Dance Advice

Top 10 Tips for Writing a Winning Grant

By Rain Francis of Dance Informa.

We all agree there’s not enough money in the dance industry, but are we making the most of the opportunities that are available? The very thought of writing a grant application is enough to scare many choreographers off – which is good news for the ones that do give it a crack. Is grant application really that daunting?

“The first grant is always the hardest to write. Always,” says Adam Wheeler. He should know – he’s been writing them for years, for his various companies, including Yellow Wheel and 2nd Toe Dance Collective.

It’s been a great year for Wheeler, with a “100 per cent strike rate” on grants he’s applied for. The 24 months prior to this though, he says, have been much less successful. “It’s really up and down. It doesn’t mean I’m going to get any more next year either; there’s no such thing as ‘once you’re in, you’re in’.”

Yellow Wheel - FX

Adam Wheeler’s Yellow Wheel youth dance company presents ‘FX.’ Photo by Byron Perry.

So what is the secret to Wheeler’s success? I picked his brain to bring you these ten top tips for writing grant applications.

1. Choose the right funding body.

Become a member of Ausdance so you can receive the Ausdance bulletins, as they will usually list the relevant grants that are available at any given time. Do a Google search for local, state and federal grants, as well as philanthropists with an interest in dance, such as the Besen Family Foundation and Elisabeth Murdoch.

2. Be really clear on your idea.

Have a strong vision even, if you’re just going into the  development phase of your work. Expect that the people reading it have no idea who you are or what your work is: You need to sell it. Once the panel have read your application, they need to have a very clear idea of what the project will be. “Don’t get too wordy or poetic,” says Wheeler. “It needs to have a flavour of passion in it, but as the reader, I need to have a really clear understanding of how this project will come together.”

3. Be ready to sell the relevance of the work.

Ask yourself: Why does this project have to happen now? Why do YOU have to do it? How will it benefit you, the audience, the dance industry and the wider community? These are all things which you need to be able to articulate to convince a panel to give you money to create the work.

4. Give yourself plenty of time.

Grant writing takes time; a rushed application is going to come across as unclear and unprofessional. Give yourself a month to six weeks before the application is due, especially if you are not starting out without a crystal clear idea in mind.

5. Just start writing.

“Vomit ideas,” says Wheeler. “Get it all out onto paper, don’t try and write a final edit. For anything I write, I’ll put all the criteria and questions into a Word document and then I’ll just start dumping my thoughts, seeing where they slot into the questions and start writing from there.”

6. Enlist others to read your application.

“Becky Hilton reads a lot of my grants,” says Wheeler. “She knows my work and where I’m coming from, so she can tell me if I’m being clear or not.” After the weeks you’ll spend writing and re-writing, you’ll need to be able to take a step back and get someone to read over your application with fresh eyes. Having an outside perspective is imperative.

7. Make every application original.

So you’ve tackled your first grant and you’re applying for another one for the same project. Be careful not to fall into a trap of just cutting and pasting. “Every funding body has particular criteria and it’s very easy to think that once you’ve written that first one, you can just copy and paste,” says Wheeler. Look at each application as a separate entity and make sure you’ve read and understood all the requirements of that particular funding body.

8. Fantastic support material is crucial.

In this day and age, with the technology we have available to us, there’s no excuse for not having links to high quality footage and photos. This kind of support material is going to give your audience a much clearer idea of what you are writing about, so collect as much relevant, good quality material as you can. “Remember, with project funding, panels can read up to 50 applications in one hit, so the clearer the vision can be with really great support material, the better.”

9. Write somewhere nice.

If you’re in a happy place, you’re going to be more productive. Do whatever works for you, whether that means writing from your favourite cafe, the library, or your bed. “I always listen to Sigur Ros when I’m writing grants,” says Wheeler. “It puts me in a zone where I can really get my words out, and then I’m away.” Share the task of writing with someone else if you can – two heads are better than one!

10. Allow time for your application to develop.

“When we make a dance work, we play with ideas before eventually knuckling it down to whatever it needs to be for the performance,” says Wheeler. “It’s the same for writing grants.”

Photo (top): © Ammentorp | Dreamstime.com

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