Freelancing: Funding Your Investigative Projects

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Grant funding for reporting projects is available from a variety of sources. Some funders welcome all kinds of proposals, while others seek to support specific topics.

Here at the Global Investigative Journalism Network we maintain a list of grants and fellowships for international journalists.

GIJN’s list is focused on opportunities available to journalists internationally. While grant programs offer the most direct support for reporting projects, check out the fellowship opportunities, too. While fellowships are largely for education, some of them combine the training component with a reporting project, or they allow participants to report while on the fellowship.

For more possibilities at the national and regional levels look at the Opportunities section on the IJNet website. The Rory Peck Trust maintains a multi-part list with regional sections. More than 100 US grant sources are listed on a spreadsheet accessible via the News Media Alliance’s website.

Advice on Applying

When you locate a potential supporter, read the material carefully. Most donors provide detailed guidance of what types of projects they are looking to support, with a wide variety of requirements and benefits. Some have set deadlines, while others have rolling deadlines. There may be rules on language, content, and publication.

Learn what is expected and whether you qualify. After that, much of the same advice about how to pitch story ideas to editors also applies to writing strong grant submissions.

See also GIJN’s resource page on pitching stories.

The News Media Alliance published an 11-page guidebook on getting grants. It covers how to find grants, how to apply, how to budget, what to do if you get accepted, what to watch for in the contract, and more.

Among the preparatory suggestions:

  • Sign up for newsletters published by potential funders and by national media organizations to keep up-to-date on new grant programs, priorities, and deadlines.
  • Check the funding organization’s website for the most updated description of the topics and projects they support.
  • Have a one-pager ready. Even if you don’t have a funder in mind, a well-written, one-page document that explains your project, your goals, and your needs will help focus your efforts.
  • Make a phone call. Most program officers are willing to tell you, at least generally, why your application wasn’t successful.

Finally, check out How Not to Win a Journalism Grant. This 2018 article is by Eric Karstens, who has been involved with journalism grant-making both as a donor and as a grantee. Karstens cautions journalists about:

  • Not reading and understanding the terms and conditions
  • Missing the specific topic
  • Not being specific enough
  • Not explaining yourself properly
  • Not reassuring the donor that you can actually do it
  • Suggesting that you are grant-eating, when there is no match between the person or team applying, and the topic
  • Assuming entitlement
  • Submitting a budget that lacks credibility and/or reason
  • Puzzling over donor lingo and templates.

Also see tips on “the mechanics and art” of writing a good proposal contained in an article by the Journalism and Media Lab (Jamlab).