Credit: Image by Images_of_money on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Journalism grants can give you the freedom to work on the reporting project you always wished you could do but never had the resources.

But with each funding opportunity receiving hundreds of applications, how do you get yours on the shortlist?

Wilfried Ruetten, director of the European Journalism Centre, highlighted some of the mistakes he sees applicants make time and time again, and offered his advice for journalists who are looking to apply for funding, speaking at the International Journalism festival in Italy today (7 April).

Read everything closely

One mistake many applicants make is not looking closely enough at the terms and conditions of a specific round of funding.

“Nothing in the language of the application is by coincidence. The language is already something people have been working on diligently.”

In the case of one funding opportunity, Ruetten found around a quarter of the applications were not eligible.

Getting a second person to look over the application and check they understand the stipulations the same way you do can help you avoid this trap – this is especially important if you’re filling in an application in a foreign language.

Collaborating within your organisation can also make your application the best it can be. Work with a designer to put together your visualisations, and ask your go-to number-crunching colleague to help with the budget.

Many donors may also include jargon in their stipulations, so being aware of the terms they might use and even featuring them in your application can work to your advantage.

“It shows that you read it, and you integrated what the other party wants into your text. That makes them feel understood.”

Don’t be in a rush

The worst disservice you can do to your application is not allow yourself enough time to put everything together.

“If there’s a deadline, take the deadline minus one day. The day before, you have the whole thing ready,” Ruetten advised. Get a good night’s sleep and check everything again in the morning.

When submitting online applications, it’s also a good idea to prepare for the worst-case scenario – a file you want to attach to your application is too large and needs converting; you may need to fill in a lengthy form; or your internet goes down five minutes before deadline.

Familiarise yourself with the platform in good time to avoid any nasty surprises at the last minute.

Don’t gloss over the challenges

Getting too cocky in an application won’t do you any favours, as competition for funding is always stiff.

Be realistic about what you are proposing and explain why you are the best person to do it – highlight any contacts you have in the field and previous experience that qualifies you for the task.

“[But] don’t just gloss over the problems you might find. Going to Africa... there’s so many unknown factors. Be humble and be aware of the risks. Reassuring that you can actually do it is the most important thing.”

He advised against including phrases such as “I hope I will” or “if everything works well” in the application, as your potential donors need to know that you can deliver what you propose.

Speak to previous winners

Previous winners can give you invaluable information, as “they of course know how the machine works”.

Ask them for tips and advice about the process. “If you want to win $50,000, make an effort for it, nothing is for free.”

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