The Community

5 Funders and Other Partners

Finding Support

serving up project idea to funders and partners


In this chapter, you learn how to…

  • Identify appropriate funders for your project.
  • Explain importance of alignment between a funder’s goals and your values and project outcomes.
  • List strategies to build relationships and connect with potential funders.

Once you have an idea about what you want to do for your project and who you want to reach, the next step is to find the funding to make it happen. While this chapter focuses on identifying grantors, the ideas apply to many types of funders, such as foundations, artists’ funds, corporate sponsors, individual donors, and more. It’s also important to remember that support can extend beyond cash. Partner organizations and other collaborators can often provide marketing, services, space, supplies, and volunteers that are critical to project execution (also known as in-kind support—we’ll talk about this more in Chapter 8: Building a Project Budget). These elements come together to make your project a success, so explore your options thoroughly when seeking support! As the proverb goes, “It takes a village.”

Where To Look

You might wonder where to start. Fortunately, many avenues are available to find grant funders. We’ve included a list of ideas below to get your search off the ground. These strategies can be effective for seeking out funders, organizational partners, and other collaborators for your project.

Artists in Action

“You’ve got to advocate for yourself in that way and understand that if you’re part of the whole as an artist, you are part of the whole movement, which includes our responsibility to make sure people understand the value of what you’re doing.”

– Jeannie Howe

“Number one, do your research, research, research, research.”

– Khandeya Sheppard

Initial Search Sources

Visit Your Local Library

Your local public or academic library may have access to subscription resources or books that can help you identify potential funders (Beeching, 2010). For example, Candid’s Foundation Directory Online[1] is a subscription database used by professional fundraisers. Candid also provides a wide variety of training virtually and in-person.

Ask Your Network for Recommendations

Your colleagues, collaborators, and mentors are a great starting point. There’s a good chance someone in your artistic community has some experience, knowledge, or connections to share. Plus, by letting people know what you’re excited about, you can build a community of support around your work and your project.

Explore Resources Provided by Local Arts Hubs

Many cities have local arts nonprofits that promote and support other arts organizations in the area. One example is Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance[2] based in Baltimore, Maryland. Organizations like these often compile resources for artists, provide opportunities for connection between local artists and organizations, and sometimes offer grants themselves.

Search for Artist Grants Awards Locally and Nationally

There are many competitive grants and awards available throughout the country. For example, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts[3] makes grants to visual artists and has a regional regranting program. In Baltimore, The Rubys Artist Grants[4] and the Baker Artist Awards[5] fund artists in all disciplines.

Search for Government-funded Arts Institutions

Arts institutions are funded by all levels of government, including city, county, state, and federal levels. These organizations receive funding with the sole mission to support arts activity in the relevant area, financially or otherwise. This mission often includes supporting individual artists as well as arts organizations. Some state-level examples include the following:

You might also look at your state’s Association of Nonprofits.[9] The National Endowment for the Arts[10] is a prestigious resource at the federal level.

Find Funders of Similar Projects

Look for other projects like yours and check out the organizations that funded them, referred to as the “follow the money” method. The goal is to find funders that are aligned with your project, so working backwards is extremely effective. You increase the chances of finding relevant funders by tracking down the funding sources for similar initiatives. You may also find lesser-known funders and partners with perhaps less competitive selection processes this way, since you’re mining less conventional sources for information.

Look for Organizations with Shared Interests and Values

Seek out funders who are aligned with your values and mission and/or interested in amplifying voices like yours in the community. Additionally, on a more practical level, the scope of the work matters as well. For instance, while many grantors are interested in funding project-based work, other grantors prefer to support artists and their organizations on a more comprehensive basis.

Artists in Action

“Once you have any kind of success, it lends itself to more of the same kind of success. Your reputation always precedes you, no matter what your reputation is. Once you have gotten a grant, it makes the whole process feel a little bit lighter and I think it lets people know that you’re worth backing.”

