Good grants are hard to find
May 30, 2008
Utah poet laureate Katherine Coles has won thousands of dollars from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Utah Arts Council and the University of Utah. The first money she banked for a project was from the NEA when she was 11 years old.
"The thing I remember most about the NEA is sitting on the couch all night long in my pajamas with a calculator trying to figure out the interest," she said.
The feeling of bewilderment at how to raise money among artists, nonprofit organizations, educators and researchers is as common as a cold. "It’s an involved process with all those little boxes," Coles said.
Coles spoke Thursday evening in Salt Lake City to about 50 musicians, writers, painters and non-profit representatives on how to garner money for projects. The Utah Arts Council assists with professional development and gives money to about 200 nonprofits every year.
But it’s a competitive process. Guy Labeda of the Utah Arts Council said only about one in 10 applicants receives money from his organization, and nonprofit organizations face an even steeper curve.
Just ask Alisa Savoretti of Bear Hollow. She started My Hope Chest in 2003 to help breast-cancer survivors pay for reconstructive surgery. Her organization’s grant proposals have been rejected by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and other organizations. Today, she is considering closing her nonprofit’s doors.
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"We need some help, man," she said. "You have this cause you believe in but you have to pay the bills."
My Hope Chest pairs patients with plastic surgeons who are willing work pro bono or at a reduced rate. A standard breast implant costs $10,000 and involves three surgeries. "People say we’re basically insurance for the uninsured," she said.
Going up against programs with a national reach is a tall order for local organizations, she said in a telephone interview. "It’s hard enough starting a grassroots organization, but it’s especially hard when you’re competing against seasoned organizations like Make-a-Wish. I’m having to break down a lot of paradigms writing grants, There are a lot of organizations that fund research, and that’s great, but there’s no one else in the country doing what we’re doing."
Savoretti isn’t alone in being frustrated. The process of raising money for Spanish literacy programs has left Rhosgby Barker scratching her head. "It’s so hard to find good literature [for Spanish speakers]," she said. "A lot of people are not involved in it and there’s not a lot of help."
Rhosby, a native of Utah who moved to Utah in 1984, teaches Spanish at the Salt Lake Arts Academy. She also is the only Spanish-speaker on the Poetry Association of Utah. She released a CD of poetry in Spanish and is still trying to recoup the cost. "My big goal is to have little groups to teach poetry to kids," she said.
For that goal to become a reality, Rhosby said she’ll need help.
Grant application Do’s and Don’ts
It’s a hard world for do-gooders and artists.
But Coles said grant writers should follow a few rules to increase the likelihood they will earn money to fund their causes.
Start at the organization’s website. "It’s always a good idea to see what they themselves say, what they want to do. We think it’s about us, the artiste. It’s not. It’s about the organization. They want to know your project is a good fit."
If a project doesn’t jibe with an organization, try to make adjustments to make it fit better. But if a project doesn’t align with a grantor’s goals, "don’t waste your time," Coles said. "Move onto the next organization."
Try sitting on a grant panel. "The major job of a panel is to eliminate proposals. Don’t give them any reason to eliminate you.
Appeal to your audience. Coles said there’s nothing wrong with asking who serves on selection committees. "Is it made up of working artists or is it nurses doctors and lawyers."
Ask for samples. Successful grant applications usually follow a formula. Seeing what works in a proposal can help applicants be more convincing.
Be accurate. No use fudging about budget or methodology, Coles said. If a project requires air travel, find competitive coach rates and cite as many dates and sources as reasonable.
Ask for the maximum amount of money offered. "Let them adjust it down," Coles said. "Don’t do their work for them. If you’ve got an honest and plausible budget, as for as much as they’re offering."
Don’t wait. "Start the application early so you have time to edit. Have someone who’s impartial look over the application to tell you what needs fixing."
Don’t recycle. Take a fresh approach with each organization rather than reusing canned material for multiple organizations. Writing proposals can be a helpful part of the brainstorming process.
It takes two. Apply for multiple grants at the same time. The likelihood of getting both is slim.
Follow the format. Use the application as an outline. Avoid strange fonts and colors.
Visit Arts.Utah.gov for more information.