Getting started


My job is to help people get funding. I occasionally get requests from friends and family to help them with a funding application. I love these requests – I get to show them what I do, and help them with something that they need. It reminds me that different types of funding need different approaches, but that there are also some things that stay the same.

Recently, I offered to help out an artist that I know. He isn’t attached to a university or any large organisation. He works for himself, making art. It’s a tough gig, so I’m happy to help where I can. This is the email I sent to him to get things started. As he is an artist based in Australia, you might need to do some translation to your situation. But there should be enough here to help you get started.

If you don’t have support (and a lot of academics don’t), this approach could work for you, too. Get together with one or two friends and go through these questions over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Talk about possibilities. Make a plan. It can’t hurt, and it might help.

Thanks for getting in touch. I would love to help. To get things started, let me know your answers to these questions. It is OK if you don’t know the answers to these questions – they can be the start of a conversation. Or you might have thought this through already. Either way, I think that they form the basis for moving forward.

Please, please, please don’t think about these questions in terms of ‘what answers will give me the best chance of getting funded’. That sort of circular thinking doesn’t help, and can be really destructive. Rather, think about what your first response is, and what a considered response might be.

What do you want the funding for?

You can think about the main purposes of funding as:

  • Travel, which splits out into long-term travel (e.g. Fulbright Fellowship or Churchill Fellowship) versus short-term travel (e.g. to attend a workshop, residency or exhibition).
  • Creation of new work / project funding (e.g. Australia Council for the Arts art project funding). This is the sort of funding I work on most, because university researchers want to fund research projects.
  • Salary (e.g. Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship). I work on a lot of these, as most people in universities don’t have permanent salaries anymore.
  • Awards (recognition of past work, in contrast to funding for future work).

Some funding combines different categories. For example, the Australian Antarctica Arts Fellowship are coming up soon, if you want to travel to Antarctica to make new art works.

There are some sort of funding that don’t fit neatly into any category. I guess the State Library of Victoria Fellowship (where you get your own personal librarian!) could be about creation of new art works, but I don’t really see it that way. I see it as a deep dive into one particular aspect of the library collection.

My point is that there are lots of different funds out there, so clarity of purpose can help to sort wheat from chaff. Funding also serves a secondary purpose of providing status or external validation, but that isn’t a great reason for applying. Nobody is going to fund you if you need a grant to puff up your CV.

What applications have you written in the past?

It is OK to say, “None”. I just want to know where you are at. If this is the first application that you’ve written, then we are going to have a different conversation from if it is the fiftieth application.

I also want to know if you have access to those applications (both the ones that succeeded and the ones that didn’t). Whether it is a turn of phrase or boring details like ‘last year of education’, past applications can make it easier to write new applications. They are one of your main resources, and it is good to create a little library of them.  You would be surprised how many people don’t have any system for this.

Who do you want to work with?

Are there any organisations or individuals that you particularly want to work with? Again, it is OK to say “No”. They don’t have to be in your field. They could be commercial organisations, not-for-profits, or just inspiring peeps that you like. I ask this because working with someone else can create different opportunities for funding. If, for example, you want to work with the local primary school, that opens up opportunities to look at educational funding. I don’t want to make assumptions that you are a sole practitioner all the time.

What you want to do next?

This is probably the most important question, but sometimes the hardest to pin down. It is hard to imagine what you can do if you don’t know what resources are available. Also, there might be many different answers to this question, depending on what resources are available.

Try to strip it back to the basics:

  • Is there an itch that you want to scratch?
  • What is something that you would love to do, but don’t have the resources for?
  • What would be the most fun / crazy / stupid thing you could do?
  • What are you finding limiting right now (e.g. stuck in a rut, need to grow, need training in a technique)?

An application for $5,000 will be different for an application for $50,000. Different amounts of funding unlock different possibilities. Still, it is worth having some ideas of what direction you want to go.

Categories of funding

From what I know of your work, I’m guessing that we are probably looking at two different categories of funding:

  • Art funding. Seems to make sense, as you are an artist.
  • Environmental funding. This would probably require working with an environmental organisation or campaigner. But it could work, as your art has a strong environmental sensibility.

Other categories of funding include:

  • Civics – helping to resolve a social problem (e.g. homelessness).
  • Indigenous – either funding for people who are indigenous, or funding to work on indigenous issues.
  • Education – helping the little kiddies (and the big kiddies).
  • Health – including mental health and support for carers.
  • Research – finding out new stuff (where I play most of the time because I’m funded by a university).
  • Public relations – banks, mining companies, insurance companies all fund projects so that people will hate them a little bit less.
  • Government (local, state, federal) – every different area of the government has a pot of money for projects about what they do, or what they need help with.
  • International (big NGOs and UN agencies) – to work with people in different parts of the world, generally to try to make things better (e.g. Sustainable Development Goals).

Next steps

I think that we should try to do a few different things. First, use these questions to get a general sense of where we are going.

Then, build a calendar of funding opportunities. This involves working out how much time you want to spend on this pitiless process. This translates into to how many applications you might submit per year. Then we can work out which ones you want to apply for, and put them in your calendar. This moves us from a vague idea to a concrete plan.

We can build a network of resources. The main resources you have are past applications (successful and unsuccessful). They can help to make writing new applications easier. There are some other simple tools that can help, such as how to budget for a project.

Finally, I want to help you to write better applications. This is absolutely a skill you can learn. Nobody is born writing great grant applications. It’s a process. It isn’t all about the writing. It is also about getting feedback and building a support team. Your partner, your friends, your colleagues – they might all want to help, and they can.

It is a marathon, not a sprint. Having someone to metaphorically pick you up when you fall down is really important, as is having people to cheer you on at the finish line. Not sure where this metaphor is going, but you get the drift. Friends can read drafts. Colleagues can share past applications. People can help. You don’t have to do this alone.

Anyway, let’s set up a time and see where we get to. Happy to help.