In Canada, all three levels of government (federal, provincial and municipal) provide funding programs for the arts that require a form or ‘grant’ application. We call these Public Funders.
Private foundations or companies also ask for grant applications for projects. We call these Private Funders.
Depending on the funder, there may not be a grant application form, but rather a call for an Artist Statement or ‘proposal’. These typically include many of the components of a grant application, but are presented in a business or grant writing style.
Before you start grant writing, it is often helpful to have prepared an Artist Statement. This can help inform how you talk about your artistic career and how it relates to your project.
Public Funders such as the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, and Toronto Arts Council may offer access support. This can include staff support, advice, dedicated materials, alternatives to filling in a ‘grant form,’ or financial support for a support worker.
- Canada Council for the Arts Accessibilty Support
- Toronto Arts Council Accessibility Support
- Ontario Arts Council Alternative Services and Application Processes include accommodations for Deaf persons and persons with disabilities, for persons with limited internet access , and oral applications for Indigenous persons.
Learn more about grant writing and the resources available for Deaf artists by watching our video in ASL below!
The video above is a vLog on public funding for the arts in Canada and how and when to apply as an artist whose primary language is ASL.
Grant Writing Checklist
- Develop an idea or project.
- Make an Artist Statement or Artistic CV.
- Do you have access requirements? Check for a funder’s 'accessibility' page or send an email to the general account asking what might be available.
- Review the Evaluation Criteria, Guidelines, and Deadline. Private and public funders can be individually, institutionally, or corporate social responsibility motivated (when a business or corporation sets societal goals that are philanthropic, activist, or charitable nature). The motivations of every funder will influence what projects are prioritized. Understanding how decisions are made when applying can really impact the success of your application.
- Review the questions and sketch out your answers. Answer in point form with as much specificity as possible:
- What do you want to do?
- Where will it take place?
- When will it happen?
- Who will participate (sometimes called beneficiaries)?
- Why is this project or idea needed?
- How will you know that you've been successful (sometimes called evaluation and monitoring)?
- Make an appointment to talk to the granting officer to review your idea and eligibility.
- Follow the instructions outlined in the grant guidelines and on the application form.
- Work out your budget - does it match your activity and outcomes?
- Have a friend in the arts read it.
- Have a friend outside the arts read it.
- Give it a final check yourself.
- Plan to submit with time to spare.
- Funders who accept online applications often experience high volumes of applications right at the deadline - be prepared to submit at least 24 hours before the deadline to avoid any system errors.
Things to know before you start your grant
- A person or person(s) will read your grant and they will often be reading hundreds of applications. They may or may not come from your artistic discipline. Remember to be succinct and clear so that they can understand who you are, what you're about, and why you're applying to them - in as few words as possible.
- For larger Private Funders and Public Funders, there are people called ‘grant officers’ whose role it is to facilitate the adjudication process. Grant officers support applicants and the peer review process (in some cases), and are there to answer any questions you have before, during, and after the grant application process. Grant officers do not determine who receives funding.
- Grant applications are a process and require resilience. Be prepared to have to reapply and to approach more than one funder for any given project. Success rates vary depending on the funder, so be prepared for all possible outcomes. A 'no' means not now, not this project, or not this organization.
- There are often limits per year and/or restrictions regarding how many grants you can receive and apply for depending on the funder. For example, Canada Council has annual limits, but there are exceptions (you can find the details here). Be sure to check the guidelines around limits and restrictions for each funder.
- Deadlines differ depending on the organization; ensure you check the date of the deadline, as well as the time , and time zone, it is due that day.
- If applying as a collective or ad hoc, choose your name wisely. The name that you put on your application will be the name that your cheque gets made out to if you are successful (and must be associated with a bank account).
- If you are successful and are awarded a grant from a Public Funder you will have to submit a mandatory final report to the funding body once the project is complete. If you are awarded a grant from a Private Funder, they may require an interim report, final report, or meeting to discuss agreed outcomes and the success of your project.
During the grant writing process
- Make yourself a checklist of all the questions the grant application asks.
- Make sure you answer every question clearly and within the word count.
- Write the grant in your voice and as though you are writing to your peers, not as if you are writing a formal essay. See guidance on Artist Statements for suggestions on tone.
- A good practice is to type your grant into a separate program (such as a Google document) that counts words/characters to ensure you are spreading out your words/characters appropriately.
- Partnerships matter. Make sure you have confirmed or spoken to individuals or organizations you mention in your application, as these are often verified during the review process. You are also able to specify the stage of involvement - for example you could say 'we are in conversation with this artist' or 'we are thinking of asking this artist to be part of the project'.
- Some funders require artist bios or email confirmation of participation. Ask for this information early in the grant writing process. Word documents are often preferred as a format to receive this information as you might have to consolidate it to upload to certain funders' systems.
- You should not exaggerate in your application in any way — you never know who may end up reading it on the jury or peer assessment committee.
- Don’t be afraid to ask a grant officer a question when you are stuck with something — they are there to help.
- If there isn’t a specific application form, keep your proposal to four pages (unless the funder specifies a particular length).
