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Nina Berman Post by Nina Berman

By Nina Berman on November 10th, 2020

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Grant Applications Are Like Job Applications

Big Ideas | Grants | Tips and Tools | Fundraising

Right now, we’re in the midst of grant season. If you’re looking to get funding for your work through grants, you’re likely to be awash in deadlines and applications. But really, grant season is year-round. You can check out all of our grant opportunities to see proof of that!

When we work with our community of artists to help you raise the funds you need to make your work, we hear the challenges you run into. Some of them are practical–where do you find grants? How do you talk about your art? What missteps should you avoid making? But some of the challenges are more philosophical. Why is it hard to talk about money? How do you figure out your values regarding sources of funding?

To best position yourself with your grant applications, you need to have the right practical advice as well as the right framework to think about grants and the grant application process.

When we published 6 Tips to Improve Your Art Grant Applications, we started to see an obvious parallel to another application that you might be familiar with and frustrated by. It became clear that some of the advice we were giving was similar to advice that works for something that feels very far away from the world of grantmaking: jobs!


Job and Grant Applications Are Challenging for Similar Reasons

The same reasons that you might be frustrated with a job search are similar to the reasons you might be frustrated as you apply for grants. Thinking about how hard it is to get a job or get a grant can make you feel defeated or like you shouldn’t start applying. We hope that isn’t the case! But we do need to acknowledge the real challenges so that we can best approach them.

First of all, there’s a lot of competition. When job-hunting, it can feel discouraging to see how many other people have applied to the same jobs you’re applying to. It can feel like the odds are stacked too high against you. Knowing that there are a lot of other applicants might discourage or frustrate you. I know that it’s been a big challenge as I’ve applied for jobs throughout my career. It can feel this way with grants, too. There is serious competition for a limited number of grants and funding opportunities.

It can be hard to get your foot in the door with both grants and jobs. Without other awards or grants on your CV, it can be hard to get others. Without experience, it’s hard to get a job. But how do you get a job to get that experience in the first place? It can feel like until you get your first grant or your first job, you’ll never get it.

With both jobs and grants, you might feel like you’re sending out a lot of applications into the void. You click submit and send along your materials, without the hope of even getting a rejection back, much less any advice about what you could have done to improve your application.

Applicants for both jobs and grants can bring up similar stresses about whether you deserve the job or the funding. You might experience feelings of inadequacy or imposter syndrome. And then, in order to have the most compelling application for a job or a funding opportunity, you still have to hype yourself up in your cover letter or application materials. It can be a big emotional burden to bear.

The similarities between jobs and grants don’t just end with the challenges. A lot of the advice that can help you best position yourself during a job hunt can help you when applying for grants.


Research Jobs and Grants Before You Apply

Before you apply for a job, you’ll want to research the company or organization beforehand.

First of all, you want to make sure that you actually want to work there. Have there been any major scandals? Is there famously high turnover rate? Is their parent company secretly a weapons manufacturer? Is their board made up of people who commit war crimes? Do they seem aligned with your values enough for you to want to work for them (or collect a paycheck from them until something better comes along)?

Next, you want to research a potential job before you apply because it will make for a stronger application. Does it seem like your skills and experience would be a good fit for them? What is a company or organization’s tone, e.g. are they very casual or more buttoned-up? What terms and ideas are important to them? In the same way that you might be more formal when applying to a traditional office job versus a position at a tech startup, you’ll want your research to guide how you tweak your application and the tone you use when you write.

These same principles apply to the grant application process. We recommend that artists research institutions ahead of time to see if they are a good fit for your project. Does a funder have a history of supporting work like yours? Do they have a generally positive reputation among other artists? Then, see how the funder presents itself and its values. What is most important to them? How can you use that information to present your work in a way most likely to show how well you align with a funder’s mission? Researching ahead of time will help you spend your time and energy on applications for opportunities with institutions that you really want to work with, and to best present yourself to those institutions.


Customize Your Grant Applications

Job hunters know that if you’re on the search for a new gig, you’re applying to a lot of jobs at once. They’ll probably be similar, too. This means that your resume and cover letters for these jobs will be similar. But they shouldn’t be the same. In order to stand out, you’ll need to make it clear that you have taken the time to learn about the place you’re applying to and the role you’re applying for . And that you, specifically, are a good fit for that job, specifically. Tailoring your application to the organization and company will help your application stand out and demonstrate that you understand their mission and goal, and can help them achieve it.

Similarly, if you’re applying for a lot of grants, your applications will likely be similar from one grant to the next. But, they should still be uniquely tailored to the funder. As we mentioned in our 6 Tips to Improve your Art Grant Applications, it’s not advised to just copy and paste the same application materials across multiple funding opportunities. You need to show that your specific project and creative vision aligns with the funder’s specific goals, community, and audience.

To customize your applications for jobs and grants, look for keywords. If you notice a funder repeating a few keywords about their goal or mission, make sure to include those words in your application. It’s the same principle that you’d use when including keywords from a job posting in your cover letter. It’s helpful for the people reviewing your application, especially if they are scanning a lot of applications quickly.


Grants and Jobs Are About Partnerships, Not Handouts

Even when you are at your most desperate for a job or for grant funding, you should consider the relationship should be mutually beneficial rather than an act of charity. You get something from the grant or the job, and they get something from you.

With a job, it’s a little more clear. You are selling your labor power–your skills, experience, time, and energy–in order for them to further their own goals. Those goals could be to further their mission, to sell more product, or something else entirely.

Grant recipients receive the support you need to make your work; to get the supplies, rent space and equipment, and pay contributors. Funders get to further their mission through partnerships with artists and arts organizations.

As a job applicant, you position yourself most strongly when you can show that whoever is hiring wants you on their team; that they will benefit from your presence. Similarly, you position yourself well as a grant recipient when you can approach the application from a position of telling the funder how exciting your work is and how much they should want to be a part of it.


We’re Here To Share Our Grant Expertise

Fractured Atlas is staffed by a team of artists, creatives, and nonprofit folks who know our way around grants. We know what it’s like to go through the whole process of grant applications for our own projects and have years of experience guiding our members through grant applications. We even review every grant application where we are named as the fiscal sponsor.

We understand firsthand that the process can be daunting, frustrating, and disappointing as much as it can be empowering, encouraging, and uplifting. That’s why we’re dedicated to sharing our knowledge and experience as broadly as possible. Ultimately, we want all artists to get the support you need to make the work that speaks to you!

We share what works, what doesn’t work, and grant opportunities for artists.

More posts by Nina Berman

About Nina Berman

Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.