Seven tips for successful funding applications

Darryl de Prez, head of development at the Whitechapel Gallery, co-led the workshop How to Write a Grant Application​ at the gallery earlier this year, developed in partnership with the Art Fund. Here he shares his tips on how to write great grant applications.

Tree of Life by Rachel Whiteread, 2011–2. Art Funded in 2012. © The artist / Photo: Guy Montagu-Pollock @ Arcaid & Photo © Marcus Dawes 2012

Tree of Life by Rachel Whiteread, 2011–2. Art Funded in 2012.


© The artist / Photo: Guy Montagu-Pollock @ Arcaid & Photo © Marcus Dawes 2012

1. Quality over quantity

A scattergun approach to sending funding applications – submitting generic proposals to hundreds of foundations – is rarely successful enough to justify the time invested and can antagonise potential funders. Spend this time wisely by identifying a smaller number of key prospects for whom the project is an excellent fit, based on their funding criteria, charitable interests, history of grant giving and level of donations.

2. Pay attention to the funders

Do not ignore funders’ advice and follow their guidance closely. Most major grant-giving organisations issue clear guidance on their websites and some employ staff who can help with advice and information. If you find that you are struggling to meet guidelines or are tempted to ignore advice, it is a sign that this funder is not a good match to your project. Pay particular attention to funding deadlines and try to avoid last-minute submissions.

3. Spend more time on project development than fundraising

A perfectly crafted proposal is worthless if the project it presents is not robust, convincing and achievable. Spend as much time as necessary on project development before beginning to make any approaches. Avoid the temptation to piece together a project in order to meet funding deadlines. Grant-givers will usually see straight through a project that has been created to capitalise on available pots of funding, rather than as an integral part of the organisation’s mission and business plan.

4. Watch your language

Every industry, sector or group has its internal jargon, which is often used without thinking by insiders but is impenetrable to everyone else. Take time to reread proposals with an eye for jargon or, better yet, ask someone external to read it. Do not use abbreviations unless you explain them in the first instance of use. Avoid adjectives unless you can really justify them – if you describe a project as pioneering then you have to explain how or why it is pioneering.

5. Know your numbers

Make sure you have a good grip on the figures and that you can read a budget and balance sheet. Be prepared to justify project costs or to explain reserves policies. Always ensure that project budgets are as accurate as possible and include as many related costs as possible, including overheads where appropriate. It is better to have a high but realistic budget than to underestimate or deliberately under-cost the project and then run out of funding.

6. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate

It is important to consider monitoring and evaluation as a fundamental part of any project, and to include this in any funding application (including the budget). Monitoring and evaluation – throughout the project and not just at the end – demonstrates to the funder that you are serious about learning from each piece of work, about informing future activity and sharing best practice with peers.

7. Don’t hide problems

Once funding is received and the project is underway, be open and honest with the funder about progress. Report back regularly (according to the funder’s requirements) and be prepared to share problems as well as successes. Funders can often help if the project hits a stumbling block and it is better for them to know earlier rather than later if there are serious problems. Always think about the longer term relationship and don’t burn any bridges with potential future partners by keeping them in the dark.

Find out more about our recent curatorial workshops at the Whitechapel Gallery.

Venue details

Whitechapel Gallery Greater London E1 7QX

Entry details

Admission to charging exhibitions £6 with National Art Pass (Standard admission £11.95)

Tags: Supporting museums