Monday, February 12, 2018

6 Lessons I Learned Searching for Grants

I am an animator/media producer and educator. I am developing Anim8Nature to promote environmental stewardship by exploring science with art and careful observation of the natural world. I have received a seed grant but I am seeking additional funding.  InMotion: Squirrel
Are you also running around looking for money and trying to find that golden stash of acorns? This is what I have learned as a newbie after almost two years researching and applying for grants.

Grant writing is universally acknowledged as being a pain in the neck.However, I am finding that it really can be "fun" and transformative. Here's why.

1. Foundations Need You as Much as You Need Them

Charitable organizations are tasked with giving away 5% of their net investment assets each year. That's good news for those of us looking for a small piece of that money. 

2. Lots of Help Out There: Databases and Webinars

There are many resources/databases online. Google searches have introduced me to the Foundation Center as well as FoundantGrantWatch and more. 

After over a year of taking advantage of the Foundation Center's online database, I finally made it to their offices in Washington, DC. When I queried them on the phone why onsite visits are preferable, I was informed it was their knowledgable staff. That is an understatement. I was so grateful for the assistance I got at the Foundation Center, at least 30 minutes of one-on-one when I first arrived and then answers to many questions during my visit. I am working to get my local library here in Lynchburg, VA to join their network.

The biggest take-away from that session at the Foundation Center is to search for organizations that share my projects mission, not just Requests for Proposal. What that meant for me was not looking exclusively for RFP's to fund media projects for elementary school age kids, but researching organizations that support art and science and environmental education. Seems obvious in retrospect.

I have found some webinars extremely helpful. I have taken many webinars offered by the Foundation Center, Foundant, and others and have recently discovered the webinars offered by the Praxis Center for Aesthetics Studies

Jana Hexter's webinar was particularly helpful because she was encouraging us to take the largest view possible of our projects and process as well as thinking the spiritual component of our work. I am currently reading her Grant Writing Revealed PDF available online.

Brainard Carey at the Praxis Center for Aesthetics Studies has also gotten me interested in pursuing funding directly from individual patrons. I have another session with them tomorrow.

3. Building Relationships

I had a great meeting last week with the Community Outreach officer of my bank. It's her job to decide who gets the charity dollars from the bank. I had a chance to talk to her in detail about my dreams for my project, the expertise I bring and how I would use funding. At the end of our 30 minute meeting, I left with a very concrete suggestion on how to frame a proposal and that a fiscal sponsor outside of the state was acceptable. This was a huge step forward.

4. Learning to Articulate the Value of My Project

I have had many independent projects over the 30 years of my career as an artist/animator. They were self-financed because I could and the scope of the projects was manageable. What I now appreciate is the benefit of articulating my mission and the value of my work to get others on board to support the effort and spread the word. The language and even my own understanding of my mission and project are developing with each new iteration and grant proposal and this is a good thing. 

This is where I am right now with my elevator pitch to generate interest and support.

Anim8Nature promotes environmental stewardship by exploring science with art and careful observation of the natural world. Short documentary animations, ideas for exploring science concepts with art and hands-on animation workshops inspire elementary school kids and families to get outdoors, create and care for our natural world.

5.  Staying Flexible

I am modifying my priorities. I love my work as an artist and animator, it makes me happy. I have created over 14 documentary animations for Anim8Nature. You can see them here.  The animations are only one of three components of Anim8Nature, the others being workshops and ideas for traditional and digital creative activities for elementary school kids and their families to explore science with art.

However, the workshops, teaching kids how to explore nature and science with animation have taken on a whole new importance and urgency for me. A significant portion of my grant seeking now is specifically for these workshops. Teaching children has always played a role in my work and I am getting lots of evidence that these workshops are making a difference.

Photo Credit: Lynchburg College
The benefit of the workshops is three fold. Sharing the documentary animations presents ideas that may be new or reinforce what they already know. By creating animations they own that information and demonstrate their proficiency. Workshops in non-traditional settings provide an environment where there are no wrong answers and discovery and failure are equally important.

I firmly believe that learning and understanding facilitate caring and stewardship.

6. Have to Play to Win

This really is the bottom line.  I do believe my odds of receiving more grant funding are much better than my odds to win the lottery, but the reality is the same. You have to play to win.

What you are learning in your grant seeking process?

Want to see your latest InMotion animationI challenge you to see even 10 or 15 seconds of the world around you as a wondrous expression of life on Earth and think about it in new ways.

Here are some links to my tech/art/science workshops that may be of interest.

Learn more about my work and my current project, on this blog and our website.  We have created 14 documentary animations, assembled a team of experts to create media, lesson plans and workshops to help students and families explore science with art. We want to spark curiosity and get kids outside as environmental stewards.

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