Applying for funding can be one of the biggest barriers to artists and creatives finding sustainable ways of working. A successful funding application can open up so many doors for you, and it’s so important that you go into it feeling as confident as you can.
This is why we spoke to Merlin Goldman to find out some of his tips for applying for funding.
Merlin is a writer, grant assessor and former Innovate UK employee, giving out over £100m in grants to businesses. So he’s seen his fair share of good and bad applications. He’s also part of our mentor team, guiding young people on their funding applications.
These are his tips for how to successfully apply for funding…
1. Ensure the grant is right for you
There are so many websites that list funding schemes that you can apply for. Many are tailored to the type of creative practice you run. So, if you’re a writer, then there are organisations like the “Writers Guild of Great Britain” or “London Playwrights” who have a newsletter and a website listing funding opportunities. Find an association that matches your skill or industry and then embed yourself within the community attached to that.
The first step is to check the rules to make sure you are both eligible and it would support what you want to do. You don’t want to spend loads of time working on an application you don’t even qualify for! Check the deadline – will you have enough time to submit a good application?
Many times, you can find out from funders who has been successful in the past; this includes organisations like the Arts Council. You may not be able to read their applications, but you should be able to find out who they are, the sums of money awarded and what they’ve applied for. Learn from their successes.
2. Keep a record
A good tip is to make a note of different grants out there including information about requirements, the amount, deadlines, whether you apply or not and whether you are successful! Many of these opportunities are recurring and just because you’ve missed out one year, doesn’t mean you can’t apply next time.
Anticipating these grants and having all the information to hand can give you the best possible chance of being prepared to apply when you can. And if you’re task orientated, it’s immensely satisfying to see all the effort you’ve been putting in over the years.
3. Don’t just jump in.
We are all guilty of starting too early! If you see answers to some of the questions, then we tend to just dive in. Whilst it can work sometimes, it could mean that you don’t have the solid foundation you need to work from.
Try doing a general overview of the key points you’re going to include. Making a mind map is a good method of doing this.
4. Break it down.
If it says write 1000 words on four points, just divide the number of words by the number of points. Unless they’ve given priority to certain points, you have to assume they’re all equal. That can also make the process less intimidating. Instead of one big question, you have four smaller ones. Four questions with 250 words can feel a lot more achievable than one large question.
To further divide up the task, look for keywords or multiple requests within each point and break it down even more. Writing one or two sentences or each sub point makes the task even more straightforward.
Doing this process helps break it down into more achievable steps.
5. Start with a full page
It can be hard to start with a blank page; especially if the question isn’t very clear, or the brief is very open.
A good way of building a better structure is to use Kipling’s questions: what, why, where, when, who and how. Write these questions on your blank page and immediately you’ve got a format to write around. You’ll instantly give yourself 6 paragraphs to work from and you can begin to structure your application coherently and effectively.
6. Edit it, then edit again!
Writing is editing and once you’ve finished your first draft, try printing it out, changing the font or font colour, or even reading it aloud. Anything to help you hear it differently. Go through this process several times, refining it. You’ll find with each draft, the changes become fewer and your application grows stronger.
Often if it’s very technical, it’s good to ask someone from a completely different field to read it. If they can understand it then you’re good to go. By having someone else read it, they can pick out things that you think are understandable when really they’re not quite as clear as you’d like.
However don’t just get your mum to read it as friends and family often aren’t brave enough to tell you where you can improve!
7. Waste not, want not!
No application is ever wasted because it can always be used for something else.
Never feel that if you’ve submitted something and were unsuccessful that it wasn’t worth it. Going through that process can help clarify your thinking and improve your skills for next time. Plus, if nothing else it means that you can use the text for in another way!
Unfortunately though – there’s no magic word or sentence that you can add that makes a winning application.
They are a lot of hard work, and can sometimes take many times to get right. This whole process is about matchmaking. You need to be at the right point for them, and they the right point for you. Remember that it’s never a rejection of you personally, it’s simply that you were a circle peg and they were a square hole.
Keep learning, and keep improving your applications and you will make progress.
PAPER Arts offers support for young creatives on how to build a creative career and navigate Bristol’s art scene. For more information about the work we do, please email [email protected]