– Wendel Patrick

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to the funders because there’s usually some kind of process in place where they’re happy to meet with potential grantees to learn about their projects. That’s something I didn’t know until much later than I probably should have. I thought you just had to apply and hope that it goes alright. . . And the more you could talk to the funder to see if your projects aligned, the better for everyone, because if it’s not, they’ll let you know, and you’re not wasting your time. And if it is, they’ll get to know you and you’ll begin to build that rapport so that they get to know who you are before you submit your application.”

Christina Manceor

Thinking Outside the Box

While arts funders may initially seem to be the most direct fit for a creative project, make sure to explore all possible funding pathways. Especially if your project has interdisciplinary elements, consider these alternative examples:

  • A music education project could be relevant to funders in both music and education.
  • A visual art collaboration with dance and electronic media could qualify for visual art, dance, music, technology, and composition-related grants.
  • A classical contemporary chamber music commission and sensory-friendly performance project could apply for grants geared toward performance, composition, or organizations that support people on the Autism spectrum.
  • An installation project that addresses global warming could receive funding from arts grantors as well as environmental organizations.

You can exponentially increase your funding options simply by looking at your project from multiple perspectives. Just make sure to frame it appropriately! Using the first music education project example above, a grant to an arts-based organization may focus on the artistic merit of the project, while a grant to an education-based organization might emphasize the educational benefits. Always consider your project from the eyes of the funder and share how your project can contribute to the grantor’s mission.

Technical Considerations

Consider the following technical notes as you begin your funding search.

Individual Artist Grants Versus Grants for Organizations

While some grants are available to individual artists, many grants are designed solely for nonprofit, or 501(c)(3), organizations. You can save yourself time by screening the grant guidelines early in your search process.

Fiscal Sponsorship

If you’re not a 501(c)(3) organization but you’d like to qualify for organizational grants, you can use a method called fiscal sponsorship. This is where a larger nonprofit organization “sponsors” an individual artist or a small business by managing their grant-related finances, allowing them to receive grants that would normally be restricted to 501(c)(3) organizations. The sponsor may deduct a small percentage to compensate for their administrative time and responsibility. Fractured Atlas[11] is one of the most prominent examples. Other local organizations may also offer this service, such as Fusion Partnership[12] in Baltimore, Maryland. Note that entering into a fiscal sponsor relationship is a legal agreement and should be carefully considered.

Project Versus Operating Support

Consider the type of funding you need. Project support is usually meant to fund a one-time project, with expenses that are exclusive to that project. Operating support is generally for baseline, ongoing funding needs such as administrative or creative salaries, office space, insurance, and other recurring expenses.

With these considerations in mind, you’re ready to begin your search! But how will you know when you’ve found a grantor that’s a good fit? In the next section, we’ll explore more about what to look for in a grantor and how to identify funders that are suitable for your project.

Dig Deeper in Exercise 5-1. Explore resources to research grant listings.


Artists in Action

“I really wish I would have known that I could ask more questions of the funder directly. I didn’t have to guess what they wanted. In asking questions, you get to know that funders are just people. They have a point of view. They have a lens from which they view the world, and they have a mission statement as much as you have a mission statement.”

CJay Philip

“There are grants out there. There are grants everywhere. It just kind of became this mantra repeated by so many people. ‘Just get out there and apply for grants.’ And you start doing your research, seeing what these grants are, which ones are out there, and what they require. And I remember starting to do my first few. They all came back—none of them worked out. But eventually I got the one.”

Adam Rosenblatt

Research, Research, Research

The key to the research process is making sure you are pursuing funders and partners who align with your artistic values and project goals. There are several aspects of funding organizations to consider that will help you identify whether they are an appropriate fit for your project.

  • Funding level
    • How much funding does this grant provide?
    • Is your project (or a discrete portion of your project) within this range, or does it require a significantly larger or smaller budget?
  • Mission
    • What is the mission of the granting organization?
    • How does your project and/or your artistic values fit within their mission?
  • Audience
    • What community does the funder aim to serve?
    • Do they restrict their grants to a particular geographic area?
  • Previously funded projects
    • How are projects previously funded by the grantor similar to your project?
    • How are they different?
    • How do they connect to the funding organization’s mission?
  • Scope
    • What is the level or type of impact this funder supports?
    • Are they focused on artist-centered projects or broader community impact?
    • Are they seeking to fund large nonprofits or emerging individual artists?

