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Grant-writing for Museum Professionals

By Bianca Carpeneti

During the latest Western Museums Association conference, one of the many sessions I attended was “Grant-writing for Museum Professionals,” presented by Morgan Bishop (Grants Management, Arizona Community Foundation) and Ariel Weintraub (Institutional Giving Manager, Oakland Museum of California).  During the 75-minute workshop, we worked through a number of topics, questions, and ideas to consider when putting together a grant application.  I’ve summarized the major discussion points below.  Some of this may end up in your grant application itself, while some of it will be important to keep in mind while you answer particular questions in the grant application.

Start with the facts: assemble all the back ground information on your organization.  This may include but isn’t limited to: number of members, operating budget, community served, board membership list, IRS nonprofit status documentation, and organizational mission.  This sort of organizational information will likely be required for all your grant applications, so having it in one place is useful.

Grant title:  It’s important for this to convey the purpose of the grant—it doesn’t need to be witty.  Consider how you might include the who, where, what, why, and how of your project.

What separates you from other organizations?  Take some time to consider what makes your organization distinct and why the grantor should consider your organization a worthy recipient for an award.

Goals and objectives: these are both important, and we discussed a distinction between the two.

  • Goals: grand, big-picture, and mission-based.
  • Objectives: focus more on the nuts and bolts; try to include an action (verb), the units (how many?), and the population (description/clarification).

A strong proposal will include both big-picture goals and detail-oriented objections.  Be sure to take the time to think through yours and keep them in mind as you build your application.

Aims: What are you trying to accomplish with the proposed project?  This is a chance to dig a little deeper into the objective(s) that you identified in the section above.  Be specific.

Needs/barriers:  What need(s) does your project address?  Why does this make your project significant?  For example, maybe your community doesn’t have a conservator and your grant is to bring a conservator in to help with a project.  The need in this case is expert conservation assistance and your project is meeting that need by facilitating a visit from a conservator.

Additionally, you might take a moment to consider: what are the challenges you may face in executing the proposed project?  Most any project is bound to run into difficulties—take some time to think about what those might be for yours, and how you could address them?  Demonstrating that you’ve considered the project thoroughly shows you’ve done your homework.

Final thoughts/tips: During the session, we discussed writing advice effective grant applications.  By the end, we had identified some of our group’s most important tips.  I’ve included it below for you to peruse.  Different people have different writing styles, though, so this list isn’t prescriptive or exhaustive.  Please share your ideas and advice in the comments—what works for you and what advice would you share? 

  1. Choose a compelling thesis statement and make sure it is evident.
  2. Find a Style Manual you like and use it consistently when you have grammar/punctuation questions.
  3. Say your sentences to yourself out loud—if you wouldn’t say it, you probably wouldn’t write it.
  4. Vary your sentence length and the first words of your sentences.
  5. Count your prepositional phrases and cut them out as much as possible.
  6. Use active verbs—stay away from the verb “to be” and its variations (am, are was, being, been, etc.)—and use interesting words.
  7. Read award-winning fiction. (Good reading makes for good writing!)


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