Grant writing vs crowd funding: One artist's results

Jim Lommasson is a photographer and author living in Portland, Oregon who recently took a grantwriting workshop with me because he was looking to find additional funding for his latest project What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization. The project had already won a grant from Portland’s Regional Arts & Culture Council but now it had become a book and the photographs were about to be exhibited at Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration in NYC.

To finance publication of the book and expenses associated with the exhibit he decided that rather than apply for another grant he would turn to crowdfunding. After his successful campaign on Go Fund Me where he surpassed his goal of $12,000 (thanks to a $5000 matching donation), he wrote our class a note comparing his experiences as a grant writer and a crowd funder.

HIs book, What We Carried: Fragments and Memories from the Cradle of Civilization, is currently being printed in Chicago and will be out any moment.

This is what he learned about funding this project that may help you decide between grants vs. crowdfunding.




What I hate about grants

  • I hate writing grants and trying to second guess the jurors.

  • I hate the hoops you have to jump through (filling out the forms, providing references and asking for important, busy people to write recommendations, match funds, project costs and venues… and so on.

  • I hate the odds of actually receiving the grant.

  • If you apply for 10 grants and receive one, is it worth the effort? Is it easier to just get a job? Most of us self fund and that’s painful too.

  • I’ve been a juror for RACC grants and the Oregon Arts Commission grants and I’ve seen the discussion go from innocent to guilty in a few seconds over some minor detail or comment: (Think 12 Angry Men.)

    What I like about grants

  • The process of formalizing one’s thoughts because you have to is priceless.

  • Jumping through hoops is good practice for future hoop jumping.

  • Receiving a grant is recognition and helps with future grants.

    What I hate about crowdfunding

  • I’m OK in front of the camera when talking about my work, but I HATE HATE HATE being in front of the camera to ask for $$$, even though it’s for a good cause.

  • I hate that when doing a crowdfunding campaign, you’re basically just asking your friends to give you money.

  • For me, (an only child) it’s difficult to ask for any kind of help. I can do everything myself! (But that’s my problem).

    What I like about crowdfunding

  • I found the simplicity of creating the campaign so much easier than writing a grant.

  • Your success or failure is pretty immediate.

  • The GoFundMe process is simple and you don’t have to cross a finish line to receive funds.

  • You don’t have to do a video and I’ve seen campaigns do well with just a written story. Your choice. I chose to do a video.

  • The crowdfunding campaign helps to create community around your project. Those who contributed $, the “Likes,” and the pats on the back brought more people closer to my project.

    My Conclusion

  • Crowdfunding was sooooooo much easier than grant writing. Almost everything is on your own terms. Grants, not so much.

  • I was extremely fortunate that a generous donor offered to match donations up to $5000. After I received $5000 in donations it instantly became $10,000! I surpassed my total goal of $12,000. I’m very relieved and humbled. The printing and shipping of my book is covered now. (Doing the prep for the book almost killed me, but that’s another story).

  • FYI, I won’t do another crowdfunding campaign. For me it was a one time shot. Grants are infinite.

  • My What We Carried project is easy to support because of the content.

    • My ask was to support a book about refugees and a show at Ellis Island this summer May 25 - September 2. I think my ask was more palatable because it was for out-of-pocket expenses for the printing and shipping for the book, and not to support my time and efforts.

  • Grants or crowdfunding? It’s all about the merit of your project.

If you’re going to be in NYC this summer, check out the show. Details here:

What We Carried is Here 3c.jpg