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Tips for Assembling Your Opera Fund Application
Lyndsay Werking, Artistic Services Manager, OPERA America
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Original Content8/4/2011

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As the summer comes to an end, we at OPERA America are excited to be launching the next round of grant opportunities through The Opera Fund. This year, awards will be given in the Audience Development category for projects that focus on community engagement activities undertaken in conjunction with the creation and/or production of a new or existing American work. The deadline to submit a letter of intent is August 26. The competition for limited funds is highly competitive. In looking through past grant proposals, we have created some general guidelines to help you as you prepare your application.

Read Guidelines
Before you begin to write a letter of intent, be sure to read all guidelines at www.operafund.org. Our online guidelines clearly outline the goals of the grant program as well as the details of supported activities, eligibility, funding parameters and application process.

Define Purpose
Seeking grant money is necessary for the livelihood of any new work, project or company and the preparation of a grant application can help sharpen the scope and intended outcomes of a project. Before you begin, ask:

  1. Why are we undertaking this project?
  2. How are we going to complete the task?

Grant review panelists want to know the specific focus of the activities planned. What is the purpose of your project? Is a workshop intended to evaluate an audience’s reaction to the music, story or visual presentation of the work? Does the community engagement project aim to reach a new audience demographic or cultivate deeper relationships with an existing group? Be as specific as possible. The absence of a clearly defined purpose can jeopardize an otherwise thoughtful and exciting application. Panelists may have confidence in the creative team and the company’s competency, yet be unable to understand the aim of the project. It is essential that a clear goal be set and explained from the outset of any project. Before you begin to describe the what, where and who of your project, be sure that you have first explained the why. If panelists cannot discern the intended outcome of a project, the likelihood of funding is low.

Plan Process
In its application, a company must connect the proposal to its overall mission and demonstrate the ways in which the company is positioned to accomplish the project. Panelists want to know that when funded, a company has a clear plan for reaching a specific goal and completing the project. How has the groundwork for this project already been laid? Who will lead the project? In the case of consortia, how will the responsibilities be distributed amongst the partners? The group will examine the organizational resources of the company and assess the skills of the people involved. Furthermore, the application should demonstrate how the funded activities fit into the overall life of the work or long-term mission for the company. At the completion of the project, how will your company move forward? Panelists want to feel confident that grants will first, support an exemplary project poised to succeed and second, provide an opportunity for the entire organization to advance artistically and strategically.

Review Budget
Equally important in the planning process is the intended use of Opera Fund monies. We strongly encourage applicants to review Opera Fund budget guidelines, as panelists scrutinize budgets for validity and eligibility. Furthermore, panelists respond positively to a carefully planned budget. Budgetary items should be clearly connected to the project and explained within the proposal. For example, if a large portion of your budget is allocated for travel, be clear in describing the necessity of that travel to the success of your proposed project. If panelists are unable to understand an item in the budget, red flags are immediately raised. Panelists want to see realistic estimates and expenses relevant to the proposal. Inflated budgets or unexplained items will leave panelists reluctant to support a project.

Explore Evaluation
Finally, the company must describe their methods for evaluating the success of the project. How will your company determine if a project has been successful? For this step, a clearly defined goal is essential. Each company has a unique mission and each group will have a distinctive definition of success. Quantitative measures of success such as tickets sales, press reviews and audience feedback are not relevant to every project. If the goal of a project is to cultivate stronger relationships with audience members, then total number of participants will not be as relevant as the continued relationship between the company and participants. Furthermore, evaluating qualitative success becomes more challenging when trying to measures intangibles, such as audience enthusiasm and engagement. In such cases, we encourage our members to be as creative and diligent in their tools for evaluation as they are in the works and projects they undertake.

Value Presentation
The best applications are strong in both content and presentation. While a clear presentation cannot compensate for lack of passion behind a project, never underestimate the importance of proper punctuation and a clear writing style. A carefully assembled application is the first step in demonstrating a company’s commitment to a project. Similarly, a hastily written proposal may leave panelists questioning a company’s commitment to the project or ability to thoroughly complete the proposed activities. The application may be a panelist’s first encounter with the work, creative team and/or company. Help panelists to focus purely on content by proofing your application for any distracting typos or misspellings.

Incorporate Feedback
Once an application has been drafted, seek feedback from individuals involved with the project as well as an outside reader before submitting the proposal. The person writing the application is not always intimately involved with the initiation or planning of the project and conversely, the project administrator and artists are not always involved in the grant writing process. Ask the artists and planners if they feel the purpose and scope of the planned activities are truly represented in the project outline and description. Having input from a person unfamiliar with the project is invaluable. An outsider’s perspective may raise questions that hadn’t been considered by those closely associated with the proposal.

Apply Online
All applicants are required to submit an Intent to Apply form by August 26, 2011. Final applications must be submitted no later than October 3, 2011. For more information and to apply, visit www.operaamerica.org/grants. Please contact Lyndsay Werking at LWerking@operaamerica.org with any questions.
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