How Not to Get a Grant


Charles Coe, Grants Program Officer, Massachusetts Cultural Council

How can you be sure you won’t get the grant you’ve applied for? Easy, according to Charles Coe, who sees thousands of such proposals in his work for the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Here’s what applicants do.

1. Don’t read the guidelines.

Ignore the funding program’s criteria. Just write whatever you want.

2. Be vague.

Never give specific details. Don’t get bogged down in boring specifics like, “My plan is to offer six classes during the school year at three middle schools in our school district; my target is to reach approximately four hundred children, and spring exhibitions of the children’s work at each school.” Say instead, “I’m going to work with a bunch of kids. It’ll be great!”

3. Assume the reviewers know all about you.

Forget that stuff the funder said in the guidelines about being clear in the application about who you are and what you do.

4. Assume you’re entitled to a grant.

Why should you have to justify yourself? Funders should stop expecting you to spend all your time writing grant applications and just write you a check.

5. If your last application to the funder was unsuccessful, complain about that in your current application.

That last review panel obviously had it wrong. If the funder sent you their comments, refute each criticism with righteous indignation. Express your sincere hope that the current review panel is more qualified to assess your work.

6. Give the impression that your organization is a private club.

If the guidelines ask you do describe your education and community outreach efforts, say you just don’t have the time or money to do that stuff.

7. Don’t bother to proofread your copy.

This is a grant application, not an essay contest. Who cares about a few typos? It’s just like when you interview for a job; a prospective employer should be able to look beyond a few little misspellings and grammatical errors.

8. Don’t get fussy about your support material.

If the grant guidelines require you to document your work, just submit whatever CD or slides you have lying around.

9. Don’t get fussy about your financial information.

The funder shouldn’t obsess about whether your budget is presented clearly, or if the numbers add up. So what if they ask for a project budget for the next fiscal year? Or tell you to divide your income and expenses into certain categories? Just print out your Quicken ledger sheet and call it a day.

10. Wait until the absolutely, positively last minute to write the application.

After all, you’ve got a lot more important things to do than to sit around fussing with grant applications. Just put on another pot of coffee and whip something out.


But, If You DO WANT A GRANT, Consider This

In the current economic climate, the reality is that few artists will make a significant portion of their income from fellowships and grants. As a result, many artists are taking a more entrepreneurial approach to supporting their work, including fundraising the way organizations typically do. Here are a few simple ways an individual artist can get into the fundraising game

Use a Fiscal Agent

Nothing prevents you as an individual from asking people to make donations to help fund a project. But most people won’t donate unless they can get a tax deduction, which you can’t offer unless you have a registered nonprofit cultural organization—a 501- (c) 3. But you could offer them that deduction if you use a fiscal agent. Simply put, you find a registered nonprofit willing to accept donations on your behalf. Donors write a check to the fiscal agent, which then writes a check to you for that amount, minus a small pass-through fee (usually five to eight percent). And the donor gets the tax deduction. For more information:

What you need to know about fiscal sponsorship:

Fiscal agent letter of agreement checklist (the items your letter should address):

Start an Online Fundraising Campaign

The last few years have seen a tremendous growth in the phenomenon of “Crowdfunding” (online fundraising).  You might already be familiar with more popular sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. But dozens more have popped up in the last few years.  For more information:

A guide to online fundraising:

A Comparison of Crowdfunding Websites:

Stage a collaborative event

Partner with a community-based non-profit service organization, such as a shelter for battered women, food pantry, or elder services program. Stage an exhibition or offer a performance, and split proceeds from tickets or artwork sold. The organization will put out two announcements in their newsletter about the event—one before and one after the fact. You have access to an entirely new audience who’ll purchase tickets or artwork because you’re supporting an organization they care about. Everyone wins.

Charles Coe is a program officer for the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s general operating support grant programs. He is the author of “Picnic on the Moon,” a volume of poetry (Leapfrog Press), and a second volume of his work, “All Sins Forgiven: Poems for My Parents” will be released by the same publisher in March, 2013. Charles is a long-time activist with the National Writers Union, a labor union of freelance writers. He has served on the union’s National Executive Board, is co-chair of the Boston Chapter Steering Committee, and co-founded the union’s National Diversity Committee.


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2 thoughts on “How Not to Get a Grant

  1. Pingback: Resources To Find Grants & Funding For Your Nonprofit's 2013 Budget

  2. Pingback: #FUNDRAISING: Resources To Find Grants For Your Nonprofit’s 2013 Budget - Nonprofit Marketing 360

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