To fund her radio documentaries, Borten has won more than half a million dollars in grants for projects that have aired on National Public Radio and Public Radio International. Her latest program was a 33-part series A Sense of Place, which chronicled the lives of Americans from Montana to Brooklyn.
Her interview subjects run the gamut from WWII veterans, fly fisherman, Cajun shrimpers, summer camp alumni, prostitutes to the Snake Lady.
Is there was one thing that links all her subjects? "I didn't realize this until after the fact," said Borten recently from her home base in Manhattan. "Almost every story is about outsiders. I've interviewed prisoners wrongly convicted, Vietnamese immigrants in Cajun Country. All my subjects are outsiders and underdogs. These are the stories that appeal to me."
What are her secrets for successful grant writing? "You have to start with an idea and ask: What's my goal?"
Then as you edit, delete all adjectives. "When funders read hype, they just yawn. Hype is meaningless to them. So cut the hype and be matter of fact," she said. The only exception to this rule, said Borten, is that you can always quote other people, preferably well-known people, describing your work. "Let somebody else use the adjectives," she advised.
When Borten first started writing grants, she didn't pay enough attention to marketing and distribution, but now as a seasoned grant writer, she knows that you must have a detailed plan so that your project will reach its intended audience.
Also, your budget must be realistic. "The budget shows that you've done your homework and that you know what things cost," she said. You want the funder to look at the budget and think: "This is a pro."
Borten encourages beginning grant writers to thoroughly research potential funders. "You must pick an appropriate target," she said and that means finding a funder who wants to fund your kind of project.
Borten's five tips for successful grant writing:
Be concrete and specific.
Thoroughly research potential funders.
Design a marketing plan that demonstrates you know your audience.
Create a realistic budget that shows your professionalism.
Provide the best work sample you can.
"The idea is important, but your work sample shows that you can do something," she said. "There's no question that the yes or no will hinge on the work sample. It shows that you can deliver."
To hear Borten's radio documentaries, go to http://www.prx.org/user/hebo.
Gigi Rosenberg's essays and how-to articles have appeared in the Seal Press anthology The Maternal is Political, Parenting, Writer's Digest, The Writer and on Oregon Public Radio. She receives rave reviews for the grant writing workshops she leads at NYC's Foundation Center and Chicago's Self Employment in the Arts. She has performed her monologues throughout the Pacific Northwest and now coaches writers how to give stellar public readings and write winning grant applications.