This year, as part of Queer Folk concert series that a colleague and I created, I had the opportunity to apply for my first funding grant. Because the project was a small-scale series of events taking place over the course of three months our manager suggested that we apply for Museums Galleries Scotland’s (MGS) Small Grant Fund (https://www.museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk/fundings/). Our application was successful and we were awarded over £4,000, but this was not an easy process as someone who was new to it so I wanted to share my experience and offer some tips for those starting out with funding applications.
Finding your Funding
The first step in all considerations of eligibility is finding the right funding for your proposed project. In order to have the best odds of receiving funding you need to look for grants that suit your needs as much as possible.Each grant is a little different so you need to be certain that your project and organisation fit the description. This site (https://southeastmuseums.org/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance/resources-hub/funding-sources-for-museums/) has a helpful list of some places to look but other people in your organisation will be great sources of knowledge of possible funding avenues too.
Once you’ve determined what funding to apply for you’ll need to acquaint yourself thoroughly with the parameters for this funding. This will help you determine the best way for you to sell your project as a possible candidate for the grant. For example, the funding I applied for was with Museums Galleries Scotland, so I not only looked through the webpage detailing the parameters for the grant itself but also the wider aims and interests of the organisation as a whole.
One of the main elements of eligibility is financial eligibility. For this you may be asked questions such as if you could do this project without funding and if not why. This is just for the funding body to be sure that your funding request is warranted and well thought out. The information will also enable them to more easily decide which applications to take forward.
The rest of this section essentially breaks down into your proposed budget and an assessment of your organisation’s financial need.
The funding body will need to determine how your organisation’s financial capabilities measure against other candidates in order to determine how much funding you should receive proportionally. This involves a lot of information such as unrestricted cash reserves and average monthly operating costs that I am not able to access and are frankly Greek to me. Because of this, I spoke regularly with my manager and our finance department in order to complete this section, dealing only with those subsections that I was qualified to fill out and it may be that you will need to do the same when facing your first funding application as you can’t always know it all.
This section is incredibly important as it will shape the funding body’s understanding of how much you will need to be awarded so be as thorough and detailed as possible. The funding body will want reports on where the money went and whether you were accurate in your budget. If your budget is inaccurate by too wide a margin it may affect your organisation’s ability to gain large sums from the same funding body next time you apply.
When creating your budget be aware that, as Rory Gilomore once said, “a budget is just an estimation” so it can change somewhat as the project develops and issues arise. Someone from the funding body will be assigned as your point of contact for when such instances arise so don’t hesitate to communicate alterations and setbacks with them as, at the end of the day, clear communication is the best way to manage expectations when it comes to funding. Our initial estimation was slightly off as our technical needs for some of the concerts changed by the time the series began. We made our contact aware of the alterations to the budget and this made sure that when it was time to submit our final report the funding body was not surprised by the appearance of these extra costs in our spending report.
Now that you’ve proven you’re eligible for funding you’ll have to evidence why the project is necessary and important. For this you’ll need to look at how your project fits into the funding body’s aims and interests and consider things like how your project relates to inclusion and diversity, why the project needs to happen now and what the consequences would be if the project did not happen. For example, in my application I highlighted numerous research papers that show that the ability to see oneself and one’s own experiences represented in museums is a means through which people often formulate and engage with their own identities. Thus, holding an event series that highlights the voices of Scottish artists that form part of the LGBTQ+ community would enable the museum to redress the potential negative impact of the previous exclusion of such experiences, drawing us closer to being viewed as a safe and inclusive space for this community.
Evidence can come in a whole host of different forms including feedback forms and suggestion box entries, success of previous similar projects/events, letters of support, comments via your organisation’s social media, and research into wider themes in the sector, and I recommend utilising as many forms of evidence as possible in your proposal to increase your chances of success.
Describing how you’ll engage wider audiences:
A major aspect of any funding for a project that involves your audience will be your ability to describe your strategy for engaging wider audiences into your institution. A good way to begin this would be to outline for yourself what your organisation’s current audience is and what work you already do to encourage new audiences. From this you’ll be able to determine which audiences are currently underrepresented for you and can begin to consider how you might go about using your project to encourage them into your venue or to engage with your organisation. Your organisation may already have working relationships with other organisations that could be useful for a collaborative project that could also help you to reach more people.
