ree money with no strings attached. Such is the stuff dreams are made of...especially the dreams of struggling writers. Who hasn't wanted to find a magical pot of funds enabling one to quit the job and write the greatest novel ever read? Then the dawn breaks and we awaken to reality with its responsibilities, bills and too little time to write. No such wishes get granted, and we plod on.
Surprisingly, grants happen. While every writer who wants to take time off cannot obtain such a check, these handouts do occur. Like anything to do with writing, they take effort to reach. But ask the people who've won them, and you'll meet writers who count their lucky stars they took the time to seek these freebies that gave them opportunity to spin their words.
Grants come in all shapes and sizes. They can be as small as a $100 or as much as $50,000. They are called fellowships, scholarships, assistantships, grants and awards. They are numerous and competitive, not unlike contests and publishing contracts.
Studying grant sources is like finding that perfect agent or publisher - lots of research. Grant funds aren't unclaimed dollars waiting for someone to snatch them up. They are investments of people, companies and charities that want to make a difference in the literary world by offering money to writers who they feel can make an impact. They want a return on that investment in the form of a polished product, an enlightened writer or assistance in educating others.
Your duties as an applicant are these:
- Understand the mission of the grantor.
- Read the guidelines of the grant.
- Prepare a flawless grant application.
- Deliver the application per instructions.
Sound simple? The process is no simpler than that and as simple as submitting to a magazine publisher or a literary contest. Your rejection rate is the same. Your attention to detail counts just as much. Yet you've probably never considered applying for a grant.
Grant sources fall into three general categories:
- Government sources.
- Foundations and nonprofits.
Government sources consist of agencies. At the federal level, you find grants, mainly through the National Endowment for the Arts (www.nea.gov), the National Endowment for the Humanities (www.neh.gov), the National Park Service (www.nps.gov), and the State Department (www.state.gov). They range from training grants of a few hundred dollars to overseas exchanges with other journalists. You can land a retreat in a national park or a $20,000 fellowship.
The most well known is the NEA. Its $20,000 awards are commonly recognized, but upon reviewing the website, you'll see awards related to arts education, radio, and translation works as well. The creative writing fellowships are designed for published writers.
Why should a grant go to a published writer when so many others cannot find a publisher, land a contract or even intrigue an agent to represent them? This frequently asked question has a simple explanation. To qualify for a "writing" grant, one must be a writer. Until you can demonstrate your abilities through published credits, others do not recognize you as a writer. You are still working at becoming one. A painful explanation, but understandable. For that reason, a grant should not entice you to write or prohibit you from writing. And when you consider the grantor wants a bang for the buck they invest in the recipient, they have a better likelihood of seeing a quality product from a published writer.
The NEH offers training stipends and other chances, but keep in mind that the NEH stands for the humanities; therefore, your project or mission should be humanities directed. As a result, writing projects must involve education whether formally or in teaching the public about the humanities. What are the subjects that fit the definition?
According to the 1965 National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, "The term 'humanities' includes, but is not limited to, the study of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life."
State government offer grants as well through state arts commissions or councils. Their names change from state to state, but they are incorporated within the state bureaucracy. Start at the NEA website and click on the Partners link to find your state or territory. No two states are alike, and the size of the state doesn't matter. Huge states like California have had financial difficulties in recent years yet smaller states like Illinois have a wide array of funds.
State agencies receive funds from the federal level and state coffers. They usually require residency status. They probably have an individual artist fellowship and an arts-in-education program.
Outside the United States, you'll find ample grant structures in Canada (www.canadacouncil.ca), the United Kingdom (www.artscouncil.org.uk), Australia (www.ozco.gov.au) and New Zealand (www.creativenz.govt.nz). Exchange programs appear with countries such as Japan, Mexico, Germany, France and occasionally Western Asia.
FOUNDATIONS AND NONPROFITS
The United States tax structure enables the establishment of foundations and nonprofits that serve charitable causes. Writing sometimes falls under this umbrella. Studying foundations takes more intensity that the government agencies, because foundations have missions that direct the use of funds. Don't confuse nonprofits and foundations. One is a tax status and the other is a title. They can be considered one and the same. For ease, we'll use the term nonprofit.
Nonprofits can be affiliated with anything. The key to landing grants with them is to market your project with their mission in mind. For simplicity's sake, let's consider state nonprofit art organizations. Often confused with state art councils that are government affiliated, these state nonprofits also limit funds to residents. You can learn more about them and find those in your state at the website for the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (www.nasaa-arts.org).
Some nonprofits are regional. The Jerome Foundation leans towards grants to artists in the Minnesota and New York City areas. Other foundations like the Bush Foundation cover Minnesota, North and South Dakota. The Kentucky Foundation for Women only funds in Kentucky.
Then you have nonprofits that limit subject matter. A Room of Her Own offers a lucrative $50,000 fellowship to women fiction writers.
Retreats and residencies often fall under nonprofit. The MacDowell Colony (www.macdowellcolony.org), Yaddo artist community (www.yaddo.org) and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown (www.fawc.org) are well-known examples. They operate with tax-free funds from donors and art council support and provide fabulous residencies for qualifying writers.
A great general resource for finding foundations is The Foundation Center (www.fdncenter.org). This organization specializes in the affairs of American foundations, and the website is phenomenal. Sign up for newsletters that announce grant openings as they occur.
One road block you may find with nonprofits and foundations is their desire to grant to other nonprofits. Two ways to work within this obstacle are:
- Partner with a nonprofit in your writing endeavor, and let the nonprofit acquire the grant and incorporate you in your joint mission with them.
- Ask a nonprofit to serve as fiscal sponsor for you.
Fiscal sponsorship is simply where the nonprofit applies for a grant on your behalf and manages the funds for you. They hold responsibility to report on your progress and often hold an administrative fee from the proceeds. While the concept sounds complicated, it isn't. A great explanation of the fiscal agent route can be read at The Foundation Center's website where a tutorial is available.
The majority of nonprofit funds goes to other nonprofits. Via a fiscal agent, you open the door to countless other grants and improve your chances for funding.
Don't forget schools. Many universities offer visiting scholar status to writers and residency opportunities with stipend, room and board in exchange for teaching a class, giving readings or mentoring students. These chances are channeled through the creative writing departments, sometimes affiliated with the literary journal.
Elementary, middle and high schools have artist-in-residence grants for guest writers, with visits varying from a few hours to weeks at a time. Schools have ample access to grant funds from foundations and state agencies. You can inquire about these through either the state arts council or the schools themselves, preferably with a teacher comfortable with the grant process.
Hopefully, this general overview of grants lends light on the subject, making you realize that funds exist for writers. Whether you want to get away and write or desire to attend training, work with others in a colony or study alone, a writer can find aid in more than a midnight dream.
C. Hope Clark is founder and editor of FundsforWriters.com. She's written for Writer's Digest, The Writer, Byline Magazine, Turf Magazine, Landscape Management, Next Step Magazine and more. She served 25 years with a lending/grant agency of the US federal government.