Use these factors as benchmarks to eliminate funders that don’t align with what you want to do. Then focus your energy on the funders with missions that align with your own mission and project goals. Dig into past projects they have funded to analyze who the artists are behind them and how they present their work.

As you find grantors that seem like a good fit, the next step is to dig even deeper into these organizations to understand their mission and values (Artspire, 2011). Peruse their websites, analyze their public-facing messaging, and learn about their staff and governing board. This will help you to craft a proposal that connects strongly with the funder and maximizes your chances of success.

Dig Deeper in Exercise 5-2. Reflect on how your artistic work aligns with local grantors and within your community.

Thorough research is time consuming, so give yourself plenty of lead time. Research grant options well before you envision the project taking place. The timing of grant cycles is important. For example, grant review cycles are often annual, and even if proposals are reviewed more often, it can take weeks or months for decisions to be made once you submit. This can mean looking months or even years in advance.

Artists in Action

“So I think that the most important thing I wish I had known, and the thing that I still tell people today, is don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to the funder. You may find that they have a website, they may have a big online application, there may be this whole process you go through. People or organizations go through the whole thing, and they spend hours sometimes, or weeks, filling out these grant applications and then get rejected, right? Only to find out that if you’d have actually reached out to the funders, had a conversation with them before you started to introduce yourself and the project, that often they will be a resource to help you navigate their process, to help you be successful.

I think people are sometimes intimidated to do that, but [the funders] want to help. They are in the business of giving this money away. So whether it’s a corporate foundation or a government, that’s their job. And they want to find the right people to get the right amount of money to. So, reach out, have a conversation.”

Andrew Kipe

It’s a wonderful thing, because you get to interact with human beings who are, for the most part, people who want to do the right thing. They want to have impact, and they might have an array of rationale, including their love for the arts. . . and fundraising is so reliant on relationships. First, if you’re good at it, or if you’re connected, it’s a lot easier. But it’s much more difficult if you are not established. So, that’s your risk. Nobody owes you the money, though they certainly have to give it away. You have to help people dream with you.”

Jeannie Howe

Building Relationships

One key part of the research process involves building relationships with potential funders. In most cases, it’s okay to reach out to the funder directly and talk to them about your project. In fact, it’s not just okay—we highly recommend it. As a strategy, this can be an excellent shortcut to make strong connections with a potential funder.

Most funders are thrilled to chat with you to learn about your project and explore the intersection between your goals and their mission. This serves two purposes:

  1. You can get to know one another and begin building a relationship.
  2. You can ask thoughtful questions that will help you craft a stronger grant proposal that is truly catered to this organization’s mission.

While grant awards are competitive, remember that a granting organization’s primary purpose is to give away money to meet a certain community need, as designated by their mission. They want the award recipients to succeed. Furthermore, through the projects they fund, they want to demonstrate to their own funders that they are achieving their designated outcomes.

Solve Their Problem

When communicating with potential funders, make connections based on shared goals. How can your project help the funder achieve their goals? If there are points of connection, chatting with the funder is a great way to find them. If there aren’t shared goals, then you’ve both saved yourselves some time earlier in the process. You can move on to other grantors who are a better fit for the work that you have planned.

It might take several touch points to truly connect with a funder, and that’s normal. Remember, they are contacted by many people in your position. Be persistent, kind, reliable, thoughtful, and prepared in both meetings and written and oral communications. Preparation ensures that you make a good impression and value their time. If you’re awarded a grant, you can continue to build this relationship by checking in as appropriate and providing timely updates and reports. If you’re not awarded a grant, take the opportunity to request feedback and learn from the process. If you still think you are a good fit, then you can make changes for the next round and apply with more confidence thanks to your communications with the funder.

Artists in Action

“The number one thing is just don’t give up. No matter what. If you know your ideas are great, if you know you have something unique, then you have to do those ideas because who else will do them? You can’t deny the world your brilliance because somebody told you ‘no.’ You have to just keep pressing through.”

Alysia Lee

“You get a lot of no’s before you get a yes, right? I think that’s important to know. For every 10 grant applications you submit, you might get two. And that just continues. A 20 percent average is just something you should be comfortable dealing with. But you do get the 20 percent.”

