Your Project: Who Needs It?

From Janet Brown from her blog Better Together

I took a short hiatus from blogging in the first quarter 2013. I was “blogged out.” I've been storing up some ideas and am ready to put them out there again for better or worse.

In future blogs, I'm going to discuss why GIA is working with capitalization, why our “understanding racism” work is important, what makes innovation important and why most of us don't understand the term, what does the term “national arts policy” mean and who is creatively making a place for themseves, plus other stuff, I'm sure. Now that you're all holding your breath, I'm going to start with a simple article I wrote recently on grantwriting and project development. I get asked often about grantwriting and getting grants. I only know what I know from being a grant seeker for 35 years and spending a great deal of time these days with very generous, caring and smart arts funders.

Your Project: Who Needs It?

Before there is grantwriting, there is project development. Sometimes project planning gets lost in our attempt to meet deadlines or our need to raise the money. Careful project development is the second most important element to a successful grant application. The most important is making sure you are requesting funds from the right grantmaker, an organization whose mission and funding criteria are in sync with your project. Otherwise, this is all a big waste of time.

Project development begins with a good analysis around need. This project was developed because there was a need for something to change or improve. So ask yourself, what is the need? If the answer is “because our artistic director wants to do it,” or “we created this program in order to get funds from this foundation,” or anything along those lines, then you need to rethink this program.

Most institutionalized grantmakers give the bulk of their funds to nonprofit organizations. They do this because nonprofit status assures them (or should) that this organization was incorporated for charitable purposes and will benefit the public good. When they determine if your project should be funded, one of the primary ways to convince them is to easily explain how this project (or the organization as a whole) benefits the public good. What is the need?

Also important to funders is how you determined there was a need. Sometimes that’s obvious but other times it’s not. But the more you can prove that you have done your homework in this area, the stronger your grant application will be. If you have research data, surveys or observational data, it needs to be stated in such as way as to persuade the funder that you didn’t just decide there was a need but that you have clear evidence that the need exists. Sometimes this is easy to do, other times, it takes some digging and creativity.

Now you have a need and you can explain how that need was identified. The next step is to explain how this project meets the need. How it works, what’s the timeline and how will it be administered. Because of this program, what change will occur? An indication of good planning will also be that you can explain in your proposal how the program will continue once this funding is no longer available. This should be truthful…always be truthful. If the program will not continue without this funding, then you need to say that. If it can, because you’ve built up an earned revenue stream or you will have gained the visibility of other funders, then say so.

The last component to this “need” scenario is answering this question: “how do you know that the need has been met?” In other words, how are you assessing success and what process will you use to make that determination. Because you’ve developed this program based on a need, it should be logical to determine how you decide if that need has been met. Evaluation and feedback are essential to grantmakers these days so don't think of this part of the project as an "add-in" for funders. It is a critical component of your successfully achieving your goal.

Experienced grantwriters can feel if a project has the components to be successfully funded. Much of that has to do with matching up the passion of the funder with the positive results of the project. Much of that has to do with answering the question, “Who needs it?”