Applying for design grants: sourcing, documentation, and communication tips

A brief yet ultimate guide on finding and applying for a design grant.

readymag blog_applying for design grants

Grants are a perfect, albeit a bit labor-intensive, way to secure funds for a nice idea or an initiative you’re running. As a designer, you can find funding for your zines or websites, educational activities, entrepreneurship, activism, and many more. While there are a lot of grants available, finding the ones you match with and filing all the documents might feel tricky. So, grab this short guide that will help you source your perfect grant, compose every application element correctly, and thus boost your chances.

How grants can help you propel your ideas

One type of grant is called a “general support grant,” and it gives you funding to keep your activities afloat. You can use this money to tackle the ongoing expenses of your design activities: pay rent on a studio space, pay your staff, and purchase regular supplies or licenses.

Other grants are project-based and are about helping you bring a specific idea to life or address a particular problem. Project-specific grants for designers typically revolve around:

  • Arts. These grants can be used to create digital art installations, multimedia shows, and other art and cultural physical and digital objects.
  • Education. Designers might get grants that support their education endeavors or activities that will make them more helpful in their domain.
  • Social impact. Nonprofit organizations or enthusiasts give a large number of grants for projects that use design and technology to fight for justice, equality, or a cleaner environment.
  • Research. Universities, research institutions, and academic organizations might support you in your research in digital design, user experience, and other design-related fields.

Identifying grants and eligibility criteria

Design grants pop up here and there, and if you decide to try for this type of funding, you can spot ongoing calls for grants at any time of the year. Simply searching the internet, checking the websites of specific design and art organizations or accelerators, or monitoring local online communities is a great way to go.

While some prefer to find a funder first and then adapt their idea to the grant objectives, this approach can get you to do things you’re not vibing with. Also, there’s a common myth that funding organizations look for the most incredible projects or professionals, while in most cases, funders look for what aligns with their mission. So, you should first identify funders that match your goals, whether they’re keeping your design activities running or conducting innovative design research. Here’s how to find your ideal grantor:

  • Learn everything about the grant giver. Grantors vary in their priorities, criteria, and expectations for the projects they fund. It’s essential to research each funder’s mission, vision, values, and past grants to understand what they’re interested in and how much they might provide. Additionally, review their guidelines regarding budgets, including the minimum and maximum funding amounts, allowed and disallowed expenses, and the specific format and information they require.
  • Double-check the eligibility criteria. Before applying for a grant, go through the eligibility criteria—the specific requirements for the types of individuals and projects they fund. The criteria might include a specific nationality, location, age, or income level. Make sure you meet all the criteria in the guidelines before proceeding with your application, lest you waste a lot of time in vain.

Crafting a proposal

Your grant project proposal is a pile of electronic or printed documents that shed light on your idea and show funders you have a specific and measurable goal, a distinct audience, a strict timeline, and a plan to realize, distribute, and evaluate your project.

Before writing anything, ask yourself the following questions that funders would want to know the answers to: who is applying for the grant, what are they up to, where and when will the project be carried out, how are they going to bring the project to life, and, most importantly, why does it matter.

When you understand these points yourself, start by putting your ideas, images, drawings, or prototypes in a blank document without thinking much about how they look. You can ask your friends, colleagues, and trusted experts for their opinions, feedback, or thoughts. It also doesn’t hurt to look around the internet for similar projects that have already been done.

Reach out in a cover letter

Grant sourcing is mainly about relationships between a grantor and a grantee. How you bond with a potential funder might impact how they respond to your proposal. The best way to build trust and respect is to reach out beforehand rather than on deadline day.

The first thing in the grant proposal is the cover letter or any other form of introduction. It’s usually brief, attention-grabbing, easy to read, and should include the following details:

  1. Intro. Write your first name, last name, field of expertise, and contact details.
  2. Two to three sentences about why you value and how you understand the funder’s goals.
  3. A brief outline of the project for which you’re requesting funds.
  4. The amount of help you’re asking for.
  5. A few lines on why you believe your project will work. Here, you can list some projects you’ve already carried out that have been successful.
  6. A polite closing indicating that some documents are enclosed and expressing your hope to hear from the grant giver soon.

Go into detail in a project description

This text of two to three pages should speak for the entire project, its goals, and your personal interest in the topic, and include a plan of action, a list of collaborators you plan to engage, and anything else that will help funders develop an understanding of what you’re doing.

After collecting all the details about your project and making your idea look lovely and solid from all angles, thoroughly write your project description. Be practical, use clear language and understandable concepts, and stick to the word or character limits indicated in the requirements. This will show your respect for people who are reading lots of project proposals and show that you can keep yourself within the requirements. Then, arrange the information from most to least important and consider removing the optional parts.

Add a numerical value to your project in a budget

A budget is your financial plan for a period of funding. It contains a list of all the costs connected with your project and the money you need to cover them. The best practices to build a budget are:

  • Create your budget in a form that you and the grantor can quickly check and study. Excel, Google Sheets, and similar tools are great, as they allow you to see everything at once and cross-count budget lines in many ways.
  • Start with a list of resources you need to bring your project to life. Don’t worry if it seems like too much, and instead focus on getting sufficient, high-quality resources.
  • Include your salary and other contributors’ fees in the expenses, and be sure to include their data and your reasoning behind working with them.
  • Give a breakdown and explanation of every cent. Explain how you calculated every item, and prove that you sourced fairly. Don’t underestimate or overestimate the costs.
  • Include things you can get for free. They’re also part of the big plan.
  • Balance your final budget. Your total grant sum should equal your project expenses.
  • Reveal matching funding. If you’ve already applied for a grant with this project or idea and gotten it, don’t forget to mention matched funding.

Exemplify your project with supporting materials

Supporting materials allow you to present your idea and expertise to a funder through concepts, videos, prototypes, drawings, etc. It’s important to include only the essential or requested materials and pay attention to directions about file size, the number and types of files, file names, and descriptions.

Reviewing and sending the document pack

Hurray, you’ve packed your bags and are ready to apply! Now, chill out, take a breath, review all the documents you’ve created, go through your writing once again, and double-check the time scopes for application. Make sure your project proposal is:

  • Clearly presented through the most friendly, easy-to-access tools.
  • Spell-checked and checked for factual errors.
  • Complete, which means it includes all the elements required.
  • Not loaded down with irrelevant materials or double sets of documents.
  • Sent on time (or, even better, in advance).
  • Directed to the right person or department.
As part of the Designing Women initiative to combat gender inequality in the design domain, we at Readymag are offering the ReadyLaunch Grant for female and non-binary-led media projects. Check out if you are eligible and apply before May 8, 2024.