Andrew Kipe

“I’m working on grants often. It’s kind of a game of not getting discouraged when you do them over and over and over and nothing ever happens. It’s not even to say that you’re doing anything wrong. It’s just waiting for the right fit for your project to come along.”

Brad Balliett

Maximizing Your Time as a Grant Seeker

Clearly, applying for grants is a significant undertaking. First finding and then writing grant applications, plus getting to know the grantors, is time consuming! So how should you prioritize your time? In the end, it all comes back to preparation and alignment. Your chances of winning a grant increase when you meet the following criteria:

  • You have a thorough, feasible, well-articulated, and engaging plan for your project.
  • You have spent time researching the grantor and their mission and perspective.
  • Your project goals align with the goals of the funder.
  • Your application is well crafted to reflect these points of alignment.
  • Your application uses clear and concise language that a non-artist can follow.
  • You’ve connected with the funder and are in the process of building a professional relationship.

The bottom line is yes, this will take time. However, you can make the most of your time and effort by prioritizing the grants that allow you to check off the criteria above. Be persistent, even when some awards don’t work out. Although the application process is time consuming, when you do receive an award, the impact on your artistic work and financial sustainability can be significant.

Dig Deeper Exercises

Exercise 5-1. Research
These resources are a good starting place for your research. Explore the listings and find three interesting options. Share why they appeal to you.

  • Peabody compiles a variety of options at LAUNCHPad’s External Grants & Awards.[13]
  • Candid’s Foundation Directory Online[14] is used by professional fundraisers. Individual subscriptions are available, or you may have access through your local library.
  • New York Foundation for the Arts Source[15] provides highly active listings of awards, grants, services and publications for individual artists and art professionals in the New York area.
  • 3Arts Funding Resources[16] serves Chicago-area independent artists and beyond.
  • Candid Guidestar[17] has a complete online information database for nonprofit organizations. Here you can find the IRS form 990s of foundations. These include a list of grantees with amounts, the list of the Board of directors, and information about the foundation’s assets. The 990 can be particularly helpful when a foundation does not have a website, or when you are trying to determine giving parameters.

Exercise 5-2. Reflection
Consider how your artistic work fits in the context of your community. What kinds of local organizations and grantors are you currently aware of that align with your goals and values as a creator?

Key Takeaways

  • There are many paths to search for grants; start with your personal network.
  • Conduct thorough research on potential funders to identify what their organization stands for and their desired impact in their community.
  • Ensure the mission of the funder aligns with the goals of your project and artistic values.
  • Ask questions of the funder before applying for a grant. Start building a relationship early to better understand your audience (the funder) and articulate how your project intersects with the funder’s mission.
  • Start your research early.
  • Maximize your time searching and applying for grants by committing appropriate research and outreach and making intentional choices about the grants you choose to apply to.

Artist Interviews

Below are excerpts from artist interviews conducted by Zane Forshee. Full artist bios and interviews are available in About the Artists. This section includes the following artists and topics:

  • CJay Philip on the Impact of Grants
  • Christina Manceor on Alignment and Research Methodology
  • Alysia Lee on Building Relationships

CJay Philip on the Impact of Grants

How have grants impacted your career outside of money?

ZF: Outside of money, how have grants impacted your career? It’s obviously changed your organization structure and the size of your organization impact.

CJP: Besides money, there are some grants and some funding that come with fellowships, that come with recognition, that come with a connection to an organization. So the funding that I got from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation[18] made me a Robert W. Deutsch Fellow. I use that funding to have staff for Dance Bmore, then grow the organization, the programs, our reach in the community, and pay our teachers.

I got a Warnock Foundation[19] grant, which was an itsy-bitsy amount of money, but they use that to do a really wonderful interview and sort of magazine-style spread. You can then use it as a link to share with people you know about what it is that you do. Then you are a part of those fellow alumni that connect in other ways.

