The following information is offered in good faith to assist individuals and organisations to prepare applications. It is based on more than 10 years experience of seeking public funding across a range of portfolios and represents a personal view. Please feel free to comment or suggest additions by contacting South East Arts.
Decide Your Objectives
Before trying to find the right funding program, it is important to be able to articulate just what you're trying to achieve and a rough idea of the resources needed. Funding programs are increasingly competitive with strict guidelines and selection criteria. They generally will not support retrospective activity nor provide 100% of funds required for a project and may not fit in with your timeframe. It may be that seeking sponsorship or undertaking fundraising is a more effective way of getting what you need. (Even if you proceed with applying for a grant, there is often an expectation of income from other sources such as fundraising and sponsorship).
Find the Right Program
There is an extensive range of funding programs offered by federal, state and local governments with different objectives and eligibility criteria. It is important to match your project to the most appropriate program and this can only be done through research and investigation. Get on the phone or the web and talk to staff, get hold of annual reports and media releases which include listings of previous grant recipients and projects, keep an eye on the papers for advertisements of grant rounds.
Some of the best links for funding programs are:
Regional Arts NSW: www.regionalartsnsw.com.au
NSW Government: www.communitybuilders.nsw.gov.au
Federal Government: www.grantslink.gov.au
Once you've identified the right funding program, obtain a copy of the guidelines and read carefully. It may be that the project you're considering will need some modification to better suit the objectives of the program. Co-funding (grants from more than one source) is generally favourably viewed so consider if different parts/stages of the project can be supported by other programs.
Plan Ahead - Leave Plenty of Time
Don't underestimate the time needed to complete the application properly, particularly if audited statements, business plans and letters of support are required attachments. Most funding programs have at least one round per year although this varies (NSW Heritage is once every 2 years). It is often better to wait for the next round and take the time to prepare a strong application than try and meet the deadline in a rush.
Introduce Yourself Personally
Most funding programs are generally managed by a particular member of staff within an organisation. Make contact and introduce your project to ensure you are applying to the right program, ask questions, find out whatever you can about program priorities, decision making process, amounts previously given and endeavour to establish a positive relationship with the person involved.
Now it's time to grapple with the detail of your project. Read through the application form and get a sense of the information required. Most applications will require a project description, objectives, background, timeframe, personnel, logistics, budget and evaluation strategies. I always recommend starting with the budget as it requires a whole lot of questions to be answered - who will be employed, for how long, at what rate, what venues will be needed, how will the project be marketed, what are the likely production expenses etc. With a detailed budget worked out, it is much easier to provide specific answers for other sections of the application. (e.g. plans, drawings, letters of support, media clippings, visual material, quotes, certificate of currency and incorporation)
Most applications either allow for support material or specifically request it. If letters of support are required from other organisations it may take more than four weeks to obtain such a letter from a volunteer group which only meet monthly. Don't underestimate the importance of support material or how long it may take to acquire. Ask early, ask nicely and ensure people have the right information to supply what you require in time.
Responding to the Questions
Try to ensure your responses on the form are as clear and concise as possible - simple language and no waffle. Don't presume that the funding panel will know anything about your organisation or issues for your community so endeavour to provide a context for why the project is significant. The challenge here is to make sure your argument for the project addresses the funding criteria. It's not about why you want the project to happen so much as why they should support it in terms of the stated criteria.
This is a really useful way of ensuring you've presented the information in the best possible way. Do they have a clear picture of what is being proposed, why it is needed and how it will be managed? Most writing benefits from editing which will generally improve and strengthen your proposal.
Variance from the Application
If the form says don't use more space, don't refer to attachments and don't bind or staple, then don't. Clarify if the funding deadline is the date that the application has to be received or is the date that it can be postmarked. Some programs request a specific number of copies to be lodged and make sure you retain at least one copy for your own records. Some applications can be lodged electronically (not many) but most require a signature which necessitates a hard copy. As a courtesy include a covering letter which can also provide one last opportunity to include supportive information not covered in the application.
Depending on the funding program, it may be appropriate to undertake some lobbying and advocacy for your application with members of the assessment panel or state and federal politicians. Find out from the program manager what is accepted practice, act accordingly and cross your fingers.
Ask for Feedback
As stated in the beginning, funding programs are competitive and you may not be successful in the first instance. However, you are certainly entitled to ask for feedback from the program manager. The information you get will vary from program to program but you should be in a position to gauge whether it is worth revising the application and lodging in a subsequent round.
There's nothing quite like getting that letter indicating your project has received support. After some well earned celebration, you will be required to sign a grant deed or conditions of funding agreement that details your obligations in accepting the grant including acquittal arrangements. Essentially, you will be expected to account for all financial dealings, report on activities and importantly, but often overlooked, acknowledge the funding source in all promotional material.