In Part I of “Studio Executives, Starlets, and Funding,” I began by responding to a commenter who said:
<blockquote>I cannot shake the observation that to get a grant you must tell people with the money what they want to hear […] But there seems to be no objective criteria by which these grants are awarded […]</blockquote>
Today I’ll mostly deal with the second part.
You’ll sometimes find objective criteria and sometimes not. The former usually corresponds to government grants and the latter more often to foundation/corporate giving sources. The thing is, you can’t generalize the myriad of funders in the grant universe. Most federal grants will have points and criteria, and the more diligently you work to fulfill those criteria the better off you’ll be. I just looked at our email grant newsletter and found the “Smaller Learning Communities Program.”
Follow that link to “V. Application Review Information,” where you’ll find a list of criteria with point values. The agencies with the most points get funding. With most Federal, state, and local government grants, some number of proposals will be funded; it’s not like the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, which doesn’t give awards if the judges consider no novel or story collection worthy.
If the funder says they’re offering $500,000 for after school supportive services, and you want to provide prison rehabilitation and drug abuse reentry services to adult offenders, you’ve got the wrong funding source. Sometimes there’s a middle ground—if you want to provide bilingual education, you might apply to my hypothetical program by saying you’re going to deliver after school supportive services in two languages to at-risk youth. Now you’ve told the funding source what they want to hear and you’ve done what you want, so barring other considerations you’re at least in the running to be funded.
Contrast that with most foundation sources: they often give broad guidelines, you submit proposals, wait, and hope for a phone call or letter. You seldom get point lists, but you’ll often get guidelines. If they say they only fund in Cupertino, San Francisco, and Northern California, and you’re in San Diego, you’ve at the very least discovered that the funder is unlikely to be interested in you. If you want to raise your probability of being funded, look for funders who are interested in San Diego.
But it’s their money, it’s a free country, and as long as a foundation distributes 5% of its assets to something vaguely charitable each year they can do what they want, including violating their own guidelines. More often than not, the best you’ll be able to do is submit a complete and technically accurate proposal written to the best of your ability with whatever attachments and paperwork they ask for. If they want a two-page letter, don’t send them an eight-page proposal, and the same if the reverse is true. I keep repeating the phrase “complete and technically accurate proposal” for a reason: people who do it are more likely to get funded than not, and you can rage against the opacity of funding sources if you want to, but probably won’t get you funded. Note how “probably” creeps into my post.
Do whatever you can to increase the probability of your application being reviewed favorably. Chances are, if you follow the snarky golden rule (“He who has the gold makes the rules”), you’re more likely to be funded. After all, he who has the gold makes the rules. But even if you follow the rules, you might not be funded. That’s just how it goes, and if you accept that and keep applying and working at what you’re doing, you’ll eventually succeed.
But nobody knows anything, including me. Good luck.
(COMING ATTRACTION: Make sure you apply to programs you actually want to run! See it in theaters and on this website soon!)