There were no hot needles around to stick in my eyes today, so I decided to keep working on a grant for the museum instead. This is a relatively small grant from a community foundation, very similar to the three that have rejected us within the past several years. The actual grant is only four pages, but every section of it still irks me.
I’m not a grant writer and don’t want to be, partially because of what I learned while writing grants. I, like most people, used to believe that grant foundations exist to help struggling non-profits who want to bring great events to a community but need a little extra cash to pull it off.
For the uninitiated, grant foundations exist for one reason and one reason only: to make their rich contributors look good (with maybe a little tax shelter on the side). It’s all greed and shameless attention-whoring cloaked in the lie of philanthropy. And making your donors look good means investing in events and organizations that 1.) can afford to publicize the grant heavily so everyone knows that Mr. & Mrs. Snobby McSnobberton donated lots of money to something and 2.) are already established and have very little chance of losing money.
That actually answers my question of how people put together large government grants. To get them, you really need a paid grant writer or writers. If you can afford to pay ANYONE, you’re already well ahead of my little museum, meaning that, really, we need the grant more than you. It’s a catch-22.
Grant organizations are not in the game to take risks on small, struggling museums with only quarterly newsletters to their names. The only possible exception is if your organization supports some trendy minority that’s guaranteed press coverage.
If this all sounds a little bitter…it is. It’s difficult to have a long-running festival denied only a few thousand dollars worth of funding, and then to see another local organization that is old, already rich, and too big for everyone’s sake get many thousands of dollars to start a Regional Lamp Museum (no, that’s not the actual project, which is even stupider than that, I promise).
And yes, some of the bitterness stems from the fact that, no, our budget pages aren’t exactly fantastic. That’s the life of a small museum. Cultural industries are notoriously risky, especially nowadays. We can’t control the rain, or the brand-new museum just opened–with grant funds!–in the town next door. We’re holding on against incredible odds. All of us are volunteers, putting an ungodly amount of our lives into keeping this little museum open. Sometimes I just wish we could get a little credit for that.