By Gigi Rosenberg
Bret Fetzer, playwright and writer, knows grantwriting from both sides of the table. He has won grants from Seattle's Artist Trust and from King County, Washington's 4Culture and now works part-time at 4Culture with the panelists who decide which artists win funding.
To write a strong grant application, Fetzer advises applicants to "have somebody else read over your application. Have them ask: Are you communicating what you mean?"
"When panelists are discussing 100-250 grants, they have three minutes to discuss each individual grant application," he said. Although they've all read the applications ahead of time, three minutes doesn't leave them enough time to decipher an application that's not written clearly.
"Panelists want to understand what they're giving money to and fund the project that has the best chance of actually happening. If they can't get a clear picture, they're not going to fund it," he said.
In his own grants, Fetzer uses his considerable skills as a writer to craft applications that tell a story. He advises grant writers to "write about what you've been doing, what you are doing now, and how this new project is a movement forward. This puts your project in context," he said. "Everybody is drawn to something moving forward."
For more than 20 years, Fetzer has been writing original fairy tales set in the traditional fairy-tale settings of European forests, Arabian deserts, and Chinese mountainsides. His stories have been published in three collections including Tooth & Tongue (Rampant Books, 2002).
For a recent project, he wanted to write new fairy tales that took place in an "American milieu where cigarettes were totems instead of the swords in European fairy tales," he said. So he set his American fairy tales in a setting that was half Appalachia and half dust bowl.
In his application he explained how his new stories were an outgrowth of his previous work. "My application gave panelists a clear idea of movement and progress," he said.
He didn't go on about how his stories addressed big American issues, which is abstract, he explained. He talked about how the new stories allowed him to draw on his childhood in Texas and Kentucky. That was something the panelists could understand and relate to.
Fetzer received $1300 through an Artist Trust grant, which was half his total budget. The grant paid for his time to write the new stories and the costs of a public performance after the stories were completed.
Fetzer's five tips for better grant writing:
Be simple and direct.
Tell a story.
Have someone who doesn't know your work read your application and make sure you're not taking anything for granted.
Serve on a grant panel.
"One of the most instructive things you can do is to read through 200 grant applications. So, call your local arts agency and volunteer to sit on a grant panel," Fetzer advised. After 200 applications, you'll know what works and what doesn't.
Fetzer is also artistic director at Seattle's Annex Theater and can be reached through their website.
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.