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DIY grant-writing advice for your next project
Grant writing can be both intimidating and empowering, tiresome and exhilarating, especially if you are new to the process. I found this true when I started my first grant proposal 15 years ago for Richmond-based Ground Zero Dance, and it’s still true for me today. Yet grants are a key to financial support for your organization, as well as professional validation. In crafting a well-written proposal, you produce not just a clear case for funding, but a detailed road map for the realization of your project.
Dream, In Detail
Your idea should drive your grant seeking—not the other way around. You may end up tailoring your project to better fit a grant’s requirements, but you shouldn’t alter it beyond recognition. Lay out the idea clearly before you begin looking for grantors whose interests intersect with yours. Are you focusing on a particular population or issue? Use those keywords (i.e., “gender,” “youth”) in your search for grantors. Maria Bauman, former associate artistic director of Urban Bush Women who now runs her own dance company, has written many successful proposals and served on grant-review panels. “Start as local as possible,” she says. “You’ll have a better chance with a regional opportunity than competing for national attention.”
Above: Maria Bauman suggests inviting a grantor to see your work. Photo by David B. Smith, Courtesy Bauman.
Read up on the mission and programs of any granting organization that looks promising. Does your mission fit with theirs? What other projects have they funded and how do those compare with yours? What size grants are typically offered?
Most grant applications request some combination of the following: your mission and brief history of your organization, detailed project description (often called the “narrative”), project budget, biographies of key personnel and work samples. Generally, the narrative and budget make up the bulk of a proposal.
Once you’ve completed a draft, ask several colleagues—particularly any with grant-writing experience—to offer feedback. Proofread carefully, and be attentive to length and formatting requirements. After submitting your proposal, be patient: Most grantors give a time frame for responses, and following up will not help your chances.
If your proposal is successful, use your narrative and budget as key parts of your implementation plan. At the end, look at your actual expenses and revenue and compare them to the initial budget. Did things cost more or less than you thought? Note any reporting requirements to complete at the end of the project, and send thank-you notes to staff and directors of the granting agency. If your project is not funded, contact the grantor to ask for feedback. Some will provide the reviewer’s comments in the rejection letter, giving you more information for the next proposal.
Get Real: The Budget
I’ve heard grant review panelists confess that the first thing they read in any proposal is the budget, since it’s a clear guide for translating the project idea into reality. A few things to keep in mind:
Be realistic. Look up what things cost—materials, supplies, postage—don’t just guess. Over-budgeting can erode a grantor’s trust when you file a final report and haven’t spent all the funds you requested. Under-budgeting can impact the success of your project.
Be specific, within reason. Don’t just list “Personnel” with one big number; add dancers, lighting designer, technical director, etc., with each associated fee. Under “Hospitality,” however, just list “post-performance reception” with an amount, rather than a detailed menu of hors d’oeuvres.
Pay yourself. Include a budget line in “Personnel” for yourself as grant writer or administrator. Even a modest fee shows you respect the work put in by yourself and others.
List diverse income sources. Most grantors don’t want to fund an entire project. What will your other sources of revenue be? Ticket sales? A Kickstarter campaign? Private donations?
▪ Use positive language, like “will” instead of “would.” You want to convey dedication to the project’s ultimate success.
▪ Contact the organization with questions. “Applying cold can work,” says Bauman, “but is less likely than if you’ve gotten a little more information, or a staff person from the organization knows your work.”
▪ Don’t mention partners or collaborators if you haven’t talked with them yet. You need to have at least broached the idea with anyone you’re including in your proposal.
▪ “Have someone read what you wrote and make sure they can understand the project,” says Bauman. “You can see what parts you illustrated clearly and what you might want to be more explicit about.”
Dance/USA Keeps an updated list of current funding opportunities (local to national), with deadlines and many other resources: danceusa.org/opportunitiesforfunding
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies Provides a directory of state and regional arts agencies with contact information: nasaa-arts.org
U.S. Regional Arts Organizations Lists regional funders, such as Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, with descriptions and web addresses: usregionalarts.org/funding.htm
Foundation Center Offers free or paid search of a substantial database of foundations with areas of funding interest, in addition to resources on national trends, grant writing and more: foundationcenter.org
One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.
Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:
Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.
There's so much more to the dance world than making and performing dances. Arts administrators do everything from raising money to managing companies to building new audiences. With the growing number of arts administration programs in colleges, dancers have an opportunity to position themselves for a multifaceted career on- or offstage—and to bring their unique perspective as artists to administrative work.
While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?
In the world of ballet, Arcadian Broad is a one-stop shop: He'll come up with a story, compose its music, choreograph the movement and dance it himself. But then Broad has always been a master of versatility. As a teenager he juggled school, dance and—after the departure of his father—financial responsibility. It was Broad's income from dancing that kept his family afloat. Fast-forward six years and things are far more stable. Broad now lives on his own in an apartment, but you can usually find him in the studio.
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.