With many project-based grants you will be asked to include support material. This may include:
- Short video clips
- Audio material
- Still images
- Script excerpts
- Previous posters or programs
- Letters of support
- Artist biographies
- Articles of incorporation and/or audited accounts (if applicable)
You should always have some artistic support material to serve your application, regardless of what the grant is asking for. It is important to remember that these materials are there to support your written narrative. It is worth investing time and money into creating artistic support materials that support your vision and relate to your application. Think about what you will be submitting as support material early on in the grant writing process. Sometimes you are unable to show exact materials that reference your idea - in these situations it is best to share materials that support your artistic ideas more generally or show your artistic capacity.
Support Material Tips:
- Accessibility: When putting together your support material, keep in mind the accessibility needs of the peer assessors. Consider how the accessibility of your support material aligns, supports, or contradicts the accessibility goals of your project. Check out Accessible Websites, Graphics, Videos and Documents for more information on creating accessible content.
- Video: If it is not mandatory, ask yourself if it is necessary to include. It is recommended that your video be no longer than 3 min. Ensure your video is linked to the section(s) you want the jury or peer assessors to refer to, or identify the specific section of your video that the jury or peer assessors should look at. Consider including audio description, ASL, and/or transcripts.
- Music/Audio Samples: Not always necessary. If the project is a musical, or music-based, you should most definitely have some samples of the music. Check which platforms the funder supports and has access too. For example: Youtube, Vimeo, Soundcloud, Twitch, Instagram, Google Drive etc.
- Script: Send in your best 20 pages (or so). You are encouraged to then give context to the scene that the jury is going to read. They do not need the entire script.
- Letters of Recommendation/Support: Submit if they are written by someone who knows the project and/or who can speak to your knowledge and ability to do the project set forth in the grant.
- Reviews: Send in good reviews, not mediocre or bad ones. Pull quotes are fine, but pick strategic ones, not ones that are general/common phrases. A collection of sections from different reviews is also great and helpful. Avoid screenshots in your support material as they are incompatible with screen-readers. If you do use screenshots, consider including alt text or image descriptions with the file.
Find tips from the OAC on Preparing Effective Support Material for Theatre, Dance and Performance-Based Multi and Inter-Arts here or watch the video below!
- It is suggested that your budget be submitted for the project as you want to make it - don’t deflate or inflate expenses.
- It is recommended to show multiple sources of revenue within your budget.
- If necessary, add a rationale to explain things within your budget as it is helpful for the jury to have context for the numbers you are providing. This can either be in the 'notes' column of the budget form provided or as an additional document with explanations. For example, a note may read '10 artists at the Equity rates of $XXX/day x XX days'.
- Where applicable, reference the relevant body for fair rates of pay for your industry. For example: SOCAN, Canadian Actors' Equity Association, CADA East/West, etc.
- Include a budget line for accessibility initiatives.
After grant results:
- The demand for grants is overwhelming, so if you don’t get the grant, it isn’t necessarily because your application wasn’t good. As we said before, 'no' means not now, not this project or not this organization.
- Always ask for feedback! It is recommended to ask for feedback within 2-3 months of receiving your grant results. It is always a good idea to get feedback, and granting organizations are often happy to offer it, whether you received the grant or not. Timing of feedback may be impacted by the volume of applications received.
- Fundraising and grant writing is a relationship business. Whether or not you’ve been successful, remember to write a thank you email or thank you note to the relevant staff person, grant officer or board member. They might be a future advocate of your work on another project.
- Thanking your elected politician at the level of government you were successful at (Canada Council - MP; Provincial Arts Council - MLA; Municipal Arts Council - as per your city) goes a long way; after all, they are the ones who help distribute the money!
- If there are changes in your work from the initial application that will change the scope of the project (any significant change), always let the grant officer know.
- If your grant was successful, you will likely be required to submit a final report to the funding body following the completion of your project. Don't forget to include this in your critical path!
- If you receive a grant, keep in mind there are specific procedures and protocols involved when it comes to filing your taxes.
There are many useful resources out there on how to write grants. Here are a few:
- Check out our Grant Writing Playlist on YouTube for some helpful advice on applying for a grant, creating support material, what to do once you got the grant and how to get a grant extension.
- Tips and Tricks from the TAC
- OAC grant application tips and recommendations (some information is outdated)
- Charity Village Learning Centre
- First Peoples' Cultural Council Toolkit including tips and resources, specifically focused on the First Peoples' Cultural Council, but including great ideas that can be applicable to other grants as well.
- First Peoples' Cultural Council Grant Proposal Writing Handbook
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3uQkxi28Bs* by Jessa Agilo at ArtsPond
- http://www.haleymcgee.ca/resources-for-artists/2020/10/27/checklist-for-writing-killer-grant-applications* by Haley McGee
Serving on a jury or peer assessment committee
An excellent way to learn more about grant writing and to support the creative community is to sit on a jury or peer assessment committee. Each funder has a different application and intake process. Usually you can identify your interest when you create an online profile with the funder. It is also worth mentioning your interest directly to the grant officer you're in contact with.
Learn more on how to sign up to serve on a peer assessment committee and what's involved:
Canada Council for the Arts (scroll to the bottom for peer assessment information)
Ontario Arts Council
Toronto Arts Council