Proposals & Grants
Here is a sampling of the different kinds of funding available to artists from different regional and national organizations and institutions:
Arts Councils and Agencies
National Endowment for the Arts
National Endowment for the Humanities
State Arts Councils (like the California Arts Council)
Local Arts Councils or Cultural Affairs Departments (like the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs
Art Service Organizations
Art Centers and Workshops
Artist-Run Spaces (many nonprofit)
Museums and Galleries
Cash Grants And Awards
Fellowships and General Support
Competitions and Awards
Project Grants and Support
Public Art Projects
Special Opportunity Grants
Emergency Funds and Assistance
Time And Space
Artists’ Colonies and Communities
Facilities and Technical Support
Gallery or Museum Residencies or Awards
University or Education Awards
80% of all donations in the U.S. come from individuals
Materials and Supplies
Specialty Services (like Graphic Designers, Fabricators, etc.)
Crowdfunding: Kickstarter, Indie Go Go, etc.
Social media campaign
Your own campaign (professional website)
Finding the right funder is crucial to your efforts, so take time to do the research. It is a waste of time to apply to funders who do not fund what you are asking for. It is also not a good idea to make up a project or change your project in a way that does not satisfy your ideas in order to secure funding. If you get the funding and hate the work or the process, you are still committed to completing it unless you return the funds.
Read each application’s guidelines very carefully. Many grants are lost because the applicant did not follow instructions. If you are unsure of the guidelines, do further research, either by checking their website, or calling directly (if allowed). Take careful note of the language used by the funder, and use some of that language in your application or proposal.
The Internet is an important and indispensable resource when looking for funders. Most foundations and funders have a website, or a listing on a site that will give you basic information. You may need to write or call for additional information. There are also research centers in most cities, where you can make an appointment to search their library or grants database.
As with all endeavors, it’s best to start local. Research funders in your neighborhood, then city, then state, then country, and finally, international funders. Starting from the closest funder to you will open more opportunities as you expand the scope of your research. Even if you use the internet to find funding sources, make sure not to neglect the person-to-person connections crucial to building a relationship between you and the funder. Pick up the phone and call a funding organization. Your interest will often set you apart from the rest of the application pool. If you can get access, read other successful proposals for projects similar to yours. Find out what has been previously funded to get a clear idea of what funders are interested in. These successful projects are usually posted online in a section on the funder’s website.
While looking for funding sources try and answer these questions, which will not only help you find the right funder for your project, but will also assist in you writing a more effective grant:
How will funding sources relating to your project change in the next few months, year, three years, decade? Is your project related to current funding trends?
Who routinely funds projects like yours?
What organizations create, manage, or develop projects similar to yours? Can you collaborate with these organizations?
Has your project previously been created in a different form, community, or context? If so, what sets your project apart from this past work?
Many artists cannot afford grant writers, but there are workshops and support groups that may be helpful. Ask your local arts nonprofit what sorts of grants writing workshops are available in your community.
Download this Funding Research Form to get you started:
Use this section to sketch out a plan. Start with the big picture. Go nuts and write down all the things you want to do with your project. Determine the overall scope of your project then break it up into manageable sections. You might realize that you may be getting in over your head. Or, you might realize that you need to expand the scope of your project. Whatever you decide, take some time to plan ahead and revisit this process periodically.
Have your materials handy and updated, such as your résumé, artist statement, labeled work samples, and work descriptions. A proposal will need to be created for each application. Each funder will have very specific questions that you need to answer. Never send out a bunch of generic proposals, as they are usually rejected. Be specific to each funder in your application.
Before you begin, read the guidelines for the grant or call for entry you are applying to. Make sure you answer any lingering questions the application brings up. Next, write out a timeline. This timeline will change as your project progresses, but decide which benchmarks are very important and stick to them. Most funders have inflexible deadlines, so you will have to make sure to meet them. Make sure you know if the deadline is a postmark deadline, or a delivery deadline. Some granters specify a time of day the grant must be in their hands.
Typical proposal calls or grant applications will have standard sections to be completed. Although many organizations and funders require you to mail in a package, many prefer the whole process to be online. As we suggested with other online forms, be sure to fill out each section in a word-processing program so you can easily review, edit, cut, and paste your work. Many online applications have strange and often frustrating formats, some restrict word (even character) counts, while others have nonsensical time-restraints that love to log you out of your application right before you have the chance hit the save button. We have outlined many standard sections in most funding applications. However, many organizations and funders will ask more detailed questions that fit their specific mission statement. Just remember to follow directions, save often, and watch that word count!
The Applicant Information section is designed to provide proof to possible funders about why you are the right person to execute your project, including information about how your skills, history, and talent will guarantee that the project is realized successfully. This differs from the Biography section of your proposal, which is about your art career, so you can include information about non-art-related jobs or credentials that attest you have the skills to complete a project. Maybe you were a welder in a former life, or you were a manger at a company, where you gained knowledge or skills that are particularly suited to the funding request.
Some funders will ask for letters of reference to support a credential listing. Give your references and recommenders ample time to write you a letter of recommendation, and provide them with information about your project and the funder(s) you will be approaching.
