Monday, December 9, 2019

Give Me Money: The Subtle Art of Grant Writing

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

I recently applied for a grant. Discussing it on the phone with my mom, it occurred to me that most people have no idea how grants work. Grants are the bread and butter of most non-profits and applying for them is both an art and a science. 

There are lots of granting organizations including federal and state agencies, private foundations, and even other non- profits. The first step when applying for a grant is to figure which grant to apply for. Different granting institutions have different agendas and projects they support. For example, I am looking to digitize a collection of audio cassette tapes, so I applied to the South Central Regional Library Council because they have a grant specifically for digitization projects. If, on the other hand, I needed to buy more shelving, I’d apply to for a preservation assistance grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. CCHS regularly apply to the New York State Council of the Arts and the Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes, among others, to fund projects around the museum.

County Foundation annual report, 2008, featuring a write-up for one of our projects they funded.

Each granting organization requires different things before you can get in on their sweet, sweet money. All of them have some sort of formal application process and most have strict deadlines. Generally speaking, granting organizations want to know who you are and what you intend to do with their money before they give it. When I applied for the digitization grant, I had to provide them with information about our museum and our staff as well as a detailed narrative explaining the project, its budget, and how it relates to the goals of the South Central Regional Library Council. 

Once the grant has been submitted, it is reviewed by the granting organization. Many have some sort of committee that reads through the grants to decide who is worthy of money. Both our director and our educator sit on grant committees for local agencies. Members of grant review committees generally represent different expertise and perspectives within the field. They read each of the applications and discuss the pros and cons of the project before deciding which ones to fund. Some things review committees look for include a detailed and well-reasoned budget and signs of diligence and effort. In short, proofreading does make a difference. Something to think about if you end up writing one. 

Even if approved, there’s still quite a bit of work before the funds are released. Most granting organizations require evidence that you spent the money for its intended purpose and that it was money well spent. If I get the grant I applied for, I’ll have to file a mid-year report and a final report documenting what I spent and what the outcomes were. Wish me luck!

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