So you’ve found the right organisation and avenue for your brand and project. You’ve done your research into the compelling reasons which someone SHOULD invest in you and your idea. You’re pumped with more confidence and self-belief than Kayne West at a Grammys ceremony. Now you’ve got to fill out the application form….
First, spare a thought for the reader. These guys receive hundreds, if not thousands (I dread to think of the Arts Council England’s in-tray) of applications and they are only human. They need to connect with your application instantly or it’s taking their attention away from the next application sitting in their in tray (or their lunch – as I said, they’re only human). Getting the application form right is crucial, from keeping it clear, concise and easy to read to convincing the reader that the world NEEDS your project to thrive.
Filmmaker Rhys Davies, a seasoned funding applicant, describes that fine balance between making your application corporately concise as well as creatively engaging…
“Don’t ever ramble. Funders have hundreds if not thousands of applications to wade through. Don’t make it hard for them.
Clear, concise answers. Use bullet points if necessary. Relate back to the application questions directly. But also be creative – don’t skip on making your application stand out.”
It’s a tricky balance to get right but it’s always worth making sure your application achieves two things: 1. Excites the reader. 2. Excites him or her in an easily digestible way. No-one likes indigestion.
Sallie Varnam – who works with organisations as diverse as Phoenix Arts, Leicester City Council, Leicestershire Police, Coventry University, Turned on its Head, Pedestrian and the Public Health service – spends many an hour writing funding applications. Her advice?
“Try to get across the impact of the work through your application and the difference your work will make on the intended audience/recipients.
Do some research before you start your application – work with your existing audience base to demonstrate need for your proposed project. Answer all the prompts in the guidance notes of the application form.”
Another person who spends his working life trawling through funding applications is Inzar Haq of Insight Consultancy, who specialises in small business funding. He advises tailoring your application…and then reapplying on the basis on constructive feedback if you’re unsuccessful.
“The application process depends on the type of funding you are trying to access. And if your application is rejected, don’t be disheartened – ask for the reasoning from the funding body. Make some changes and apply again.”
This is an essential point – if it’s rejected, learn from it. Find out why it was rejected. The chances are it won’t be the last funding application form you’ll fill out so use the feedback to improve on the next one. As Rhys Davies says: “Ask the funders for feedback. Try and get this to be specific – and not a generic response.
The main lesson to be learned is that you can’t take the rejection personally. It can’t stop you from applying again – don’t be your own worst enemy.”
Alan Chapman, writer, producer and musician with Rude Angel, a band with a mission to raise suicide awareness since losing lead vocalist Lianne Ashberry in 2015 shares his own experience of how a funding application form is not only about the content, but also about timing: “I recall a particular funding situation that, it transpired, was actually very little to do with outcomes – it was far more to do with the way certain forms were completed and how quickly they were submitted, so that funding could be awarded before a deadline. When we discovered that priority, we reduced the effort on mapping out all the lovely outcomes, and just ensured the paperwork was all correct and submitted ASAP. And that did the job. This really echoes the point that you have to ask the funder to clarify exactly what they need from you in order for your application to match their criteria for funding, as perfectly as possible.”
It’s frustrating for the creatively minded to be bound by deadlines, word counts and standardised formatting (urrgghh). But rather than seeing the funding application as a chore, see it as a golden opportunity to develop an idea.
“Think of writing the bid as being part of making the project successful – in my experience the bid writing process has often allowed me to further develop the idea and get it all straight in my head,”
advises Performance poet Lydia Towsey. And sometimes getting it wrong can be the best learning curve of all, as Lydia found out… “My greatest failures have been my greatest successes, which of course sounds trite but is annoyingly true. Back in 2010 I was awarded a modest Arts Council grant to develop the manuscript and early scratchings of The Venus Papers book and stage show. When I applied for funding to further develop, hone and tour the work the following year, I was rejected. At the time it of course felt appalling and it was hard not to feel extremely disappointed, confused and hard done by.
So, in the absence of funding to immediately continue with my plans, I was forced to develop things over a much longer period of time, finding small grants here and there to develop further scratches (some more successful than others!) and continue building the manuscript. Burning Eye accepted the book for publication. A year later, I submitted a fresh application to Arts Council England for the stage show and it was accepted.
Getting the funding at this later date has meant the show I’m now taking round the country has had five years to mature and deepen in both themes and execution, with an intensive period of development via professional direction, curation and collaboration. Not only is it a better show and something I’m incredibly proud of – but it’s now also representing and touring a book, making it a more fully realised and impacting prospect. The timing is perfect, the outcome ideal, but both come as a result of what initially felt like a disaster.”