WHEN IT COMES TIME for you to begin fundraising for a new artistic project, wouldn’t it be great if you could print a bunch of copies of your well-crafted project description, stuff them in envelopes addressed to all of the prospective funders, and mail them out in one fell swoop? Is it really that far-fetched an idea? The project hasn’t changed, so why should the narrative? Unfortunately, it’s never quite that simple.
While you’ll undoubtedly be able to recycle a lot of what you have written, the trick will be to figure out what to change and what not to, so that each individual narrative clearly articulates the project’s alignment with the specific goals and objectives of each funder. The project details will remain the same, but the parts you chose to emphasize will change, depending on each funder’s particular focus.
The best way to determine how to address a funder’s specific concerns is by thoroughly reviewing their mission and goals, as well as the criteria they use to evaluate grant proposals. For example, Funder X may focus mainly on artistic quality, while Funder Y is most interested in artistic projects that have a community engagement component to them, and Funder Z only funds projects that meet specific audience development objectives. Sometimes it can be difficult to ascertain what a funder is interested in, due to the lack of information available. In this case, the best place to look for clues is in the questions you are required to answer in the proposal narrative. Reviewing lists of past grantees and their projects can also help you tailor the project narrative to each funder’s priorities.
If a funder’s focus seems extraneous to your project, then you probably should save this funder for a different project. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether you are changing or adding elements to the project just to satisfy the goals of a funder. However, if you think you can successfully address the funder’s interests while keeping the artistic integrity of the project intact, then your challenge will be to do justice to both of these aspects of the project in your narrative. If you are used to thinking of the project solely in artistic terms, then it may not be readily apparent how to accomplish this. Allowing yourself to consider the other ramifications of undertaking the project—the effect it will have on the organization, the audiences it will reach, the opportunities it will provide for long-term advancement—will help you begin to see beyond the project’s artistic goals.
There are also many good reasons to revise your project budget when applying to different funders. For example, funders’ project periods vary, so you may need to adjust the numbers to reflect only the expenses incurred during that time. Or perhaps you need to update your budget because you now have more accurate information on the costs of the project. Be sure that the budget, just like the narrative, underscores the way in which the project aligns with a funder’s goals, by including expenses for activities pertinent to the funder’s interest in education, audience development, or other relevant category.
In each case, your primary goal will be to retain the essence of a compelling artistic narrative, while clearly addressing the goals and objectives specific to each funder. The desired outcome of your effort is, of course, sufficient funding to undertake the project, but hopefully you also will gain a better understanding of its breadth, depth, and value to your organization as a whole.