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Let’s Talk About Grant Writing

I love to share stories about being a statistician, professor, and live event expert. But did you know that grant writing is also one of your Event Professor’s skills? 
 
Throughout my decades of work with cultural, sports, and non-profit organizations, I have assisted hundreds of clients with grant writing and reporting, helping them secure millions in government funding.
 
Grant writing is a crucial skill. Since I began teaching event management a decade ago, I have insisted that my students complete real government grant applications as a major assignment. I also host a grant writing panel discussion every year, where experienced writers share valuable thoughts and tips with our students. 
 
As an added bonus, these panels often feature government grant reviewers, as they more than anyone can appreciate education and training in grant writing.

ADVICE FROM THE EXPERTS

In our panel discussions, both experts and reviewers usually share the same basic advice. Before starting an application, you should always try to contact the office to ensure that both your organization and project fit their criteria. Most granting organizations publish phone numbers or email addresses, and responses are often prompt and friendly.

Next, accept that you must start early. It is nearly impossible to write even a short application in one day. It can take weeks to assemble the information needed to complete all the sections, plus multiple edits to polish your wording and fit it within the designated word count. 
 
My favorite advice I’ve heard from grant reviewers is to avoid copy and pasting text from one section to the next to fill up space. It’s a dead giveaway that the application was rushed and will quickly land you in the reject pile.

MY OWN ADVICE

Now for my own advice. A common mistake many beginner grant writers make is focusing all their efforts on a creative, world-changing, once-in-a-lifetime idea at the expense of other details.

Oftentimes, the creative portion of the scoring criteria is relatively low compared to administrative sections like organizational structure and budget estimates. Be sure to give equal attention to those less exciting sections. 

The market researcher in me also wants to remind you that it’s far easier to pitch any idea when you back it up with facts. Quotes from industry studies, subject matter experts, or your own customer surveys can help convince reviewers that your concept will be successful.
 
Finally, reviewers typically have a wide knowledge of business, but they won’t be experts in every niche. So, paint a picture of something that most people find relatable. Use household names, if possible.

For example, if you’re a folk music festival and your creative director wants funding to bring in an obscure up-and-coming artist from a faraway nation, reviewers could see that as a risky proposition. However, if you propose hiring a major recording star to perform a “folk set”, the idea is instantly more relatable and should have a better chance of approval. This strategy may not be popular with your artistic leadership, but sometimes a grant writer’s role is to convince their team that compromises are necessary!

IN-HOUSE OR PROFESSIONAL WRITERS?

Everyone agrees that the grant writing process is very time-consuming, so some larger organizations have dedicated government relations or business development managers responsible for grant applications. Others engage professional grant writers who work on a fee-per-application basis. 

Do not be concerned that grant reviewers will penalize organizations who hire an external writer. Many reviewers have told me that they appreciate professional writers and welcome direct dialogue with them. Reviewers are busy people, so clear, straightforward applications are easier for them to read and score.
 
The professional writers who have visited my class typically charge $5,000 to $10,000 per application, which is well worth it when you consider that grant awards can be over 10 times that amount. Writers still get paid if the application is unsuccessful, but many will offer unlimited free rewrites until you get funded.
 
If you’re hiring a pro, try to get some of the post-award reporting included within their fee, as this can often be as much work as the application itself.

Another time-saving strategy is to ask related subject matter experts to create text for your application. For instance, if you are applying to fund a renovation, you could ask bidders to provide 100-word work descriptions along with their quotes. Experienced suppliers should be able to produce concise, technical wording, and you can save time by adapting their text for your application. My clients frequently request this when applying for research grants.

BUILD A RELATIONSHIP

Experts also agree that once you receive a grant, it is important to keep communication flowing by submitting reports on time. Many granting organizations will be flexible if circumstances and programs change, as long as you inform them in advance.
 
However, funders can be less forgiving of changes when they learn of them later on. Be aware that organizations and even individuals who sign off on applications can be found financially liable if funds are misused.
 
Like many things in business, government grant writing can be rewarding when well-executed, but disastrous when done poorly. So, you should never be afraid to ask for help. Your Event Professor is always happy to share insights and make new friends!
 
I have researched 1000+ events worldwide and love to share stories. Please contact me if you want to discuss anything from visitor surveys to economic impact to sponsorship ROI measurement.
 
Want to know more about life as an Enigma researcher? Visit us on LinkedInFacebook, or our profile on Instagram.
 
 
Yours in 938 words,
 
Michael, The Event Professor

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Some Events we’ve surveyed:

US Open of Surfing
Indianapolis 500
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Canadian Music Week
Event Marketing Summit
Vancouver Film Festival
Anime Boston
San Diego County Fair
Walt Disney World Florida Classic
EDC Las Vegas
New York Auto Show
Lollapalooza
Detroit NAIAS
Montreal Just for Laughs
NFL Pro Bowl
Toronto Jazz Festival
Shanghai Storm EDM Festival
Pride Toronto
Red Bull Flugtag
Dublin Irish Festival
Calgary Stampede
FanExpo
Daytona 500
NASC Symposium
Electric Zoo
WrestleMania
WWE Summer Slam
Orange Bowl
Nickelodeon SlimeFest
2012 Final Presidential Debate
Miami Auto Show
Boots and Hearts Music Festival
Chicago Auto Show
Governor’s Ball Music Festival
Edmonton Fringe Festival
Beyond Wonderland
Honens International Piano Competition
Comedy Central Clusterfest
MTV SnowGlobe Music Festival
Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival
Orlando Bowl Week
International Plowing Match
ACL Music Festival
Lone Star Rally
Red Bull Air Race
State Fair of Texas
LA X-Games
Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival