Crowdfunding vs. Grants: Numbers and thoughts
An informative post by Canadian photographer Donald Weber with tips for writing grant applications has been getting a lot of attention recently on Facebook and Twitter. That got us thinking about grants — which photographers are turning to more and more as traditional funding has declined — and how they compare to crowdfunding like Emphas.is.
To start, I looked up the number of applicants in 2010 for several big photographic grants (plus the Guggenheim, for good measure) to determine what your odds were of being awarded one.
- Getty Grants for Editorial Photography, $20,000: (5/260) 2%
- W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography, $30,000: (1/182) 0.5%
- Alexia Foundation Grant $15,000: (1/233) 0.4%
- John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, $43,200 (avg.): (30/500) 6%
Compare that to your odds on Emphas.is: Of the ten projects that have completed their 60-day funding period, five have been fully funded at an average of $13,695. While crowdfunding for photojournalism projects has so far brought in smaller sums than these top grants, at 50% odds, we think it holds it own, even against these large grants.
We believe photographers have an interest in experimenting with crowdfunding because it gives them a chance to get more feedback about their project in a shorter period of time than most grants. Feedback comes first from Emphas.is staff when we help photographers craft their pitches and connect them with potential funders such as non-profits and editorial outlets. Because of the social, shareable nature of online crowdfunding, Emphas.is photographers receive real-time information about how important their project is to the community, what way of describing it people connect with, and who they can rely on to help spread the word.
Most grant processes require you to wait months to hear if a proposal was accepted and, if it’s not, feedback is often minimal. One photographic grant that goes against that trend is the Open Society Institute’s Audience Engagement Grant, which “supports photographers to take an existing body of work on a social justice or human rights issue and devise an innovative way of using that work as a catalyst for social change.” The OSI staff has spent a lot of time and resources creating case studies of successful funded projects, helping photographers understand what makes a good proposal and how to make sure their project is successful once it’s funded.
Don’s post also suggests that crowdfunding could set a photographer on the path to further funding, including larger grants. He explains that getting small grants first gives you a better chance at larger grants later. This lends credence to your work, demonstrates your long-term dedication to a project, and shows the application committee that there is interest and support for it.
If the advantage of receiving smaller grants first is to show dedication and interest, a funded Emphas.is project might do that even more than a grant. As Emphas.is photographers such as Tomas van Houtryve, Carolyn Drake, and Matt Eich can tell you, getting crowdfunded requires a serious commitment: putting together a thoughtful pitch, regularly promoting to your network, and updating funders with your progress. Plus, showing a grant committee that your work is supported but by hundreds of community members, not just by a handful of industry insiders, is a strong statement about its relevance.
And if you run your crowdfunding campaign right, you might not even need a grant at a later stage, as you are building up a group of backers who like and understand your work and will support your endeavors in the long run in exchange for a glimpse at the making-of your project.
With a one-in-two chance of succeeding we recommend you take the plunge and enjoy the ride. The odds don’t get much better than this.