In the multi-faceted and ever-exciting world of institutional fundraising, two aspects of the grant writing process can be particularly vexing for veterans and newcomers alike: budgeting and reporting. here are a few words of advice that might help to alleviate some common concerns and ensure that your financial documents and final reports are sound and effective.
While it can be quite challenging to describe your project succinctly and clearly to a potential funder, for many, putting together the financial documents for a grant submission is akin to getting a root canal. It’s pretty standard for a funder to request a project budget, and many will want to see a budget for the year in which the project will take place, too. Some funders also might want an accounting of the final income and expenses for the last completed year. As you pull these financial documents together, the most important thing to remember is that they all need to work together in a credible manner to assure the funder that you have the skills to make the project a success both artistically and financially.
The primary thing that a funder will look at when reviewing your project budget is whether or not it is realistic. Are the expenses in line with the scale and scope of the project? Are the income projections credible, given your track record raising contributed income and generating box office receipts or other forms of earned income? Do your project budget and organizational budget conform to each other? (In many cases the project budget is a subset of the organizational budget, so income from Foundation #1 can’t be higher in the project budget than it is in the organizational budget.)
If you have been doing projects similar in scope and size to the one for which you currently are seeking funding, you shouldn’t need to do much explaining or convincing about your financial ability to undertake the project. However, if you are undertaking a project that is significantly bigger than anything you’ve ever done before, it is important to address how you will accomplish this. Budget notes of some sort, as an attachment (if allowed), ina paragraph in your project description, or at the bottom of the budget itself, can help allay any concerns that the funder might have. These notes might include information about your plans for raising the remaining funds for the project (crowd-sourcing, special event, grants, etc.), who is helping you with the fundraising and your track record raising money in these ways. Or maybeyou have done projects of this scope before, but you don’t do a big project every year. In this case, the income and expense statement you have provided for the past year might not reflect your ability to raise money for a large project. A budget note about how much you did raise the last time you undertook a project of this magnitude would be helpful in this scenario. Whatever your financial situation, it’s always good to have someone who is detail- oriented review your budget documents before you finalize your grant submission.
Reporting to a Funder
Getting a grant from a foundation or government agency is an accomplishment, especially if it’s your first one, and you should take time to savor your success. Now that you have some funding secured, you are that much closer to realizing your goals for the project and the studio beckons. However, in the midst of all this excitement, it is important to take advantage of another kind of opportunity that a grant affords you—that of cultivating and developing a deeper relationship with your supporter. Think of the grant period as a time for not only making the most of your artistic goals, but for laying the groundwork for what will hopefully be a long and lasting relationship with the funder.
First of all, be sure to examine the award letter and take note of what is required of you. The award letter or contract will have information about the funder’s reporting requirements. Be sure to complete this paperwork promptly, return it to the funder, and keep a copy of it in your files for future reference. Many funders require a written report about the project, and some also want to see a financial report that includes an accounting of the final expenses and income for the project. In some cases, funders will want to know which expenses the grant covered. Make note of any deadlines for the report. These usually are set for a certain time period (i.e. 30 or 90 days) after the end of the grant period or completion of the project. Put the deadline for the report on your calendar, so that you don’t miss it. This is easier to do than you might think, especially when you have received the grant six or more months ago.
Be sure to include a short thank-you message with your signed contract or other paperwork. This should express your appreciation, excitement about the project and a brief reference to what the funding will allow you to do (i.e. commission music for the new piece, work with a larger ensemble of dancers, rent a larger venue, etc.). The most important person to thank is the program officer at the granting institution, the person who handled your grant materials and, in all likelihood, presented the grant to the board of directors and advocated for its success. If the contract is going to a large agency that has a grants coordinator, you will have to send a separate email to the program officer. Government agencies usually have a peer panel making the funding decisions, but the program officer will be in the room during the review process. As such, he or she plays an important role in clarifying project information and making sure that the grant information is accurately conveyed to the panel members.
As the grant period unfolds and work on your project progresses, there will be other opportunities for cultivation of the program officer or staff at the funding institution. If you are planning a work-in-progress showing or some other kind of mid-project activity, it never hurts to keep the program officer informed of these. By all means, give the program staff lots of advance notice of the dates of any culminating performances for the project. The purpose of feeding this kind of information to program staff is two-fold. It increases the chances of them seeing your work (although many have very busy schedules), and it keeps the lines of communication open.
When you reach the end of your grant period, it is time to prepare a report. In most cases, this will be a fairly straightforward account of the project, with information on the activities you undertook and outcomes of the project and an assessment of the project’s success. A good approach to writing the report is to go back to the original grant proposal and address the main activities and goals that you set forth in it.
Funders expect that the project you undertook will differ somewhat from the one described in the grant proposal. Even if there are substantial differences in the project’s scope, activities or end result, or you had difficulty achieving many of your goals for the project, don’t be too concerned. Just be up front and provide a clear explanation of what happened and why. In fact, consider calling or emailing the program officer to give that person a heads up about the changes as soon as you’re aware of them, which might be well in advance of any final report deadline. An example of such a communication might go something like this:
Dear (name of program director/officer),
I am writing to provide an update on my project, (name of project), which received support from the (name of foundation or government agency) in (month, year).
Due to a variety of circumstances, I need to change the dates of the project from (proposed dates) to (new dates), and the venue from (proposed venue) to (new venue). These changes will allow us to (a brief explanation, such as “spend more time developing and rehearsing the project” or “address scheduling challenges of the artists involved,” etc.), while fulfilling the goals of the project as otherwise outlined in our proposal.
I would appreciate it if you would let me know if these changes are acceptable to the foundation.
(name and contact info)
Any phone communications should be followed up with an email, so that you have a record of contacting the program officer to inform him or her of any changes to the project. In your final report, you will be able to provide a more in-depth explanation about the changes in your project. A thoughtful analysis of why things didn’t work out the way you thought they would and a brief discussion of what you learned from the challenges that you faced in seeing the project through to the end will build your credibility with the program officer. There are a variety of other things that you can include in a report to give the program officer a better sense of the project’s outcome. These include press coverage, reviews, and selected feedback from audience members and social media sites.
Putting together a good final report takes time and care. Ideally, it should represent your voice as an artist and allow you to reflect on the project’s impact on your work. As you conclude your report, remember to again thank the foundation for its support. And remember, too, to thank yourself for a job well done.
This article appeared in the Jul/Aug 2014 issue of In Dance.