The Top Six Things I Learned by Listening to Others Review My Grant Proposals

Katie Knutson

Knutson-photoThe Minnesota State Arts Board and regional arts councils review their grant applications publicly. Anyone may sit and listen to the grants being reviewed, but may not speak. Every time I submit a grant application, I try to listen to it being reviewed (if possible). I have learned so much about the process by listening. If you are looking to design your own dream storytelling gigs and are ready to write grants to get them, these ideas might make your first grant more competitive.

  1. Do your homework. Read the grant and information about the funder very carefully. Do they fund the kind of work you want to do? If possible, read past successful grant applications and access any feedback available. What worked? What did not? Include research and quotes. If you have done this program, or a smaller pilot program, previously, it will give you credibility. Get quotes from others who have worked with you, and from experts in the field. In my arts education grants, I often quote Kendall Haven and others who describe the connection between storytelling and the brain.
  2. Spell out everything. Assume that the people who are reviewing your proposal are idiots. Seriously. It is the easiest way to avoid making assumptions. Clearly define your unique jargon. Words I often define include storytelling, teaching artist, and arts integration. Declare your specific, measurable results – something that you can quantify by the end of your project (e.g., An average of 200 people will come to each of five performances). Use words from the grant application appropriately. Try not to leave any questions in the minds of the funders.
  3. Sweat the small stuff. If they are asking for resumes, work samples, or letters of recommendation, those things matter. Don’t wait until the last minute to collect, edit, or format them. Work samples need to have artistic merit and a high production value, especially if you are applying to an arts organization. Consider hiring professionals for any audio or video production.
  4. Get help. Is there an organization that has an interest in the work you want to do? Are there other artists with whom you would like to work? Review panels like to see partnerships. In many cases, if you are applying as an individual artist, you will need to get a non-profit organization (called a fiscal sponsor or conduit organization) to handle the money. NSN offers this service through its Sponsored Member program.

Once the grant is written, ask colleagues and friends, those who do what you do and those who have no idea what you do, to proofread your grant proposal.

What questions do they still have? Which parts could be trimmed?

  1. Expect Disaster, and Plan Accordingly. If any part of your grant needs to be submitted on-line, assume that you will have Internet issues, the grantor’s website will go down, or that a major storm will knock out power on your block. Submit before the last minute.
  2. “If at first you don’t succeed…” Resubmit that proposal in the next grant cycle. If you are able to get feedback on your grant from reviewers you will know what changes to make. The biggest grant I have received was from a proposal that didn’t get submitted by the deadline the previous year.

What have you learned by writing or reviewing grants? Please share your tips, techniques, and questions here!

About Katie

Storyteller and teaching artist Katie Knutson has written, contributed to, and reviewed many grants. She has even received a few of them! This year, she is the Storyteller-in-Residence at Neill Elementary thanks to a highly competitive grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. More at

Contact Katie


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