Finding Funding for your Creative Project

I got an email from someone I gave some free advice to the other week on how he might get funding for his art project. I try not to spend too much time giving out free advice but the feedback is always nice:

Much appreciate the time taken to do this for sure!, i’ll let you know how things go and keep in touch, amazing information, i would never have known all this!. wow..

Now – the information I gave him (as he was not in the West Midlands region that I know best) was mostly googled and and found on the net. However I know that most people find the funding system so daunting that you do need to know where to start – you can’t just google ‘music funding’ or something like that and expect to get what you need.

People are always asking me for tips on gaining funding and if I will help them by applying for them. Well I don’t mind giving tips – but I tend to turn down opportunities to ‘fundraise’ for people and I’ll explain why below – but I thought it might be worth putting all those tips I usually give in one place as more people might find them useful – so here goes:

(When I talk about funding I’m talking about public funding, trusts and foundations and maybe occasionally sponsorship. If your project is properly commercial – then you should have the confidence to get a loan or find people to invest who expect a financial return. The kind of funding I know about expects some kind of public benefits or outcomes…)

Clare’s approach to finding funding:

1) Know what you want to do and be sure that it is great, stands out in some way and has some sort of public benefit

2) Be clear about why you want to do it and why you can’t do it commercially or with your own funds

3) Do a bit of research (its not that hard) about the kind of main funding bodies that deal with your sector/kind of project

For example: typical places to start if you are an arts or creative organisation might be:

  • Your local authority – most have an arts and/or creative industries officer or team.
  • The Arts Council – look at their website – find your local office and find the contact details of the officers
  • Business Link
  • Regional Development Agencies
  • UKTI
  • Trusts and Foundations
  • Sponsors

In the case of all the above – there is a way to behave:

  • read their website if they have one
  • email them
  • try to meet them  if you can and talk to them about what they do and listen (do this before you ask for money)
  • Invite the individuals involved to things you are involved in and/or send them regular updates about what you do and success stories

Many people only talk to these bodies when they have crisis or when they want money. Don’t do that if you can help it! Get to know them – understand the agendas they have and need to work to and tell them about your work (but don’t bore them!). Remember – getting funding is about delivering some sort of public agenda – if you get it right you can achieve what you want and deliver that agenda.

The worst projects are often those designed simply to get money to deliver the public agendas only. The best ones are born out of great ideas that can be reasonably easily matched to a public agenda…

Then when you have your idea and you have a sense who might best fund it – go back and talk to them about your ideas and ask for ideas about applying. Most organisations are only too happy to talk to you – and if you’ve built up a relationship to start with you’ll find it easier to get a meeting when you need one.

When writing your application:

1) act on any advice you’ve been given verbally or in any guidance notes (don’t start until you’ve read these and digested them!).

2) Try, if you can, to write the application yourself. There are a few very good fundraiser type consultants out there – but not many. For smaller projects you are better writing it yourself so that your enthusiasm and knowledge of the project can shine off the page. Rarely is someone else as passionate about the project as you – so do it yourself is best in my view.

3) Don’t straight jacket your language by making it too technical or trying to use ‘funder speak’. Write as you would when you talk to someone in a meeting and enthuse about your project while all the time backing up your claims and ideas with examples of your knowledge and experience. But take time to spell check it and keep it clear – the people reading this stuff are only human and will be put off by a badly written application.

4) Don’t assume they know anything. Even if you’ve told the people involved everything about you and you know that they understand your work and its importance – don’t assume everyone reading or assessing it will know all that… Also, don’t assume they know other people you refer to or the significance of your sector or approach. Be obvious. But only talk about the things that are relevant to the application. Don’t blather on about your life story or vaguely working with a famous person 10 years ago – keep it to the point!

5) Don’t be subtle about the benefits of your project. Even if it seems obvious to you that running music workshops with young people will teach them certain musical skills – make sure you say it in the application!

6) Ask someone in the organisation if they are willing to comment on a draft application (many people are) as this will help your confidence and the quality of the final application.

7) Finally tick all the boxes they ask for, jump through the hoops, add any necessary appendices and get it in on time (if there is a deadline) or it will bounce straight back to you!

These are just my key tips. I’ll add to this post if I think of more. People can add other thoughts in the comments too if I’ve missed anything – hope it helps!

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7 thoughts on “Finding Funding for your Creative Project

  1. Lyndsey Michaels says:

    Hi Clare

    This is a nice post, very informative.
    I agree wholeheartedly with this – ‘The worst projects are often those designed simply to get money to deliver the public agendas only.’

    My heart sinks when I get a call from a client saying “We’ve found a fund, what project can we do to get the money?” The project is then generally cobbled together to tick all the boxes but, without having its roots in actual benefits to real people, it invariably becomes a ‘hollow’ project, passionless and unable to generate motivation both in the project team and in those it is supposed to benefit.

    All points mentioned regarding writing an application are relevant and useful – most especially points 4, 5, 6, and 7.

    It is important that those requesting funding understand that their application, as with commercial tenders and so on, may well be assessed by an independent assessor who has little to no knowledge of the sector, the key people within it or the service/project the applicant is addressing. This is especially the case where a fund has a large number of applicants: an independent assessor may be brought in to ‘sort the wheat from the chaff’ using a particular scoring system (rather than in depth knowledge of a subject) before an application gets anywhere near the formal assessment panel.

    People often are quite incredulous of this method, wondering why funders would choose such assessors, in the belief that assessors would benefit from an in-depth knowledge. In fact, the opposite is true. Again, as with commercial contracts, complete independence via lack of prior involvement is one way of ensuring minimal bias – crucial for a fair and auditable assessment process.

    Good post, I will refer one or two of my clients to it next time I’m asked these ‘FAQs’!

    Best regards
    Lyndsey

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