How to succeed at fundraising

Getting funding is not as difficult you might imagine. The photographer Diana Matar (RCA, 2008) explains how she does it.

I have received numerous grants since I started working as an artist. I find that if you apply a few simple principles, the process becomes much less of a hurdle.

First the boring bit. Although it may seem obvious, before you begin, make sure you know your project inside out: what you want to do; how you want to do it; how long it will take; what materials you will need; how much it will cost; the audience you want to reach; why it is important to you; and why it will be of interest to other people.

Most of us know the answers to these questions intuitively, but write them down, one by one, and edit them as tightly and as clearly as possible. Have someone who is not familiar with your work read them and make sure they can understand each point. If you do not shortcut on this, the rest will be easy.

Funding bodies will have their own guidelines. It makes their job easier, and your chances of getting support better, if you follow them. However, they will all want the following:

1. The Project Idea

This is the most important part of the proposal. You want to convey your idea in a way that funding bodies cannot ignore. Do they think your idea is interesting, would they like to see it, or use it, or wrap themselves up in it? Is it relevant, is it new, is it addressing something of timely or historical importance, is there a peg that makes this idea or you different? Often funding bodies have rotating criteria; research this, and if your project fits one of their criteria, make sure you highlight it.

2. Outcomes

Funding bodies are only partly interested in what the ‘artwork’ is going to look like (that is for you, the artist, to discover). They are more concerned with how and where other people are going to interact with the work when it is finished. They want detailed information about where your work will show and who will come to see it. They want letters from galleries, publishers, agents or curators who are interested in your project or you as an artist, explaining why the project you are proposing will be of interest to others. They also want to know if you have considered ways of bringing new audiences to the gallery or venue, such as special translations or outreach. Most will want a projected audience figure stating how many people – and in some cases the kind of people – you think will view or experience your work.

It is hard to get a grant without a venue. But, unless you are a big name, it can be hard to get a venue if you do not yet have the grant to make the work to show the venue. So the best thing to do is to get a letter of interest from a gallery. They are not guaranteeing they will show your project, only that they are interested in it. This is easier than it sounds. It also lets you practice explaining the project to a curator, who in turn will often have input which might help your grant proposal. Most importantly, that letter of interest may turn into an exhibition.

3. Track Record

Funders will want to know you are a serious artist. Always include a CV, including details of your education, exhibitions, residencies and grants received. In a short paragraph, add any experience that shows you are capable of what you are proposing. Spell it out for them: ‘In 2007 I completed the x project sponsored by x, where I successfully worked to a budget of £6,000.’ Include any unique work that has reached out to the communities you refer to in your proposal. Highlight any recent prizes you might have received, or unique research you have done.

4. Budget

Be accurate. Fundraisers will know if you cannot do what you have set out to do on the budget you have proposed. They would rather give you more money and see the project completed than see it fall through because you did not budget correctly. Be sure to add to the total figures any support in kind, donated work and other funds secured. It always looks good if you have already secured some money for the project, but many organisations will also fund complete projects.

Applications are a lot of work. Research the funding bodies you are applying to thoroughly and find the one that most suits your project. Do not try to fit your project into someone else’s remit or you will both lose out. Finally, remember that people working for organisations that give money to the arts, whether government bodies or private foundations, usually love art – and artists – and they want to help. If you can think of them as collaborators or colleagues rather judges or juries, it makes the whole process much easier.