Identifying Museum Funding Roadblocks
Rachael Cristine Woody
If your museum isn’t applying for grants or hasn’t been successful with previous applications, you need to understand why in order to circumnavigate the roadblock. This is a necessary first step before any grant work can begin. Self-reflection, outside assessment, and solicited expertise are employed whenever a personal or professional roadblock comes up—and the same applies here. It’s time to unblock your writer’s block and get back (or jump in) to grant writing.
The following prompts are intended to provoke uncensored, free flow answers to uncover any and all roadblocks pertaining to your grant endeavors. You may find it effective to use the “5 Whys” technique developed by Sakichi Toyoda and used at the Toyota Motor Corporation. The exercise starts with asking “Why?” and each iterative “Why?” builds on the last answer—to be repeated a total of five times.
For example: Why am I not writing grants?
- Answer: Because I feel overwhelmed.
- Answer: Because there are so many problems/needs to be addressed.
- Answer: Because I’m not sure how to construct a project that will encompass most of our needs and be attractive to grant funders.
- Answer: Because I don’t know how to construct a grant project.
- Answer: Because I’ve never done it before and don’t know where to begin.
This example reveals the roadblock: the person has never constructed a grant project before. This person needs help with the first part of the process, which is to evaluate museum needs to reveal solutions (i.e. project ideas), and then move to the second part of the process: constructing a project that will deliver the identified solution.
For those who wish to take a more direct approach, try answering these guided questions:
- Why aren’t you writing grants?
- What’s stopping you from going after grants?
- What grant areas do you need support with?
- What circumstances are you currently dealing with where writing grants could help alleviate the pressure?
- What aspects of grant writing make you cringe?
- What grant related skills do you want to strengthen?
While not all encompassing, these prompts are an attempt to inspire museum staff to evaluate either:
- 1. Why haven’t they attempted grant writing before?
- 2. What areas of grant writing could be causing current grant failure?
Solutions are dependent upon the answers. Sometimes museum staff are excellent at grant writing but they struggle to find an ideal grant project. Others may have multiple grant project ideas but struggle to find appropriate sources to solicit for funding. Here are the typical roadblocks found when grant writing has stalled:
- Staff don’t know how to do the foundational work required before a grant application can be written.
- Staff don’t know how to break down a grant project into feasible timelines and costs.
- Staff don’t know how to convey the grant idea effectively and in a manner that grant reviewers can understand and appreciate.
- Staff fail to identify deliverables or neglect communicating how they will measure project success.
- Staff aren’t familiar with the various grant application intricacies and fail to fulfill all application requirements.
- Staff haven’t learned from previous grant rejections and keep trying the same thing.
- The entire grant acquisition process is a mysterious anomaly that no one knows how to tackle.
One or all of these roadblocks could be present if this is your first attempt to engage in grant writing. What’s important is that these roadblocks are revealed and dealt with so that staff time and resources aren’t wasted in a frustrating grant writing experience. While some of these roadblocks can be addressed in-house, others may require outside assistance or a grant specialist to help guide you through. This isn’t to say museums will always need to hire a specialist when engaging in grant work; however, an expert can expedite roadblock removal and get staff up to speed quickly and efficiently.
I’ll soon be presenting a series of webinars on this topic with Lucidea; please stay tuned for specifics.
Rachael Cristine Woody
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