Grants grants grants

I must be careful to not bite the hand which feeds me but...well...isn't grant writing fun?

Yes, it's that favourite time of year for arts administrators: grant season. The time of year where we must figure out how to put onto paper that which is so clear in our heads and at dinner parties after several glasses of wine about what it is exactly that we do and why it is exactly that we do it. And though we all wish that we could write things like "please see the answer to question 2, above" or "please see our application from last year, since nothing much has changed", the applications require a bit more thought and effort than that. Ultimately, it's a good exercise - are we on track with our goals and strategic priorities? Did we do everything we said we would do, in the way we said we would do it? But at 3 am on the due date (or, as someone once said, the do date), it certainly doesn't seem like a good exercise.

So - to provide a bit of levity to anyone currently slogging through a grant application, I offer the following pieces of advice on how not to write a good grant application (or, in plainer English, how to write a bad one) loosely adapted from the list at The Chronicle of Higher Education (

  • Don't explicitly state any goals, objectives, or outcomes in your grant proposal. A good panelist will be able to figure these out from your mission statement.
  • Make it obvious that you have cut and pasted sections from your other grants into this new proposal. Don't worry if the formatting does not match or there are sentences and sections from the old proposals that have no bearing on this one. Reviewers are impressed by people who are too busy to proofread.
  • Use lots of acronyms. Define them several pages after you first use them, if possible, or at least bury the definitions in long paragraphs.
  • Focus your grant entirely on your own niche area of focus...Dealing with problems of general interest is a waste of time. A good panelist will be able to discern the global impacts of your work without being led by the hand.
  • Reviewers love 10-point, Arial-font, single-spaced type. Preferably there should be no spaces between paragraphs, headings, or subheadings, either. Your goal is to leave no white space on the page.
  • Don't use spell-check.
  • Replace simple, meaningful words with polysyllabic behemoths whenever possible. Don't write "use" when you can say "utilize." Why "use a method" if you can "utilize a methodological technique"? There is no reason to "increase" when you can "exacerbate." Bonus points for using polysyllabic words incorrectly, as in "the elevation in glucose concentration was exasperated during exercise."
  • Always assume that the panel and the program director will give you the benefit of every doubt.

In all seriousness, though, grants provide a vital source of revenue for arts organizations large and small across the country. TDJ is grateful for the support it receives each year from the municipal, provincial and federal governments. Grant applications are thorough for a reason - granting agencies need to be held accountable for how they distribute their funds. And, frankly, many organizations need to spend a few extra minutes each year re-evaluating what they do and why they do it.

So - to all of my colleagues in arts administration who are currently completing - or thinking about completing - or looking for misplaced - grant applications, I salute you! Happy writing.


P.S. - And, since I work in the contemporary classical music world too, I couldn't help but share this brilliant website which might come in handy for my new music colleagues...

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