• Artists Unplugged: Painter's Edition

    Fundraising and Grants

    by Jonathan Darr


    This is an adaptation and expansion of the workshop

    to be given at the Quiet/Lunarsol Artists Unplugged retreat



    For a bit about me,

    Demystifying Grant Proposal Writing

    Demystifying Proposal Writing


    • It can seem quite daunting to start submitting proposals. It was for me as well.

      What helped me most was realizing a significant portion of the work was becoming familiar with the standard parts of a grant proposal and to consider the forms and guidelines to be questions someone wanted answered about my project or work.

      Let's do that together.

    • The proposal/funding process is an imperfect way to connect supporters to people they want to see thrive and projects they believe in.   

      There are many angles about money, capital, and the systems involved that can make the cash/art dance messy and problematic, but if we believe art should be supported, encouraged, and more available, we need to keep finding good ways to make sure artists survive and thrive.
    • I've heard that grantwriting is mysterious and complex more often from people who have never tried it than from people who have not.

      After a few goes, most people writing proposals have a pretty clear idea of what they are strong at, where they need more experience, and how the process will go.


    • RESEARCH the Grantmaker's Past and Current Funding Areas:  Most grantmakers have clearly detailed what they fund, what they want to see from applicants, and what people or organizations are eligible to apply. There are occasions where they work outside of this, but it's typically clear.
    • CONNECT:  It is a relatively small number of people who hold Program Officer, city government, and other positions that make decisions about grant proposals. These folks often know each other. Keep connecting and listening to who is supporting your projects and projects like yours. Similarly, artists and arts projects connected to more people often have more access to these decisionmakers. Be aware and intentional about noticing how your community, city, state, etc. funding works.
    • READ the Proposal Guidelines, read about their funding areas, and look closely at what projects or individuals they have supported. For instance, if you are a painter in Chicago, look to see that they have funded painters and if they have supported people in Chicago. It sounds simple, but you'd be surprised how many applications are received each year that are far outside an organization's funding interests.
    • Be Clear and Concise: Articulate your project, goals, and impact clearly.
    • Budget Wisely: Present a realistic and detailed budget. Have another set of eyes on it if you can.
    • Seek Feedback: Get feedback on your proposal from peers or mentors before submitting.
    • ATTEND: If you are able to, try not to miss opportunities to meet about projects, with funders, etc. Sometimes it is rare and difficult to build connections with decisionmakers in this area. Being out and connected can help a great deal.

    Grant Panelist Profile Exercise

    From my time on grants panels, I've learned how varied the perspectives of panel members can be.


    Each person's background, interests, and values distinctly shape their approach to reviewing proposals. Based on this experience, I've developed profiles of typical grant panel members: Finance Finola, By The Book Bella, Heartstrings Haresh, Traditionalist Tamar, and Reputation RC. Understanding these archetypes can be key in tailoring your grant proposal to appeal to a diverse panel, enhancing your chances of success.


    Picture it: a large room with a conference table and a dozen people sitting together after reviewing 100 proposal packets for the new city art program.


    You see these characters around the table:


    Finance Finola:

    • Focuses on budget clarity, realism, and efficiency.
    • Looks for alignment between financial planning and project objectives.
    • Values detailed, justifiable budgets demonstrating fiscal responsibility.
    • Looks closely at the alignment of expenses and timelines

    By The Book Bella:

    • Prioritizes adherence to guidelines and structures put forth by the funder.
    • Seeks well-organized proposals that thoroughly address required components.
    • Values complete, precise proposals strictly adhering to format and content requirements.

    Heartstrings Haresh:

    • Connects with emotionally impactful proposals.
    • Looks for stories that demonstrate societal or individual impact.
    • Appreciates proposals with passion and a clear sense of purpose.

    Traditionalist Tamar:

    • Interested in projects that uphold and celebrate known practices and excellence.
    • Favors proposals with connections to recorded values, established techniques, or themes.
    • Looks for knowledge and respect for historical or cultural contexts.

    Reputation RC:

    • Believes in external validation for a project from third parties.
    • Wants to see that the applicant is acccountable to others and connected.
    • Values prestige, excellence, visibility, supporting that which enriches reputation. Wants to claim any great projects for the funder.

