Elements of Grant Seeking

ONWARD’s resourceful staff has been hard at work putting together useful fundraising information for our fellow photographers. We are familiar with the challenge of securing money to get a project off the ground and see it through to completion. Fortunately, we also know what it takes to meet the challenge. Grants are one major type of funding that photographers can use to actualize our ideas. In this article we’ll explain the basic elements of grant seeking: from deciding whether grants are right for you, to prospecting, establishing relationships with grant makers, and submitting a proposal.

Extra! Extra! Download free guidelines for grant-seeking photographers. Includes useful tips on finding funders, submitting inquiries and proposals, and maintaining fundraising relationships.

Know Your Funding Types

First thing’s first: are foundation grants a good funding option for you? There are lots of ways to raise the money you need to complete a photography project: reaching out to individuals, organizing fundraising events, crowdfunding using Kickstarter or a similar platform, and applying for grants. To maximize your chances of success, you need to choose a fundraising approach that is likely to work for your particular project and your personal skills and interests.

Private foundations are charitable organizations committed to effecting positive change. Most foundation grants are made to organizations, but lots of them are given to individuals, too. If you can explain clearly how your work is a real force of good in the world, then grants may be a great source of financial support for your project.

Getting grants requires considerable organization, planning, writing, and spoken communication. Applying for this type of funding is a suitable option only if you are willing and able to do this work. If you are truly dedicated to your fundraising project, grants can get you attention and prestige, and potentially large sums of money.

Once you’ve decided you are willing to commit, the next step is to think carefully about the purpose or intention of your project and specifically who will benefit from it.


Looking for Pay Dirt

Before embarking on any fundraising campaign, take the time to think carefully about the details of your project. No matter what kind of funding you choose to pursue, you must consider these questions:

  • How much money do you actually need?
  • When will you need the money?
  • Who is likely to be interested in your work?
  • Why do you believe people should support your project?

If you are able to answer these questions clearly and you’ve decided that grants are a good potential source of funding for your project, the next step is to go prospecting. (That’s fundraising jargon for looking for grant makers.) Don’t waste your time submitting written materials to funders without doing your homework first. Make sure you qualify before you apply. Proper prospecting is looking for funders whose mission aligns with your project.

Some grant makers are government agencies, while others are private foundations. There are big national public grant makers such as the National Endowment for the Arts, and also many smaller state and county arts agencies. Most public grants support projects that serve a particular community. If your project relates directly to a population in your geographic area, you should consider looking for public grants. Your home state arts agency is a good place to start looking.

Private foundations fund projects that support their particular missions. There are so many foundations that give to the arts, you will need to do a lot of searching to find the right ones for you. Fortunately, the Foundation Center exists to help with this process. The Foundation Center operates learning centers in five major US cities and also maintains partnerships with hundreds of libraries. At these locations, you can search the United States’ largest databases of grant makers and their grants.

Reach Out & Keep in Touch

Many of ONWARD’s resources emphasize the importance of personal relationships, and our fundraising advice is no exception. Remember that foundations are organizations, but they are established and run by actual people. Strong relationships with other people are at the heart of all successful fundraising campaigns. Because fundraising relationships are based on trust, you should be always try to be open, honest, reliable, and sensitive to the needs of others.

With few exceptions, it is a good idea to make personal contact with someone who works for a foundation before submitting a proposal or formal written inquiry. Meeting in person is the best way to establish a relationship, but talking on the phone can also be very effective. If you can’t make contact in person or on the phone, try sending an email. But keep in mind that email is generally less personal and less interactive than a spoken conversation, and many email messages go unanswered. A real dialogue is always best.

Maintaining a relationship means you stick with it through thick and thin. If a proposal is rejected, make personal contact again and ask for feedback on your application. Not only will you get valuable information, you will also let the person know you care what they think. When your proposal is accepted, continue to maintain the relationship you started with your first phone call. Keep in touch with your funders, and don’t make the mistake of contacting them only when you need money.

Make a Decent Proposal

We’ve encouraged you to establish relationships by talking in person or on the phone with potential funders. For most of us, those conversations come a lot easier than written communication. But there’s no way around it: getting grants requires writing. The quality of writing can make or break a proposal, so make sure to do your best work and enlist some trusted friends to help edit and proofread. Be honest with yourself: if writing is a weakness for you, make sure to find a skilled writer to work with.

Grant proposals are formulaic: there is a right way of doing it, so don’t get creative here. Some funders will provide proposal guidelines, while others will expect you to stick to a general standard format. There are many resources available to guide you through writing each section of a full grant proposal. Although the majority of grant writing resources are geared towards organizations rather than individuals, most of the same principles apply. Note that individual grant proposals are usually no more than five single-spaced pages long.

In addition to your proposal, you will also submit a cover letter and a budget. You’ll have to ask for a specific dollar amount in several sections of the proposal as well as in the budget. Asking for money makes many of us uncomfortable, but remember that you definitely won’t get it if you don’t ask! Overall, the most important thing to remember is that effective grant writing is businesslike, specific, and concise.

Take the Next Steps

Now you know the basic elements of grant seeking. If you are clear about who your project will benefit and how, and you’re willing to invest a significant amount of time and energy, then you’re in good shape to start finding and building relationships with funders whose goals align with your work. When it comes time to write your proposal, be sure to avail yourself of the help your community provides.

The ONWARD staff works tirelessly to find the resources you need to make your projects happen and take your career to the next level. To that end, we’ve picked the brains of our friends in the fundraising world and prepared a concise guide called Grant Writing 101, just for photographers like you. Click the link below