 4:  plan out your funder strategy. Can you contact a past grant awardee for some insight? (Hint: give them a compliment at the beginning of the conversation by congratulating them on their success)  Have you checked the funder’s website or blog?  Did you contact the funder’s office to ask for some advice regarding the application process?  To answer another commentfrom the survey,We need to know the trends that are being funded right now”, here’s your opportunity to find out.
  • DAY 5:  review all you have learned and decide it this is the funder for you

The simple truth about funders

Of course you’d love to get more grants. But the truth is, the money is less important than the relationship.

Authentic engagement with the people who can support you is what matters.

Develop relationships with your funders.  Put them first and they will put you in their portfolio of successful grantees.

That’s how you win more grants.

Ask yourself

Does your fundraising strategy keep funders engaged with your art and sync well with their missions?

Hang on to your calculators!

Look out for my next bonus Grantwriting 101 Tutorial post where I talk about all things budget such as how to avoid  the 3 most common budget mistakes artists make.

Got a question?

Let’s talk about finding funders that are right for you.

Do me a favor and hit the Like button and let me know how I can help you get funders excited about you & your next project in the comments below

Let’s get started,

Hoong Yee