I had the pleasure of serving this spring on the regional review panel for the Virginia Commission for the Arts’ annual funding cycle. It was a fascinating process, and I learned a few key things worth sharing:
1) It is a mountain of work for the reviewers
The panel on which I served reviewed only 36 applications. It took me over 30 hours to read them and make notes. Major funders — foundations, major corporations, etc. — probably get way more. So remember that your grant application is just one of many that will have to be reviewed, and be thankful and conscious of the size of this burden.
2) Be clear and accurate
When reading dozens of applications, the reader must be able to immediately identify what you’re asking for and why it is important. If not, you’ll lose their attention. Use short sentences, small words, and good formatting to ensure that a reader immediately knows what you’re asking.
Further, it’s surprising how easy it is for readers to spot inconsistencies. If you say that a program costs $36,000 in one place and $37,000 in another, they notice. If you say that a program is in its fourth year in one place and its fifth year in another, it jumps out. But don’t take this as encouragement to gloss over the details, because that is just as detrimental, if not more so. Providing clear details — schedules, plans, budgets, etc. — makes an application appear transparent and the applicant trustworthy.
3) Make each word count
Flowery language and complex sentences don’t impress a reviewer; they simply confuse your message. Make sure that every word is thoughtfully considered and necessary to get your point across. Consider engaging a ruthless proofreader (some volunteers LOVE to do this) to root out all the expendable words.
4) Format well
If you’re limited to a certain number of pages, don’t narrow the margins and use small type. In a grant application, your best friends are white space, bulleted and numbered lists, and subheadings. These tools visually open up an application and allow the reader to find and digest your message. There’s little worse than being in your 23rd hour of reading applications and opening up a page that’s almost solid gray with text. “No rest for the weary,” said my eyes.
Question: What have you found to be helpful tips in preparing successful grant applications? Please leave a comment below.