two women discussing how to write a grant proposal“Let your community feed your creativity.”
The Musician’s Way, p. 313

If you aspire to present innovative or community-focused performances, there’s plenty of funding available to support those sorts of projects.

In fact, many funding organizations are keen to ignite arts programming in the communities they serve, whether locally, statewide, nationally or internationally.

The key to accessing such funds is to devise projects that merit funding and then skillfully request grant funds from fitting institutions, typically, foundations, government agencies, or professional organizations such as, in the U.S., Chamber Music America or NewMusicUSA.

Below, I offer concise guidelines to help performers, composers, and arts presenters build grant writing competencies, design fundable projects, and win meaningful support.

Identifying & Screening Suitable Funders

One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen novice grant writers make is to propose projects that don’t align with funder priorities.

For that reason, I developed The Funding-First Grant Cycle, which places funder identification and screening as the first step.

By starting with funder research, your understanding of funder priorities helps you generate project ideas that intersect with funder objectives. In effect, you use a funder’s mission as a constraint to focus your creativity.

“One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen novice grant writers make is to propose projects that don’t align with funder priorities.”

To help you discover funders, I’ve compiled tools in my post, Resources for Grantseekers, which I regularly update. Those resources make it easier to pinpoint funders based on location, mission, and other criteria.

Once you reach the stage at which you understand the grant cycle, have identified one or more suitable funders, and have fleshed out a feasible project idea, it’s wise to contact a grants officer at your target funder to discuss your project, receive feedback, and get advice on how best to finalize your plans and proposal. Many funders offer project development and grant writing workshops.

After completing all of the above steps, and with a promising funder identified and screened, you’re ready to draft your proposal.

“Many funders offer project development and grant writing workshops.”

How to Write a Grant Proposal

Basic Proposal Structure

1. Cover Page, Page Numbers & Table of Contents

If an initial cover page is required or advisable, be sure that it clearly shows your name and contact info as well as your proposal title, the funding program you’re applying to, and the date. If you’re required to submit an inclusive proposal document – as opposed to completing an online form – always insert page numbers on the document so that, if your proposal is printed, the pages can readily be ordered. For longer proposals, include a table of contents after the cover page, listing the title of each section and on what page it begins.

2. Brief Project Summary

A project summary allows reviewers of your proposal to quickly grasp what you aim to do. In 50-75 words, describe who, what, when, where and why; encapsulate key outcomes. Grantors who use online submission forms may specify word limits for such summaries. Bear in mind that reviewers often read the project summary first and then skip ahead to scrutinize the budget; if both are well constructed and match the grant program guidelines, reviewers then study the entire proposal.

3. Complete Project Description

Flesh out your summary using subheadings. Spell out what you aim to do and what problems you intend to address. For instance, if you seek funds to present concerts for disadvantaged audiences, subheadings might include, Objectives, Audience, Venues, Repertoire, Performers, Timeline.

4. Project Impacts

Specify what impacts or outcomes your project will achieve, and quantify as much as possible. A bulleted format can enhance concision and readability.

5. Assessments

State how will you measure impacts or outcomes. E.g., you might tally audience attendance, measure intrinsic impact with audience surveys, add up ticket sales, record participant video feedback, etc.

6. Staff & Hours

Map out how many people will be involved, what they’ll do, and how much time they’ll devote.

8. Required Equipment

If appropriate, list what gear is needed, why it’s required, and who will supply it.

9. Budget

Use a table with two columns headed Expenses and Income respectively. Provide matching totals at the bottom of each column. You can find sample event budgets and downloadable templates online. Be specific with the items you list so that your budget helps tell the story of your project. For instance, under expenses, include musician rehearsal fees on one line, denoting the number of musicians, the pay per hour, and the number of hours, and then detail musician concert fees on another line rather than vaguely listing “Musician Fees.” Also, avoid meaningless categories such as “Miscellaneous.”

  • Expenses might comprise not only musician costs but also audio/video engineer fees to do live streaming, venue and equipment rental, event insurance, hall staffing, printing and advertising, transportation & lodging costs, piano rental and/or tuning, performance licenses for copyrighted music, score rental, reception expenses, and possibly legal fees to execute ironclad contracts.
  • Income can encompass funds from grants, ticket sales, crowdfunding, and corporate sponsors as well as non-monetary contributions such as donated venues, legal help, loaned instruments, printing, recording services, and the like.

10. Supporting Materials & Documents

Your supporting materials should show that you and your team are qualified to accomplish your project expertly and in a timely fashion. Include resumes of principal performers; provide sample assessment tools such as surveys; incorporate work samples such as video recordings, publications, and past concert programs and reviews. If you provide many pages of supporting documents, add a table of contents to the supporting materials section of your proposal.

“Show that you and your team are qualified to accomplish your project expertly and in a timely fashion.”

The Musician's Way book cover

Final Thoughts

Musicians often believe that their project and career goals are hindered by a lack of financial resources when, in reality, funding is widely available.

To tap those funds, however, musicians need potent project ideas coupled with the wherewithal to execute projects and construct polished grant proposals.

I hope that this brief guide helps you gain the confidence to pursue innovative projects and move forward on your creative path.

“Musicians often believe that their project and career goals are hindered by a lack of financial resources when, in reality, funding is widely available.”

*  *  *

The Musician’s Way equips aspiring musicians with essential artistic and professional skills.

Related posts
Commissioning and Funding New Music
Design Thinking for Audience Development
The Funding-First Grant Cycle
Partnering with Non-Profits
Resources for Grantseekers
Supply and Demand for Classical Musicians

© 2022 Gerald Klickstein
Photo licensed from Shutterstock