Grant Applications: 5 Mistakes Not to Make

Grant Applications: 5 Mistakes Not to Make

Fine tune your application chops with some keys to requesting funding.

Written By

Molly Sheridan


Granters want to fund applicants; the funding process is not like a reality TV show that eliminates people for the fun of it. The hard part of all of this is to actually create the art—writing grant applications should just be a way to showcase what you do. So think positively, and follow the directions below.


Follow the Instructions

Yes, it seems very much like elementary school, but an unscientific survey of grantmaking organizations reports that not following the directions is at the heart of almost all grant application mistakes. Especially in today’s financial climate, the number of applicants is increasing and funding sources are overtaxed, so take special care to submit every piece of information that is asked for in the exact format it is requested. If you are asked to number the pages, do so. If you are asked for a bio, even if you are Milton Babbitt, submit one. You may or may not get a kind phone call alerting you to your error, and it could cost you: both your chance for the grant and the time you spent working on and mailing the application.

Failure to complete the application correctly could be attributable to any number of factors—from poorly written instructions to inattention on your part—so read carefully, several times, and don’t hesitate to contact the organization and ask questions if you need to. Granters don’t deduct points for asking for clarification when it’s needed. But if you are asked not to submit a spiral bound score, and you do so anyway, your whole application could justifiably be tossed out before it’s even been read. When there are 300 applicants for 25 grants, every detail matters.

If you’re not sure how to frame your content, or would just like some instruction on how to write a successful application for the program in question, it may be helpful to peruse previous proposals. Call the granting organization and ask if you can look at past applications that were funded.

Neatness Counts

The information you include on your application for funding may be the only thing the person or people doling out the grant money will ever know about you, so impressions are important. By the very fact that you are applying for funding, you’re making a statement that your project is important, so take appropriate care when formulating your project description and answering application questions. Prize-winning prose is not required, but your text needs to effectively express the reasons your project deserves a grant. A misspelled word might not doom your application, but sloppy proofreading would make any funder question how much care you will take when it comes to executing your project.

When it comes to submitting a score, there are additional considerations of binding, page numbering, etc. Neat and clean copies of professional quality are essential of course. The debate still continues over the personality of handwritten music vs. the formal sterility of computerized scores. Unless a particular submission style is requested (see “Follow the Instructions”), you’ll have to decide for yourself the format that best expresses your intentions. Then take a step back and ask yourself: Does this score look professional in every respect? Using a computer program by no means guarantees a perfect copy. Proofreading your score is as import as proofreading your application.

Leave Enough Time

While there may be something to performing under pressure, before you go this route with your grant application, reflect on how much fun the mad scramble to get your taxes done on April 15 was last year. Downloading hard to understand forms and looking for receipts at 4 a.m. was not amusing. Neither is almost completing a grant application the day before the deadline and realizing that the only guy who has the key to the filing cabinet with the last piece of info you need is off mountain climbing in Tibet.

Starting early and submitting your materials well in advance of the deadline arguably increases the chances you will get a grant, as it leaves time for calmly reading instructions and double checking your application, asking colleagues and the granting organization questions, and correcting your application should the granter notice you’ve left out an important piece of information.

If your dog eats your application, even a sympathetic granter will be unlikely to extend the deadline for you. Deadlines are final, unless otherwise noted. Submitting your application late is the easiest way to be disqualified from a grant. Be sure to understand what type of deadline it is: if it’s a postmark deadline (meaning it has to be stamped at the post office by that date), or a receipt deadline (it has to be in the hands of the granter by that date), or a rolling deadline (it can arrive anytime, although there may be start and end dates). Computerized applications that are emailed or sent through a website may have submit dates, when you must hit “send” or “submit” by a certain time.

Are You Eligible?

Not to dwell on the obvious, but review all the eligibility requirements carefully to make sure you qualify. No matter how interesting your project sounds, that won’t matter if it doesn’t coincide with the type of project the granter is looking to fund. If you’re struggling to make your project fit, your time may be better spent looking elsewhere. Make a habit of checking out the funding lists printed in the playbills of other performing organizations similar to your own work. Check out national information sources like The Foundation Center as well local organizations down to your local chamber of commerce or Rotary Club.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid to frame your project to stress its characteristics that match the grant you want. Lying is never acceptable, and altering your project just to get funding is likely not worth your while, but drawing clear attention to the aspects of your project that fall in line with the project—its educational component, for example, even if that is only one part of a larger initiative—is essential.

Dangerous to Assume

In all your dealings with a granting organization, be gracious. This begins the moment you consider applying for funding until after the results are in and you have or have not been selected. Yelling at or threatening a staff member is unlikely to make a granter say, “Gee, you know what, we made a mistake! You do deserve project support!” Do not assume that everyone knows who you are, or knows anything about your organization, your music director, or the famous soloist you’ve engaged.

In the end, even if you were not selected, your work may not be over. If you are convinced a particular grant is a good fit and you’d like to apply again in the future, it may be worth your while to call and ask why your project was not selected and request to see a sample of a successful application.

Panelists are generally influencial players in the field and sometimes participate in the granting process to keep abreast of what new work is up and coming. Whether or not your project gets funded, they may keep you and your application in mind for future opportunities if they like what they hear. More than once, panelists have looked up applicants independently after the panel finished its work. Making a great impression might benefit you in ways other than receiving a grant; the panel itself can be a way of networking.

Though getting a rejection letter after taking time away from your art to fill out a tedious application can get really frustrating pretty quickly, recall that large organizations m
ay have one or more people on staff doing nothing but writing up proposals. Some patience will be required to get you through while you’re navigating the learning curve, but doors will start opening as you explore funding opportunities, speak with potential funders and artists, and fine tune your application chops.