Finding a grant isn't particularly hard, but I'm not going to pretend that its a ton of fun. It can definitely lead you to interesting and useful places, so chin up and snacks out. We're in it for the long haul.
WE’RE MEANT TO BE
Remember when I said that you need a grant that matches you? This is a great place to start. Who are you? Are you a creative? Are you an entrepreneur? Are you a person of color, single-parent, LGBQT+, woman, veteran, disabled, etc? Any one of those identifiers can help you narrow the search pretty quickly. It’s as simple as typing “Grants for _____” in the Google search bar.
If you have more than one identifier included in the same grant, this is a pretty good indication that you should apply. For example, if your project is about sustainable living and you’re a veteran, try to hit both birds with one stone. You may not find something that fits all of your identifiers, and that’s totally okay too. A good rule of thumb is to try to hit two, but don’t overthink it. The most important thing is that you meet the all requirements for the grant so that your application goes through smoothly.
Pro Tip: Knowing what identifies you and your project will also make your application stand out
HOME IS WHERE THE MONEY IS
Well, kind of. When I was in college, I relied heavily on my professors and administrators to help me find research and scholarship opportunities. And guess what, as an alum you can still do that. Most schools have career offices that help current and past students get the resources they need. So call them up, explain who you are and what you’re trying to do, and schedule yourself a meeting. They might have an opportunity through the university itself, or they will be able to point you in the right direction. Be sure to ask for both, and try to meet with someone in person if you can. This way, they’ll get to know you a little bit so you can work with them again in the future. Plus, it’s a really nice confidence boost to see someone excited about your work and willing to help.
Your home base could look like any (or all) of these:
- Your university or trade school
- Other institutions that you are affiliated with (or could be affiliated with)
- Galleries or venues that have held your work in the past
- Nationally recognized institutions that are in your field
- If you attended a private primary school, they could also be a point of contact
Never disregard word of mouth. Did your friend apply for something that sounds interesting to you? Whether or not they were accepted, its worth investigating. Likewise, dig into the resumes of people in your field that you admire. Most people most their credentials online for free so take advantage of them. Check to see if they have any awards listed, then look up those awards.
Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask for help
GIRL, YOU GOT WHAT I NEED
Take a step back for a moment and survey your individual needs. What is the most pressing issue that you’re dealing with? Is it a lack of studio space? Materials? Maybe you could really use a community of other business people or artists to push your work to the next level. Maybe you need time to get your project launched. Working a day job and a side hustle is really, really difficult sometimes. All of these things can be bought in cash, but most of them can also be awarded instead of cash.
If you’re looking for time, space, or a community, consider applying for a residency in tandem with (or instead of) a grant. Residencies are all different. They exist literally all over the world - some are paid, some you pay for, some aren’t paid but they provide free housing, some are a year long, some are a week long, the list goes on. You can go to jungles, deserts, cities, oceans. It’s literally endless. The process for finding residencies is basically the same as looking for a grant and the application process is very similar.
If you’re not an artist, there are also incubator options out there for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and non-profit start-ups. These are likely to provide you with the tools you need to get your project going such as one-on-one meetings with like-minded individuals, and free conferencing events with pros in your field. They might even provide basic legal training or other practical tools you may need. Check local organizations, co-working spaces, and city & state-wide initiatives for these opportunities.
Once you’ve considered options other than cash funding, you might still find that you actually do need cash. That’s great, but don’t be so quick to write off these other sources. You might find a grant along the way - perhaps a past residency participant was awarded a grant that you qualify for. Or maybe, you come across an organization who works with that incubator in other ways. Don’t be afraid to jump headfirst down the rabbit hole - you never know what you may find.
Pro Tip: Ask yourself, will a grant most effectively fulfill my need?
A dry search for grants can lead you down a never-ending RPG game of web pages from 1997 and bad links. You will find a lot of sites that are nothing but outdated databases of grants that were once functioning. I cannot even tell you how many times I’ve found sites that still contain comic sans font, size 24pt and cyan backgrounds (for god-sakes people). The point is don’t dwell on these. If you find yourself getting frustrated, just hit the back button a few times until you’re somewhere more fruitful and re-adjust from there.
Give yourself a few days to find some grants that you’d like to apply to. It’s pretty grueling to pour over your laptop in one sitting - so don’t. Allow yourself a few hours a day, two or three times a week, for as many weeks as you want/need. If you’re getting brain fog, bookmark your pages and walk away. Remember, this is a long process so you don’t want to torture yourself.
Pro Tip: Retrace your steps until your back on track and then keep digging.
A quick note about paying for databases: Personally, I have never paid for one of these subscriptions. However, this is totally up to you. I can’t offer a professional opinion on these as I have never used them. Generally, I like to use my own elbow grease for a little while. After that, if I feel like I still need some help, I will opt in for something like that. If you are brand new to grant-writing and grant-finding I strongly recommend that you dig a bit on your own first simple because the point is to get some money, not spend some right? Get your feet wet, learn the process, and then if you still need a push consider buying something from an organization that you already trust. Again, this is my opinion so if you have had a great experience with using these, please let me know!
And that's it! Not so scary right? Finding a grant sounds like mysterious and magical work, but it’s honestly just a lot of mundane digging. Call up a friend and see if they want to watch a movie with you while you search. Make it a fun scavenger hunt in your mind. It has taken me 30min to find a grant and also a week to find a grant. So have some patience and enjoy the process, and remember it will be worth it in the end.