I was a Citizen Artists Fellow[20] for the Kennedy Center.[21] Being a part of that first cohort and meeting artists from all around the country – it also just makes you feel like gosh, I’m not crazy, I’m not alone, like there are people who just get a passion and a fire for something and are doing the thing. Even that Kennedy Center [award] was not a large sum of money by any means, but we were mentored for a year by Yo Yo Ma.[22]

I felt super special because I’m so close to Washington D.C.; some of the artists were from Chicago or out west and couldn’t get here as often. So anytime Yo Yo was at the Kennedy Center, I was invited to come and be with him while he spoke or have conversations anytime there was an opportunity to share about the Citizen Artists program. I was invited because I’m so close and just steps away.

Being a part of that community–you know, I actually have a real friendship and relationship with the President of the Kennedy Center. We talked about her mom and how she’s doing; we’ve talked about family and stuff. The relationships that you build inside of some of these awards and fellowships is incredibly valuable. I then can look to those fellows when I am working on a project and I need someone with that skill set, or that talent, and I can say, so and so is doing really great work in that arena or just get advice from other artists. Again, just not feeling so isolated and alone and siloed in the work that you’re doing is really helpful to you as a person and growing as an artist.

Christina Manceor on Alignment

What do you mean that your project is better aligned with that grant?

ZF: I want to dig into two things you brought up. The first was that the second granting organization you went after was more aligned with what you wanted to do.

  • Can you talk about what that means?
  • What do you mean that your project is better aligned with that grant?

CM: Right. I think this is one of the most important pieces of grant writing. It’s very similar to finding community partners. If your goals aren’t aligned, then you have a big problem because you’re not working towards the same thing.

So, whenever I’m looking for a grant now, either for an organization or for myself, I’m making sure that I’m doing a ton of research on the granting organization. I want to understand these questions:

  • What is their mission?
  • What kinds of projects do they want to fund?
  • Who are the people that are providing the money to that institution?
  • What are the kind of biases or goals that they want to achieve with this money?
  • What is the impact that they want to make?

Ideally, when you’re applying for a grant, at least one or more of those things, ideally all of them, would be aligned with your project so that you are working toward the same goals. That’s going to highly increase your likelihood of getting funded because the organization that’s funding your project can see how it relates to what they want to be doing.

How do you find a good partner or a good match?

ZF: So, with that level of clarity around these organizations and your project how did you go about finding a good partner or a good match? How did you approach that with that methodology?

CM: Oh, the actual research finding the organizations? I think, well, I’m lucky because I work here at LAUNCHPad[23] and I have lists of grants available to me that I’m able to search through and I’m sharing with students regularly. So, that’s one thing that I think is in my favor.

But aside from that, I also learned a lot from when I was working for a local nonprofit, Community Concerts at Second.[24] While I was working there, I ended up applying for many grants that funded concert series that were free for attendees. So, by having the relationship with that organization, I learned about local granting organizations. I was able to connect the dots and say, “Okay, here’s one that we applied for with Community Concerts. I know about this funder. I understand how their grant works, so I can apply this to my other project too.” So, it was partly situational if I were searching for it, I would start with local arts organizations and work my way out.

ZF: So there were situational kind of moments where you’re kind of seeing, “Oh hey, this group is working with this organization.” But you have to be open to seeing what’s happening. That’s one part of it. Then the other part is?

CM: Yeah, I mean if you go to concerts, they’ll list their funders. So you can see what organizations are funding any organization that you’re attending a performance at, for example, or attending a teaching or some sort of educational opportunity. Then likely if that’s similar to what you’re trying to do, those funders might be a good bet to start researching because they’re funding similar things in the city.

ZF: So, it’s kind of tracing the breadcrumbs and using any kind of thing you find and researching that.

CM: Yeah. Then the websites are not always up to date. Sometimes the people running them have one staff person who may or may not be technically savvy or may or may not have updated the website for multiple months or years. So, being able to actively search yourself and do that hard work will pay off because then you’ll find the funders that aren’t easy to find. There’s more likelihood that it’ll be less competitive for you to get funding in those cases too.

Christina Manceor on Research Methodology

What is your  research methodology for a new grant opportunity?

ZF: Let’s talk about that for a second. So now, say I find a new grant opportunity and I’m like, “Hey, check out this grant.” And I send you a link to the site. Where do you go first?

