Six Tips for Tackling your First Funding Application
Actor and writer Michaela Bennison provides her six top tips on the tricky process of applying for your first arts funding application.
By Michaela Bennison
As an actor, were you taught about funding applications at drama school? I know I wasn’t. Funding applications always seemed to exist in a roped-off section of industry know-how marked “Producers only”. But it’s not true. Funding applications don’t require a fancy lanyard or an in with the proverbial bouncer.
Chances are that there’s a grant out there for whatever you need funded. You may have heard of the Arts Council grants available, including the National Lottery Project Grant and the Developing your Creative Practice Grant. But there’s funding outside of these too, from arts venues and organisations.
I’m currently in the process of completing my first ever Arts Council application, after months of planning and drafting, and I’ve learnt a lot from the experience. I’ve not only developed my fledgling application-writing skills, but I’ve also evaluated my priorities as an artist. Gaining a new sense of agency in my career has been a welcome change, whatever the outcome is.
So, from what I've learnt and the advice I’ve received, here are six essential tips to help you tackle your first funding application:
Pick the Brains of Artists who’ve Successfully Applied
This is a great way to learn which grants and opportunities are out there. It’s also a useful starting point once you have an idea of what you want to apply for. Most previous applicants will be happy to share their experience, what worked well for them and what help and support they had.
Have a Vision of your End Goal
Before you start your application, you should know the desired outcomes of your project in both the short and long term. How do you want your artistic practice or piece to develop? How will this project support your work over the following months or years?
Once you have your outcomes, you can build your proposal around that final goal. Breaking your plan into smaller steps will give your project clarity, allowing funders to easily grasp the scope of your proposal. Your plans may develop during the drafting process, so be prepared to adapt the specifics of your project if necessary.
Read the Guidance
The Arts Council provides extensive guidance for each of the grants it offers. As well as the application questions, with the key points they’re looking for, they include important technical details, such as word-count or administrative information. It’s an invaluable resource that you ignore at your peril.
For other types of funding, look at the organisation’s website for any guidance or application FAQs. Don’t be afraid to ask directly if you can’t find the answers you need.
Give Yourself Time
Applications aren’t something that can be rushed. You’ll want time to reword, redraft and gather any supporting evidence you need. And that’s not even taking life into account; work, family and self-care that can’t be ignored.
Many people (myself included) find it easier to chip away at the application, rather than tackling it all in one go. This approach makes it easier to keep your answers clear and concise, but also requires time to go away and come back to it over several days, if not weeks. Which will be impossible if you begin days before the deadline.
Find Someone to Read Through your Draft
This could be a coach or mentor, a producer with application experience (if you’re applying for project funding, you could even get a producer on board to do the application for you), or another artist who has successfully applied in the past.
A fresh pair of eyes can see the gaps in the application that you may have missed, and spot sections that may not be as clear as they could be.
Have a Solid Budget
Your budget should be as comprehensive as possible. If you’re planning to hire other artists, either ask for their rates before applying, or use industry daily and weekly rates as a guide. You should also include estimates for travel, equipment, room hire etc, as well as contingency spending.
Also, don’t be afraid to pay yourself for your time! Budgeting isn’t about making your proposal as cheap as possible. If you can justify the costs you want to include, budget for them in your application.
Applications can be gruelling and, like everything in life, there's no guarantee that you'll be successful. But you don’t know until you try. In the process of trying, you’ll not only learn some useful skills but also open yourself up to the other possibilities out there for you to grasp.
So, wherever you are in the application process, good luck - I have my fingers crossed for us all!
Michaela Bennison is an actor and writer, whose credits include 'Into The Woods' at The Royal Exchange, Manchester and ‘Lady of Jazz’ at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester and Wilton’s Music Hall.
Michaela runs a blog and YouTube channel, where she shares her thoughts about the theatre industry and offers advice to actors based on her experiences.
Headshot by John Clark