Observations of a Grant Panelist

A few years ago, I served as a volunteer Grant Panelist for the Council on Culture & Arts, reviewing twenty-four proposals for the City of Tallahassee’s Cultural Services Grant program. During this process, I learned a great deal about our community and its cultural organizations – and I was impressed. The scope of the grantees included music, dance, theatre, history, science, fine arts, writing, and film. As one panelist remarked, “If you think there’s nothing to do in Tallahassee, you haven’t looked very hard.” Participating in this process, I made the following observations:

Like all nonprofit organizations, cultural institutions are facing tough economic times. Arts organizations seem particularly vulnerable to the impending federal, state and local budget cuts of these “non-essential” services.  Significant or perhaps total elimination of grant funding is a blow many arts organizations will be unable to overcome.

Tallahassee can be very proud of its cultural institutions. Despite increased competition for funds, they produce a quality product, based largely on volunteer labor, local donors, and limited staff.  They also generously give back to the community in a myriad of ways.

The same businesses and organizations seem to sponsor everything. Thank you to the handful of local companies, mostly small businesses, who are steadfast supporters of the arts; they can’t do it without you.

Tallahassee’s cultural organizations depend heavily on Florida State, Florida A & M, and Tallahassee Community College for performers, artists, volunteers, interns, facilities, in-kind support, professional expertise, and much more. In return, local arts organizations provide these institutions with increased opportunities for their students and faculty to learn, teach, and perform. It’s a win-win.

Board members are being asked to raise money for their cultural institution but most are not doing it. Although one proposal described a “Give or Get” fundraising expectation for their Board members, many groups raise funds in spite of the poor participation by their Board.

Grant proposals should have a table of contents, page numbers, and tabbed dividers. It’s surprising how many proposals didn’t have one or all of these “essentials” that make reading a request easier and more enjoyable.

Poorly written grant proposals, even for a dynamic program, are like soft drinks without carbonation: they fall flat. Learning to write well is a valuable skill in every profession and a requirement when persuading others to support your charitable mission.

Tallahassee can be very proud of its’ cultural organizations and needs to support them. Buy a ticket. See a performance. Visit a museum. Take your family. You’ll be glad you did. I’ll see you there.

Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, is a 25 year fundraising veteran and teaches a graduate course in fundraising at Florida State. She can be reached at alycelee@stansburyconsulting.com. For more information about Tallahassee’s cultural organizations, visit www.cocanet.org

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