Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Grant us this Day our Daily Nuggets

Ah, life in the fast lane. I can tell we are all getting ready to wrap up the spring and head into Summer. The season of barbecues, shorts, and swimming. It is also the season of grants. A time to take a break from the business of the year and prepare for the next. So in preparation for the season, here are a couple of nuggets I learned about the grant-making process after attending the Arts Council Silicon Valley's panel review for their Community Arts Fund.

How you look is so important!! People size you and your organization up first by what they see. The other four senses rarely get the first swing at the bat. So, always have lots of photos (color preferably), video, and text that is easy to summarize from a first glance. Time is such a commodity these days, so it is critical for a company and especially an arts organization that presents musical (audio-driven) performances to display a clean and consistent look that speaks to the organization's quality, mission, and passion. In our YouTube world, the people that evaluate you–reviewers, colleagues, and the general audience–need to see the most compelling visuals possible so that they can break from their routine and pay attention.

"To be a good non-profit, you should embrace your mission passionately and reach your constituents effectively. To be a great non-profit, you should do the same and have the documentation to back it up." I'd say we're right in between. And after seeing the panel at the Arts Council Silicon Valley meeting stress the documentation that was or wasn't provided from each applicant, I realize that this piece of the puzzle is critical to folks that can't be there on the front lines to observe all the good that is happening. After visual aids, this is the second highest item on the totem pole for the uninitiated. Whether it be surveys, first-hand accounts, or reviews, an outside observer needs to weigh in to provide creditability to a project. After all, it makes sense. Think about the last time you saw a movie. You caught an ad on TV, saw a billboard, or watched a preview in the theater. All visual stimuli. You may have read a review in the paper or had a friend tell you how great it was. Both are reviews (documentation). Then you decided to see the movie. I'll bet that 9 times out of 10 these are the two primary reasons we are motivated to go to a theater. Things like subject matter and skill are important, but I think visuals and reviews set the stage. If the visuals and positive reviews aren't there, it is going to be a huge challenge for the subject matter or skill to overcome the first impression.

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