CM: Well, I’d probably skip a lot of the instructions and I’d look at the guidelines. I’d immediately look at who’s eligible first. Then I would also look at what the foundation is and then what the mission of the foundation is before I even look at the grant, because that’s going to tell me those key elements before I get too far into the nitty gritty of what kinds of projects they want to fund.

ZF: That’s really interesting. So, you go through the guidelines first and then mission of the organization.

CM: Then the grant description would be a close third.

What does the mission of the funding organization tell you?

ZF: So of those first two, obviously the first one tells you if it’s for a non-profit or not. What does the second one tell you?

CM: The second one tells me about the funders:

  • What is their goal as a whole?
  • What is the bigger picture of what their funding is hoping to serve?

That can look like a lot of different things, but it would really quickly let me know if my project is in the general vicinity of that or not. Then the project description or the grant description would be a more specific version of that essentially. I can then narrow it down from there. But if I don’t align with the foundation’s mission, there isn’t much point in applying for the project.

ZF: That makes perfect sense to me. And then it also allows you to go onto the next one, looking for the next opportunity. So, you’ve really built a framework for how to evaluate what could be a potential match very quickly.

CM: Yeah, I have a system for myself. I can’t say it’s an exact science. Also, sometimes this stuff is hard to find, so you might have to hunt and peck a little. I have a goal of what I need to find so I’m not wasting my time digging into the “what are the questions they’re asking me?” before I even know what the bigger picture is.

Alysia Lee on Building Relationships

Have you ever been rejected for a grant and still built a relationship?

ZF: In particular, I love the fact that you’re thinking about fostering relationships. I have a question about this. Have you ever had a grant that you’ve applied for, didn’t get a yes, and then still built a relationship from that?

AL: Absolutely. Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation.[25] In 2019 Sister Cities Girlchoir won their education award as the top arts education organization in the city of Philadelphia. But when we applied to them in 2012, they denied our application.

Instead of sulking, you can reach out and ask, why? Sometimes they’ll give you the why, but instead of that we just started inviting them to more things. So instead of just making one trip, because a lot of foundations will want to come out and see the work, right? So, instead of just making that one trip a year, I would invite them to come.

I don’t believe in inviting people to performances. Invite people to come and see the work happening. The concerts are fruit. People want to see the work and to be able to tell how much work goes into, which we all know, producing a single concert performance. It’s a lot. Invite people to those things. Invite people to the planning sessions with your community. Invite them to the first rehearsal, when things are a little crazy but there’s a lot of excitement. Invite them to see things that are basically sweat events, right? Events where everyone is sweating–invite them to those things. And we started doing that, just getting to know them, and they could understand our application a little better.

Another instance of that is, there’s an organization that early on has made it clear that they fund art for social change, which is what we think of our organization as. They kept sending us back comments saying that our organization sounded like social work, and so that was an opportunity to educate a funder. That just because children are present doesn’t mean it’s social work. Children can have social change programs designed for them that are rooted in social change methods, rooted in resistance, rooted in elevation, rooted in collaboration, the same way adults can. So that was a chance to educate a funder, and that happens too, right? Now of course, they fund us.

You don’t want to change what you’re saying and doing, but you have to not take things personally, number one. And you want to just maintain, even if that funder is denying you, which has happened. This has happened too, a funder may say you’re not a good fit for us, even though you think you are (and I know I’m right). They will say, “oh, but this other funder is a good fit.” Right?

And that’s another thing, you never know. Someone on that board who read your application and said this foundation doesn’t work. But I’m on another foundation’s board and I’m going to call the executive director over there and say, “contact this woman and see what she’s about.” That’s happened too. You never know the connections of where money is.

I always tell people, money is everywhere! There’s plenty of money to fund all of your projects. There are so many silly, (I don’t want to say dumb), but silly ideas that are being funded where you’re like, “what? You wanted to bring puppies? And then do what? What are you talking about?” So a fantastic idea absolutely can be funded. You just have to find the right match. It’s about just finding who’s excited about your project.


Artspire. (2011). The profitable artist. Allworth Press.

Beeching, A. M. (2010). Beyond talent. Oxford University Press.



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