    OK, so that can be a lot to hold.


    For my clients, I like to use these as a checklist when we build and approve proposals.


    It likeley won't be perfect in all of these areas, but tending to finance, rules, heart/inspiration, the past, and the prestige of a grant proposal can really help.


    That said, there is little substitute for persistent artistry, wow factor, uniqueness, and freshness. Again, it's not that every project has to be all of these things, but the writer and artist should be fully aware that the people at the table show up wanting to see such things.


    Grant Research and Tracking

    Effective tracking and planning are essential for artists navigating grant proposals. A well-organized system helps manage deadlines, avoid missed opportunities, and offers valuable insights into application patterns and feedback. This strategic approach not only streamlines the process but significantly boosts your chances of securing funding.


    Make a copy of this tracker I use and adapt it where needed.

    JD's Proposal Completion Lights System


    A Red Light/Green Light Breakdown: This tool is a systematic approach to reviewing and completing your proposals. It involves a detailed examination of each question or request in the proposal.


    Here's how it works:


    Once you've decided to work on a proposal, if it has more than a small number of questions, Drop each question into the left column of a spreadsheet. Be sure to note any word count or character count limits.


    In some instances, you can start assembling all the info right there on the spreadsheet with a column for the content that answers that question.


    In the next column, mark the cells with green, yellow, or red:

    • Green: Mark any line or section that is complete and meets the requirements with green. These are areas where you are confident and have fulfilled the criteria effectively.
    • Yellow: Use yellow to highlight lines or sections that need further attention. These might be areas that are partially complete or require additional information or clarity.
    • Red: Mark lines or sections that you are unsure of, or you know will take a lot of time, with red. These are aspects that require significant work, research, or additional resources.

    This color-coded system allows you to visually assess the state of your proposal at a glance, helping you prioritize your efforts and address the most critical areas efficiently. When you have all greens, you're finished!


    If you are working on a team/collaboration, make a column for the initials of the responsible person for answering that question.


    But Getting Started Is So Tough...

    Trouble getting started can be a real hill to climb. It can be even more so if you are an artist dealing with forms of neurodivergence or who struggle to align motivation, thoughts, and action. Sometimes just adding the business piece like this is overwhelming.


    These are some tools I've learned along the way to help get going:


    1. "Just Move Towards It." Framing the work ahead as something to just move towards can make it less daunting. Moving towards the work feels different than "starting."


    2. Get What You Know on the Page: For most proposals, there are some easier questions you can start with. Dig in on these first and then go deeper.


    3. Imagine what it will feel like once you better understand the process of grants. A bit of visioning here may help tackle taking that first look.


    4. Try body doubling. Sit with someone or near someone. Studies show this can help people stay on task. Schedule time with a friend or acquaintance who understands grants and proposals.


    5. Ask for/hire help. There are many people out there who want to see artists better-supported. Find one of us! Oftentimes this can be another artist friend as well.


    6. "Start at the very beginning." In other words, fill out or type the basic project details. Plan to keep moving and to seek help where needed.

    Sample Docs and Templates

    I knew we would not have a lot of time together, so I wanted to share some of the types of docs and resources I develop with my clients. The following document has a nice set of tools to help with your fundraising/proposal writing efforts:



    Visit here.


    That linked document has:


    Sample Cover Letter

    Sample Application Form

    Sample Artist's Statement

    Sample Project Proposal

    Sample Budget

    Sample Work Sample Write Up

    Sample CV

    Sample Letter of Recommendation

    Sample Project Timeline

    Sample Community Impact Statement

    Sample Collaborator Bios


    The tabs are where you can find a few of the documents from above as well as a Sample List of Residencies and City Grants and an explanation of typical grant questions you might be answering on a proposal.



    I'm excited to have met each of you and wish you well if you pursue fundraising opportunities.


    Because I was not able to connect in person, I'm also offering :30 minute Zoom sessions for each of you.


    We can talk through this material or tackle pending questions you have about the fundraising process.


    Thanks and wishing you well! - Jonathan