In this blog, Anne O’Gorman, Senior Project Officer for Youth Arts in NYCI, shares her thoughts on funding applications based on her experience with the Artist in Youth Work Residency Scheme, which the programme administers on behalf of the Arts Council.
When I ask people how they want the outside world and particularly funding organisations to regard their work, the responses are always some variant on the words; professional, organised, impactful, doing really good work etc. The most important thing that I can say to people about an open call funding process is that you do not get to be in the room controlling people’s impression of your application.
That impression is created solely (or not) by the piece of paper you’ve submitted. I would encourage people to really think about that when they are developing an application and to edit it with that in mind – is it clear, is it organised, does it represent the quality, practice and values of the organisation which submitted it? Have you demonstrated that you are a safe pair of hands for tax-payers’ money and the choices you’re going to make with it?
For reasons of brevity my major feedback would revolve around 3 points:
Firstly, fundraising takes time. You need to have deadlines in your diary as far in advance as possible and be creating space (I know this is really hard in the context of ‘do more with less’) to think about and hone your ideas for applications, to gather information, and to allow yourself the time required to develop a high quality application. It needs to be an ongoing strand of your work and not something that gets the jump on you once or twice a year. Think about it as a process that requires far more time than just the sitting down and form filling. Vital parts of the process are the development beforehand and the request for feedback afterwards. I can’t overestimate how important this feedback could be to the quality of future applications. Try to get past your disappointment/anger/moral outrage and take on board the feedback from someone who was in the room and saw all the applications against each other.
Show your working out…
If you skip questions or if you fill in sections with ‘refer to accompanying cv/dvd/written strategy) you create the impression of an organisation that at best hasn’t thought through the project properly and at worst is dodging the hard questions. You can tell a huge amount about a project and the organisation mounting it from the budget. This is where you find out how much practical thought and planning has gone into the project – if the organisation has researched rates of pay for artists for example, and worked out from this how many contact hours they can afford in the project, likewise materials, venues, transport etc. This research takes minutes. An application that only has the maximum award allowable under the scheme across the budget section does not create a good impression and won’t compete against other, more detailed applications. Do the spade work of thinking through your project, and, as my maths teacher in school used to say; show your working-out. Your project planning will be the better for it.
Shake it Off…
The environment we’re all working in is difficult. The last few years have been hard. Even if you take on all this advice and really up your game, I can’t guarantee that you’ll be successful. No one can. There is less money and more organisations applying for it. It’s important not to get hooked in emotionally. Sometimes it will go your way, sometimes it won’t. Sometimes it’ll seem fair, sometimes it won’t. If you gave it your best effort, try not to read a negative response as a judgement on you, your organisation or your project. This is another reason why it’s important to make this part of your work. If you have applied to 3 or 4 different sources, your bets are spread – you’re not in the all or nothing situation you might be if you’ve pinned all your hopes on 1 scheme which might devastate you (and derail your project) if the news is not good. Seek feedback, get back up and keep going.