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For the last six decades, renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp has created award-winning dance pieces that some of the most prestigious dance companies around the world have performed. In her book, The Creative Habit, she details how she gets it all started:

“I call it scratching. You know how you scratch away at a lottery ticket to see if you’ve won? That’s what I’m doing when I begin a piece. I’m digging through everything to find something. It’s like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward.”

Twyla may be talking about dance, but the art of “scratching” definitely resonates with fundraising when it comes to just getting a foot in the door to receive a game-changing grant.

So, with some behind-the-scenes transparency, here are seven ways that I “scratch” to get rolling on a letter of inquiry or funding proposal.

1 | Keywords

Scour website for words that the funder uses. Which ones also describe your mission, work, and aspirations? Make a list. Then pepper your letter of inquiry or funding proposal with those words.

2 | Other Grantees

Often, grantmaking institutions will list the lucky recipients of their past grants somewhere on their website. If you can’t find it there, pull up the institution’s tax returns. Look at which grantees are doing work similar to yours or are addressing the same issues. How much did they get? Then brainstorm the ways that your work is unique and complimentary to what the institution has already funded.

3 | 6 Degrees of Separation

Layout the various relationships you have that connect you with this organization. They could be channels you’ve opened through your research, outreach or network. They may be your partners or collaborators who have already received funding from this institution. These are all entry points that you may want to name-drop somewhere in your letter of inquiry or funding proposal.

4 | Matchmaking

Take out a piece of paper. On the left side, make a list of what the institution funds. Then on the right side, make a list of your top priorities. Now, draw a line from one column to the other and match them up. These are your points of alignment with what this institution funds.

5 | Capacity

List out those points of alignment you just matched up in one column and your work’s greatest accomplishments in another. Where is the crossover? That is your statement that illustrates your capacity to fulfill the goals you have detailed in your funding request.

6 | Rabbit Holes

Scratching is the perfect time to indulge in rabbit holes. Once, while scratching out a letter of inquiry to an institution whose primary approach to challenging inequality was to support grassroots movements promoting political participation, I learned more about civic engagement than I ever learned in school. I use scratching as a guilt-free opportunity to feed my brain. Added bonus? I can also then have a more informed conversation with the funder.

7 | Brass Tacks

This one is basic, but literally, I make a checklist of all the application details. Typically it includes:

  • Do I satisfy all of their eligibility requirements? Typically this will be a tax-exempt status and a specific geographic focus.
  • Does my funding request fall in line with what they fund? There may be restrictions such as indirect costs, administrative overhead or capital campaigns.
  • Exactly what questions (in the funder’s words) does the LOI need to answer in some way?
  • What format should the LOI be submitted in?
  • What is the final deadline?
  • What supplementals should be included?
  • What financial information should be presented at this point?

Crafting a letter of inquiry or funding proposal is often an exercise in restraint. You have two pages, or maybe 500 characters, to shine amidst a cast of thousands. It has to be short, sweet and nothing short of amazing. You can bring clarity and ease to the process ahead of time by scratching it out first.

If this has been helpful to you, please consider making a donation! Your contribution is deeply appreciated and supports all of the free programming at Open Rivers.

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