Someone once teased that all I seemed to do was cough and suddenly grants rained down for one project or another. I wish. Money doesn’t grow on trees, and it certainly hasn’t started to fall from the skies either.
Here are some useful tips to get some extra funds to achieve your goal, no matter what it is; school, research, artistic project…the list is endless.
Now, this almost goes without saying, but give yourself enough time. Ideally you should begin the process of looking for funds at least a full year before you hope to start whatever it is you want the money for. So, keeping in mind that you should be doing all this 12+ months in advance, what’s next?
Articulate Your Vision
What exactly is it that you want to achieve? How will you do this? Why does it matter? You need to be able to explain this clearly to yourself and then be able to convince everyone else too.
Elevator-Pitch: Prepare a quick 2-3 sentence version that you could deliver in conversation if someone asked about your project. Practice and tweak this until it feels right.
Proposal: Write out a longer description of your idea in a nicely formatted word document. Over time come back to this template and tailor it to suit the requirements for the different organizations you apply to.
Track Down Opportunities
Google is your friend. Use some of the key words from your elevator pitch to run searches for possible scholarships, fellowships, and grants related to your idea. You should also run some general searches based on aspects of your identity to see what opportunities are available for e.g. women, Africans, Ghanaians etc. in your field. It can take hours at a computer before you find a good handful of options, be patient.
Ask Around. You don’t have to do this alone. Speak to friends, professors, bosses, counsellors, and relatives about what you’re interested in doing. That way, even if they don’t have suggestions right off the bat, later on if they come across something that may be useful to you they know to pass the information along.
Make an Organized List/Table. If it’s taken you a long time to find something, you don’t want to lose it. Make a list or table into which you copy the fund’s website so that you can easily access the information later. Write down the full name of the funds and their awarding bodies, the deadlines to apply, the amounts given, all the application requirements you need to submit, and to whom you need to submit (a mailing address, an email an online form).
Build Your Resume
Most organizations want to know that their money is going to a project that is feasible. In addition to a well-written proposal, another way to signal your capability is to demonstrate previous experience.
If you’ve done it, flaunt it: Ghanaians are modest—too modest sometimes. Having grown up with the mantra “salt does not praise itself,” it always felt uncomfortable mentioning my achievements on applications. But these are complete strangers. If you don’t tell them what you’ve done, who will? And if it’s an international grant, remember that others from different countries will not be as shy as you are, so don’t sell yourself short. I’m not saying be arrogant either! Strike a happy middle ground where you can proudly and confidently present yourself and your accomplishments.
If you haven’t… Please don’t lie. It’s okay if you don’t have relevant experience yet. This is why you’ve given yourself a year to prepare your application: go get some. Be on the lookout for opportunities to build your profile. If its research you’re interested in, maybe there’s a professor or think tank where you can be a research assistant for over a few months. Or if you’re interested in some creative endeavour, you should practice making something on your own or volunteering/assisting a more skilled group. Are there any classes or workshops or seminars you can attend to get some training? Is there someone in your field whose work you can view and write a review about? Again, you don’t have to do this alone. Ask your friends/family/network for suggestions.
By Nnenna Onuoha
Nnenna is a twenty-something Ghanaian-Nigerian with a passion for words and moving images. Her areas of expertise include indecision, LOTR, side-eyes, and 2048. She is currently studying towards a degree in professional people watching. Nnenna has successfully raised over $60,000 from various research grants, fellowships and prizes.