Once you have determined which audiences your project will aim to encourage you’ll be able to begin describing how you’ll engage these audiences. For this it’s worth considering both the bigger picture and the smaller details of engagement. For instance, our project itself would engage wider audiences because of its use of up-and-coming and popular local artists and its highlighting of LGBTQ+ themes. This was the bigger picture of engagement for the project, but in writing the report we also spoke about the details of how we would target certain audiences. This included; marketing materials designed by an illustrator to give the vibe of the events to encourage specific audiences, handing out fliers at the University of Edinburgh’s welcome week and at events during that week such as the Queer Mixer Party, contacting numerous folk music and queer-coded businesses and organisations to get the word out, placing posters and flyers in areas where young people were more likely to see them i.e. uni campuses, coffee shops, and in the clubbing and live music part of the city, scheduling a variety of posts on our social media to highlight the social aspect of our series as well as the concerts and also providing more information on the artists to interest people in the musical offerings of the events, and utilising cross-account sharing by the artists involved to ensure the word was out among their fan-base. These details helped us to build a solid image of both the macro and micro elements of our method of engagement.
Adhering to outcomes:
In order to convince a funding body to fund your project you’ll need to highlight the ways in which your project aligns with their aims and preferred outcomes. You’ll have already begun to consider this when you determined which grants would be most suited to your project so take that as your starting point. It can sometimes be beneficial to consider previous projects funded by the grant but this is not essential.
Many grants emphasise accessibility, inclusion, and environmental impact. As the heritage sector steadily prioritises these elements more and more, having statement’s on the details of how your project will handle these factors is really important. Your organisation likely has policies on these that you can draw from but you also need to think about your project and any specific details that may require comment.
One tip I’d definitely like to share is to not be afraid of imperfection in your project. The application can actually help you shape a better project so don’t worry if it isn’t perfect when you come to fill out the application as the process of filling it out can push you to improve and consider other avenues for things like inclusion. For example, we increased our collaboration with the artists performing in our series after realising that this would help us better align with Museums Galleries Scotland’s emphasis on the outcome of creating a welcoming and inclusive space.
As I write this we are currently in the midst of the reporting process for our project. Usually, depending on the proposed length of your project, you will have a number of progress reports to complete before your final report at the end of the timeframe. As ours was a short project spanning less than 6 months we only had one progress report to complete. This included providing a short summary on what had been achieved from our proposal and action plan thus far and questions about whether we felt that our final outcomes would be the same, whether our timeline was accurate or if we needed an extension, and if we needed to update our budget. As mentioned above, the grants process is there to support you in order to ensure your project is successful so if your initial budget is incorrect you can alter it during your progress reports and if things don’t go entirely to plan there is the option to extend your project’s timeframe.
A main part of these reports is providing as much evidence as possible to indicate that you are achieving the aims and outcomes that you described in your proposal and this leads us to a discussion of demonstration of impact.
Demonstration of Impact:
This leads us to discussing how we demonstrate our project’s impact. My main takeaway from my first grant application has been to evidence everything that you possibly can! You can never have too much evidence for demonstration of impact and outcomes. Funding applications are two battles, convincing the organisation that you need funding and convincing them that you used it effectively.
Consider carefully all of your project aims and proposed outcomes and how you might show that these have been achieved. In the end our list of evidence included; photos and video from the events, ticket sales, attendance numbers, analytics of attendance, social media statistics, and artist and audience feedback. By doing this we were able to cover all bases with our evidence of impact as we clearly illustrated the impact on the community, both as artists and audience, and how this translated to attendance and ticket sales. It also enabled us to comment on things like whether we had increased attendance from certain demographics.
I would strongly recommend using feedback forms throughout your project if your intent is to do things like create a safe space for certain communities, to collaborate with artists, or to make a site more accessible. Our feedback forms were careful to include questions such as “Do you have any comments or suggestions regarding accessibility for performers?” and “How would you rate St Cecilia’s as a welcoming space for performers from the LGBTQ+ community?” to make sure that responses related to our aims. Feedback from the people who experience your project is invaluable as a means of demonstrating what the project has meant to them and can offer learning experiences regarding what your intended audience may wish you’d done differently.
I also really recommend budgeting for photography and/or videography to provide you with ample evidence of the project and its outcomes. It made our descriptions and use of audience feedback so much more powerful because we had images to illustrate people’ evident enjoyment of the events.
I hope that what this article has provided is some guidance on what applications can look like and what might be expected of you should you choose to apply for funding. I want to just take a moment to condense this into a few top tips:
- Knowledge is power- learn everything you can about the grant and the funding body itself to up your chances of success
- You won’t know it all- sometimes it’s best to hand certain stuff over to your manager or your organisation’s finance department if you don’t know the answer
- Engagement is multi-layered- think about the macro and micro layers of your engagement strategy to make it more comprehensive
- Don’t be afraid of imperfection- budgets, proposals, and timelines are made to fluctuate as your project develops
- Evidence everything!
Ultimately, what I wanted to share in this article is that your first funding application can be daunting but you generally have a team behind you and there will always be someone there to answer your questions and to check over your application. Nobody is expecting you to suddenly know how to do it all perfectly so be kind to yourself and treat your first application as a learning process.
Written by Molly Ashmeade, Youth Forum member