Show Me The Money! Grant Writing Tips for Off-Off-Broadway 

Doug Strassler 
1/23/2008 

“Show me the money!” was a phrase coined by Cameron Crowe more than a decade ago for Jerry Maguire, but it is a notion that has far more dire implications for the theatre world. Many struggling companies, particularly in the Off-Off world, need grant assistance to mount a play or secure theatre space.

How should one go about applying to a grant-making organization? It all starts with a little bit of research. Companies looking for aid need to find sources that would be a good fit for them, organizations that have funded similar artistic endeavors. A grant-making organization usually has priorities or a mission just like a theater company. Find sources with similar goals or projects exploring specific themes. For example, science foundations funded Copenhagen, orientation rights foundations funded Last Sunday in June, and gender equality foundations funded the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wit.

Questions to keep in mind include whetehr the funder’s giving history and priorities soundjust like the project in question, whether it avoids any of their grant exclusions or limitations, if the ask amount is similar to the amount they have granted to others, and if the funder has specific formatting, deadline and report requirements. Additionally, review the foundation’s 990-tax form for typical gift amounts and previous gift recipients. One never knows: there might be board members to whom you are connected.

The next vital step is to foster a relationship with the funder. Ask if they are still accepting applications or proposals for the current year, and when the next meeting is scheduled to review proposals. Find out other specifics as well: do they have a preferred length? Support materials? Specific addresses? Ask if their funding has had specific targets recently to help determine your chances. Invite them to a site visit whether that is an open rehearsal or your current project before the one they might fund.

Send them a letter of inquiry, consisting of one to two pages that outline the company’s identity and mission. Be sure to descibe the project, including why it is important, key staff members, the target audience, budget for the project, budget for the company, and how you plan to evaluate the project’s success. Then send a complete proposal. This should very specifically reflect the guidelines you have gathered from your research and phone conversation or follow up contact after submitting the letter of inquiry.

The last step is to be thorough with following up. Confirm that the grant-maker received all materials and make them feel welcome to visit or ask for further information. If the proposal is accepted, be sure to send them any updates or reports for which they have specified. If the proposal is denied, you can seek feedback on why and use it constructively in future applications.  

Helpful websites:

Do

  • Follow any guidelines and instructions very carefully
  • Have someone outside the project proofread for typos, grammar and clarity
  • Connect with the organization’s program manager or lead board member

Don't

  • Take too long to state your case
  • Mail a proposal cold without some kind of contact first
  • Send the same general boilerplate to all your prospective funders

Special thanks to Hillary Cohen for her assistance with this article.

 

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