A proposal summary is usually a one-sentence summation of your entire project. Writing a summary is a good exercise to determine exactly what you are trying to do. It clarifies the project’s theme or idea in a concise manner. Without going into too much detail, describe who you are, the scope of your project, and the amount you are requesting.
The summary is the first thing that funders read when reviewing proposals, and if your summary isn’t engaging the rest of your proposal may be overlooked.
If the application form does not have a space to include your summary, state it in your application cover letter.
This is the section that the funder will read after your summary. Often a preliminary reviewer screens the first batch of proposals to make sure that the applicant has followed proposal guidelines. The introduction section may determine if the proposal is passed on to a specialist or to the grant panel.
The introduction should be fairly short, giving the reader an idea of who you are and the context of the project you are proposing, and establishing your credibility.
Sometimes it is a good idea to take all the sentences that you have removed from your summary and include them here. This is just a basic overview, and specific details should be saved for the project description area. Be sure to pay attention to word and page limits specified by the funder.
In this section, you will go into full detail about your project. Be sure to include all-important details. These can include both physical as well as philosophical descriptions. This section allows you to simply describe the object, installation, public encounter, etc. Explain what it looks like, what it does, and who is the intended audience. Is the project interactive? Where will this project be displayed? When does this display start and for how long? You want to be clear, but not talk down to your reader. If there is something missing in this section that remains unclear, the funder will have questions about the project. Be specific and detailed. Clearly identify your project goals, and your plan to meet them.
Many applications request a philosophical statement within or following your Project Description. This is where you will describe the purpose of your project or a detailed mission statement.
Take care to distinguish between methods and objectives. The method is what you will do to accomplish the project —the activities you will conduct in order to accomplish your objectives. The funder will want to know why you have chosen these methods, and why you think they will work. An objective is a specific and measurable outcome that is the result of completing your project—not simply the act of completion. If you have stated a need or problem that your project intends to address, then this description should offer a solution or possible resolution. Include your plans for evaluating results, as the funder will want to know how you will meet your objectives and measure outcomes. (See Evaluation section below.)
This is where you state how the project will be disseminated or distributed. Use this section to explain how you are going to take what you have done out into the public realm. Be sure to describe your target audience and your desired (or secured) venue. If you are proposing to make a book or CD, how will you distribute it? If your end goal is to stage a performance, when and where you will perform it? Is it ticketed event or open to the public? Most funders wants to know why you have selected a location, a date, or specific audience.
This section should also include how you will get the word out about your project, whether through advertising in a publication, sending announcements, or emails. Include details as to how you will let the larger public know about your work.
Funders do not want to fund something that sits in your hall closet, or does not make it into the public realm, so give serious consideration as to how your project will be seen or used.
This part of your application should state what led you to develop this project and ask for funding. This part of the application is not your résumé or credentials, but a perspective on why you are doing this project.
Sometimes this section is called the Problem Assessment or Needs Assessment section of the application. You will need to show that you have researched why your particular project will make an impact or fulfill a need. How will your audience directly benefit from the experience of your work? Be very specific, but not unrealistic. For example, don’t explain the entire scope of world hunger and then state that your art-project food distribution cart will cure hunger. Instead focus on the raw facts, the nitty gritty. Funders will appreciate your forward thinking and rigorous research.
If others have done projects in the area you are interested in, you should explain why your project is different, or more successful, than previous projects. Do your research, and highlight the unique parts of your project.
You should also address the specific funding goals and criteria that the funder is interested in supporting. Don’t go overboard with trying to do a project larger than is realistically feasible. Narrow down the problem to something that can be addressed with additional resources. Make sure that the funder is aware of your knowledge of the problem or reason for the project.
A timeline details when you plan to accomplish tasks specific to your project. Besides providing you with a long-term to-do list, a comprehensive timeline shows potential funders that you are organized, proactive, and prepared.
Begin your timeline by starting with the date farthest into the future. This could be when you turn in the evaluation of your project. Now work backwards. List specific deadlines your funder prescribes. Projects can lose funding and institutional support if deadlines are not met. Structuring your timeline helps you foresee all the obstacles, events, and tasks you will have to accomplish. Include enough detail to ensure your reader understands that you have thought out your steps clearly and logically.
Make sure your timeline is realistic, and that you have allotted enough time for each task. If you don’t know how long a specific task will take, err on the generous side, building in a buffer so that you can responsibly accomplish what needs to be done without tasks piling up and becoming unmanageable. Funders want to feel confident that you know how to manage your own time. They do not want to hold your hand throughout the life of your project.
This section addresses how you plan to evaluate your project to determine if you met your goals and objectives.
An evaluation can determine how effective your project was, and also serve as a tool to provide information necessary to make changes to your program or project in the future. If you have trouble determining what criteria to use in evaluating your project, look again at your objectives. If you plan on making a lasting impact in the community, what would be the way you would determine if this actually happened?
Show active methods for evaluating your work. Some evaluation techniques include interviews, reviews, attendance counts and questionnaires, which are all designed to measure specific outcomes. Evaluations can take place both in-house, or by an outside evaluator.
