Proposal Portfolio Basics

Every few weeks we post tips straight from the Professional Development Program’s Artist’s Tools Handbook, a 200+ page resource we give to Core Workshop attendees, written by PDP Core Leaders Jackie Battenfield and Aaron Landsman. The book covers everything from writing to budgeting, websites to fundraising, elevator pitches to work samples. 

Unfortunately, there are not enough traditional funding resources out there to support all the great work being created. For every grant awarded, there are at least one or two other projects a funder would like to support but can’t, and that are just as worthy. The same is true of every artist a gallery signs, every book that gets published, and every play or album that gets professionally produced.

The silver lining is that the lack of traditional funding sources means you can’t take rejection personally. It also means that by making proposal writing a small but consistent part of your art and business practice, you’ll be able to integrate these sources into your growing network of support.

Make it really good
The materials representing your work have to be the best they can be, because the people looking at your proposal will not have seen your work in person. If your proposal sings, if the writing is clear and direct, the work sample is focused and compelling and the budget adds up, those same singing traits will be attributed to the work itself. Of course, the converse is also true. If there are typos and the dimensions of a piece are confusing to understand, panelists will assume your work is not as rigorous as it could be.

Imagine being on the other side of the table
It is important to know what the readers of your proposal have to contend with. Often they are reading many hundreds of applications in a short period of time and seeing a hundred or more work samples in a day. To maximize your impact, keep in mind that high-concept writing is less successful than clear and passionate language, and that you need to present your best work first.

Put yourself in the shoes of the reader. Imagine this: It’s four in the afternoon and you’ve been looking at proposals since 8:30am. Mostly in the dark. For the third day in a row. You’ve had a heavy lunch and some cookies and the coffee has run out. You’re trying to keep up with the conversation but there are eight other people in the room, each with their own opinions, tastes and something to say.

This is the person you want to write for, not your best friend or collaborator. This person desperately wants to be wowed, but may have obstacles getting in the way of their enthusiasm. You want your materials to help that person get behind your work. A panel wants to do a great job of figuring out which proposals are the most deserving of support. They are struggling to glean as much from each application as they can. Your job is to help them understand your work and how it fits within the parameters of their stated mission and guidelines.

Proposal Content
Your proposal may include:

  • Application Form
  • Cover letter
  • Project description
  • Work sample
  • Work sample description
  • Supporting materials
  • Budget

Your proposal should:

  • Be clearly presented, typed, spell-checked and easy to follow.
  • Adhere to the application guidelines
  • Reflect the mutual interests between you and the funder
  • Reflect your knowledge of a funder’s guidelines, prior funding commitments, or a donor’s interests in your materials
  • Be on time, complete and not loaded down with irrelevant materials

For more information on completing a budget and selecting great work samples, check out our Online Resources page.

Creative Capital hosts professional development workshops to help artists learn skills such as proposal writing, marketing, and tax skills to help artists complete successful projects from inception to completion. Check our calendar for upcoming workshops!

More Online Resources