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How to Write a Strong Grant Project Proposal 

by | Aug 15, 2023 | Blog, Blog: General Humanities, Blog: Grants

As our Humanities Grant deadline is approaching on September 7, we wanted to compile a list of tips to help you write a compelling project description. With this aim, we asked Michigan Humanities Director of Grants, James Nelson, and the Michigan Arts and Culture Council’s (MACC) Arts Education Program Manager, Chad Swan-Badgero, to share their best advice on how to draft a strong project description. While the advice below will help you with your future Michigan Humanities and MACC applications, you can also apply it to any future grant applications you may be drafting.

Start early: “Don’t wait until the last minute to submit your application,” says Chad. The earlier you begin drafting your application, the sooner you can ask questions about eligibility and guidelines and invite others to review your draft. Starting your application process early doesn’t necessarily mean that you will begin writing your project description right away; we know that many times this isn’t possible. But, it can mean logging into the submission portal (e.g., creating an account) and looking closely at the different application requirements.

Reach out to our staff: Often, people refrain from contacting our team directly with questions about grant opportunities. But we want you to do the opposite. If you have questions, send us an email or give us a call. “It is always a good idea to reach out to the Director of Grants to discuss your project before beginning the application,” says James.

Read the guidelines: “Read the guidelines a few times,” says Chad. Michigan Humanities and MACC’s call for proposals include guidelines detailing general eligibility, what project expenses are (in)eligible, cost-share requirements, and an outline of the application components. By reading the grant guidelines more than once, you can determine whether your project is a good fit before beginning the application. And if anything remains unclear after reading the procedures a few times, give us a call or send us an email.

Answer the questions entirely: “A common mistake is not answering the entirety of a question,” says James. Like many other grant applications, humanities grants include broad sections comprising a series of questions. Make sure you address all the questions included in the prompts. You can even devote a short paragraph to answering each question to make it easier for the reader to identify the requested information.

Be aware of word, character, and page limits: Most grant applications, including Michigan Humanities’ and MACC’s, have word, character, or page limits to answering prompts and offering information. Be sure to identify these limits, as exceeding them may disqualify your application, or information shared with the reviewers will only be up to the established limit.

Write with your reviewers in mind: Assume that your reviewers know nothing about your organization and project; how would you present your project to an audience hearing about your project and organization for the first time? Avoid specialized jargon. “If your project involves terms that a broad audience might not understand, make sure to offer clarifying explanations,” says James. If you use acronyms in your application, spell them out the first time you introduce them. Remember that a single reviewer can sometimes score up to 30 applications. “Help reviewers along by following the guidelines’ instructions and answering the questions in order,” concludes Chad.

Be clear, concise, and compelling: Keep your prose simple and specific. While we might tend to use adjectives that may be receiving a lot of attention or that heightened our work (e.g., adjectives such as “high-quality” or “underserved”), be sure to show more specifically how your work exemplifies these qualities. It is better to be specific and clear about what your project will do than to capture it with one or a few adjectives. “Always err on the side of more detail,” says James. However, there is a fine line between providing enough detail and keeping your story focused. “Remember, you’re only answering the questions on the application,” adds Chad. So ask yourself if the information provided is necessary for the project to be understood. And make decisions on what is missing and what needs to be removed. Lastly, don’t be afraid to show excitement for your project and, most importantly, describe why your project matters!

Don’t be afraid to include visuals: “Visuals help! Virtual tours, videos, sound clips, pictures w/ captions, examples,” says Chad. Help the reviewers know who you are and your impact on your community. You can include testimonies from community members or patrons about your organization’s relevance. If you have drawn inspiration from a project elsewhere to design your own, add information about that other project (e.g., photos, virtual tours, websites) and why bringing it to your community is essential.

Talk about your team’s experience: Reviewers must know that your team is ready to complete the proposed project. Talk about your team’s expertise, experience, and credentials in the community you seek to serve. It is crucial to demonstrate that you have built meaningful relationships within the communities in your proposed project and that your team will not be outsiders to the proposed work.

Look for scoring rubrics, sample applications, and other resources: Humanities grants’ scoring rubric is available on our website. Similarly, Michigan Humanities and MACC offer grant workshops, sample applications, and other resources on their websites that you should explore thoroughly before applying. And while it is always advisable to recruit others with fresh eyes to review your project drafts, we know that these volunteers can be hard to find. Michigan Humanities offers such assistance! You can receive feedback on your draft from our Director of Grants before your submission. Check out Michigan Humanities and MACC websites to access all these resources, and follow us on social media for timely updates.

Further resources for applying to Michigan Humanities grants:

  • Contact Director of Grants: James Nelson, jnelson@mihumanities.org.
  • For Arts and Humanities Touring Grants, contact Estee Schlenner at eschlenner@mihumanities.org.
  • Visit the Humanities Grants Website and follow us on Facebook or Instagram.

For further questions about applying to MACC, feel free to contact the program staff:

  • Alex Flannery, Operational Support Program Manager, 517.331.5925, flannerya1@michigan.org
  • Jeff Garrett, Capital Improvement Program Manager, ADA/504 Coordinator, 517.242.3678, garrettj7@michigan.org
  • Jackie Lillis-Warwick, Community Development Program Manager, 517.881.4114, lillis-warwickj@michigan.org
  • Chad Swan-Badgero, Arts Education, New Leaders and Project Support Program Manager, 517.881.9472, badgeroc@michigan.org

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog on how to draft a grant budget. If you have ideas or suggestions for future blogs, contact Jennifer Sierra (DEIA Coordinator) at jsierra@mihumanities.org, or Estee Schlenner (Communications Officer), at eschlenner@mihumanities.org.

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