How much funding are you requesting for the project described in this application? In this section, you will have to state your funding request in a specific dollar amount. This seems like an obvious section to fill out, but be aware of the maximum (and sometimes minimum) amounts allowed for any given funding opportunity. Do not ask for too much, ultimately padding your budget to squeeze more money out of an organization. Even though the funder might max her/his giving at $10,000, it doesn’t mean you need all of that money for your project. Asking for too little because you don’t want to seem selfish or greedy will only make the funders think you are not taking your project seriously. Either way, you do not want to hint at an extreme. This will only make the funder think you are not professional or realistic of your project goals.
Many times a project will cost more than the funder can or will provide. Be sure to clearly state where you will get the funds to complete the project, and justify every cent to get you to your goal. This task may easily be performed in your proposal’s budget.
The budget you provide is a vital aspect of your proposal. It should include concise descriptions of the expenses and income for the project, and will generally fit on one page (unless otherwise specified). Your budget will be divided into categories such as personnel, services, supplies, in-kind donations, facility expenses, etc. Start by separating your budget into two primary sections: Income and Expenses.
Income is where you list all the budgetary items that are paid for. This is where you list in-kind donations, whether cash, supplies, services and/or labor to be donated to you or your project, or by other people or organizations. Itemize these in detail.
Expenses are detailed lists of all the expenses included in your project. Break this into manageable sections, like artist fees, exhibition fees, reception fees, advertising, printing, etc. Include subtotals and totals to make your budget easier to read.
As previously mentioned, do not pad the budget with unnecessary purchases. Funders are very savvy about expenses, and generally know what most things cost. State clear, reasonable amounts, and justify what you are asking for. Only ask for what you need. You might want to attach quotes for services. Often three quotes for each service will show a funder that you have done your research to find the most affordable price. Remember, a grant is not a gift, it provides the resources for working.
If you are receiving funding from any other source, you should list it here. Whether another funder, individuals or in-kind support, funders will often fund projects that have additional support elsewhere, or are supported by an organization which has agreed to present your project. Many funders also request a Fundraising Plan explaining how you will raise any remaining needed funding for your project..
If your project has a long timeline, you will need to address how you will fund your project into the future to ensure longevity and sustainability. If your project is intended to last for a short time, or if your proposal simply requests one-time equipment purchases or services, you don’t need to list sources for future funding, unless you are building in funding for future maintenance or upgrades.
It is not sufficient just to say you promise to look for additional funding. You must provide detailed descriptions of those funding sources, and plans for identifying and pursuing alternative funding sources. Maybe you intend to collect earned-income from your project through merchandise sales or ticket sales. How can these sales be made more sustainable?
There are numerous resources you can consult for proposal and grant writing. Remember, grant writing is a learned skill and, like any skill, takes practice. If you really want to learn how to write stellar grants, seek the advice of a grant writing professional. Look for workshops in your area, and find a funding research center in your city. Ironically, there are even grants you can apply for to fund you to attend grant writing workshops. If there is a Cultural Affairs Department in your city, give them a call to learn about local research possibilities. And of course, the Internet is full of grant writing resources.
When juggling multiple proposals, it is easy to lose track of where you are in the process with each possible funding source. Creating an easy-to-follow tracking system will allow you to respond to requests and maintain contact with possible funders in a timely manner, which will improve your chances of being funded. Funding sources may have numerous due dates throughout the application process. If you are applying to many funding opportunities (which you should definitely do), then those deadlines can pile up and get confusing. An organized tracking system will ensure the right information will be delivered to the right potential funder at the right time.
Information to keep track of:
Who the proposal was sent to
Listed items included in your application
Date proposal sent
Date when you should receive a reply
Whether the proposal is pending, accepted, or rejected
What project or exhibition you proposed in your application
If your proposal or grant is unaccepted:
Don’t despair. Find out if possible, why you did not get the grant. Many funders take notes at panel meetings and you can ask for a phone appointment to get feedback. Other funders do not want to hear from you. It is always a good idea to thank the funder for the opportunity to apply, even if you were rejected.
A proposal or grant can be rejected for a number of reasons:
It was a highly competitive application pool
Your work did not fit the guidelines
Your budget did not add up or was missing some crucial items
There were too many similar proposals
Your application was not clear
You did not answer the questions adequately
If your proposal was accepted:
Congratulations! When a proposal or project is accepted you should do the following:
Add all relevant dates to your calendar, including deadlines, mid and final reports
Sign any contracts or agreements
Follow up with a thank you to the funder or organization
Make sure you notify the grantor if there are any changes to any of the procedures or content of the project
Go over your budget and make any adjustments, particularly if you were given a lesser amount than you asked for
Consider creating a To Do or Deadline list
Invoice the funder when applicable (usually in the funders instructions)
Keep track of all receipts, invoices, and payments
Do the final report and submit materials requested
Feel free to share this article with other artists.
You can also get our popular book for artists, Getting Your Sh*t Together: The Ultimate Business Manual for Every Practicing Artist, which includes all of this information and more here.
Download the Proposal & Grant Checklist Form here: