The arts

Funding the dream

Complex but necessary, arts grant writing is an art of its own

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What all of the nonprofit organizations in Taos stress in applying for a grant, whether through a government agency or a foundation, is that it is about establishing a relationship.

The more they know about you and your organization, and the more you know about theirs, the better your chances are for a successful grant application. Do your homework, know the foundation and create a relationship. A personal relationship can mean more than you would think.

“Often there is someone within the funding organization who will meet with you to talk about your organization’s qualifications and readiness to apply,” said Sonya Davis, director of development at the University of New Mexico Foundation, Harwood Museum of Art. “Some grant proposals are accepted only by the invitation of the funder. There usually needs to be a personal connection.”

Never-ending cycle

Grant writing for Taos arts organizations is often a full time, never-ending cycle of gathering information with specific details and structure. Quite often grant writing becomes the responsibility of the organization’s executive director, and many of the directors of arts organizations in Taos are well-versed in grant writing.

“Grant writing is a necessity for all nonprofits and there is not one ‘process’,” said Lisa O’Brien, Taos Community Foundation director. “Every grant organization has a different application-funding process, so no two grant applications or awards, for that matter, will look the same. Most organizations in Taos do not have designated staff for grant-writing and/ or development work, so the bulk of this task is probably happening at the executive director desk.”

There are a few reasons why a director writing a grant application is an asset and also why this can be a difficult task. First off, who better to write about their organization than the director? They’ll have the best understanding of what their needs are and what the organization is capable of achieving. The drawbacks are that a museum director also has other job requirements to fulfill such as programming, marketing, learning the collections, running operations and board of director meetings. Taos museum directors do a lot more work than most of us could ever be aware.

Familiarity breeds success

If choosing to hire a freelance grant writer, the best candidate will be someone familiar with and involved with your organization in some form or another.

Arts organizations in Taos rely heavily on fundraising events, more so than receiving grants. Most grants are given towards funding specific projects, very few are available for general operations.

“There are thousands of foundations that fund nonprofit work – community foundations, private foundations, corporate foundations, family foundations — again, each of them have their own interest areas, and their own process for funding, accepting applications, etc,” O’Brien added.

Additionally, former director of Taos Community Foundation, Elizabeth Crittendon Palacios, said, “Foundations in general are looking at how organizations are working together to impact a community: how the funds will help to bring a community together in a multi-spoke way, and will it make a difference in a community.”

Funding from grants can cover anywhere between 10-30 percent of an organization’s financial profile. The rest of a budget can be broken down as membership fees, admission fees, fundraising events, gift shop sales and donations. If you are applying for a grant, try to balance your revenue stream because grants should not be what you rely on for stability. Your success rate for receiving grants depends upon how focused your project is and how it will increase public consciousness.

Individual approach

Although most grant funding is earmarked towards organizations with 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, individuals seeking support can choose several different routes.

An artist-in-residency program provides space, inspiration and status for an artist. Some universities may have programs that include scholarship grants for alumni and all have resource centers. Grants for artists through foundations include the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Lydon Emerging Artist Program, Aaron Siskind Foundation, Awesome Foundation Grant, Fulbright Fellowship, and Creative Capitol Grants.

Little known but just as important, there are foundations that will help with an artist’s emergency medical bills. Whether you as an individual or as part of an organization are applying for funding, it’s best to remember that all grants are highly sought after and extremely competitive. Once you’ve written your grant, ask someone who doesn’t know anything about the project to look it over for you. Make certain you’ve written a clearly understood proposal before you send it in.

“The process involves researching foundations and donors who give to organizations that have our mission, goals and objectives,” said Jan Smith, Society of the Muse of the Southwest (SOMOS). “I find that when you are writing grant proposals it’s helpful to outline how the program will be measured and evaluated so that we know whether its had an impact on our target audience. This can be done by surveys, interviews, tracking the number of attendees and final outcomes.”

Narrative is the heart and soul

The writing process entails filling out an application, including a letter of intent describing specifically what you are asking to be funded. Include your budget and how the grant money will be spent, what the project is and how likely it is to be carried out. Review your criteria, narrow your focus for what your needs are and don’t try to cover everything. Read the fine print and adhere to the guidelines, especially the deadline.

“The narrative is the heart and soul of the application,” Taos Center for the Arts Executive Director Deborah McLean said. “It needs to speak with clarity and passion of purpose underlined with accuracy of information and a clear budget for funds requested. Writing and hopefully receiving the grant is only a part of the process. It is very important for grantees to acknowledge grants, send thanks, send reports and send photos and to account for spending.”

The following online resources for where to find grants are subscription services and all provide up-to-date lists of grants and how to apply: grantspace.org, foundationcenter.org, philanthropynewsdigest.org, thecenterfornonprofitexcellence.org, nmag.org, and thegranthelpers.org

The Grant Plant in Albuquerque is a helpful hands-on organization for grant writers seeking information on grants and how to write them.

You can also do your own research online and find what’s available yourself. Sometimes good old Taos ‘word of mouth’ works as well. An alternative is to look at organizations similar to yours to see who they are getting funding from. Locally the Taos County Lodgers Tax Grant, the McCune Foundation, the Healy Foundation and the Taos Community Foundation award grants for special community-worthy projects.

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Tara Gohr

Thanks for the shout-out of The Grant Plant! We also run TGP's nonprofit education arm, The Grants Collective, which better connects the nonprofit community in NM through a Cooperative Network and provides professional development to grant professionals through a Talent Academy fellowship. Visit us at www.thegrantplantnm.com or www.thegrantscollective.org.

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