How do I write a funding application?

A Guide by field notes Berlin

16 May, 2023 | Lisa Benjes

Marta Stankevica, CC BY 4.0 Woman_Writing_a_Letter
©Marta Stankevica, CC BY 4.0 Woman_Writing_a_Letter

This guide on writing applications encourages you to view the process less as a necessary evil (which it undoubtedly is) and more as a way of refining your project's concept.

First of all, this article goes over the ways that juries operate and make decisions so that you can put yourself in their shoes while writing your application. Then, our guide gives an overview of the various components of an application and the steps involved in submission as well as practical tips on writing in a well-structured, compelling way.


This guide on writing applications encourages you to view the process less as a necessary evil (which it undoubtedly is) and more as a way of refining your project's concept.

First of all, this article goes over the ways that juries operate and make decisions so that you can put yourself in their shoes while writing your application. Then, our guide gives an overview of the various components of an application and the steps involved in submission as well as practical tips on writing in a well-structured, compelling way.

A Different Point of View

Before we turn our attention to the writing process, let's take a look at who reads the applications and their criteria for making decisions on grants. Taking their perspective into consideration will later help us to write the application.

Composition of the Jury

In the case of most public funding programmes in Germany, independent advisory boards and expert juries review the applications. In Berlin, for example, these are assembled by the cultural administration (occasionally including input from relevant interest groups) in as balanced and diverse a manner as possible according to professional suitability. New board and jury members are appointed at regular intervals. All decisions are published and logged in the state's central grants database.[1].

One exception in Berlin's funding landscape is initiative neue musik berlin e. V. (inm). It acts on behalf of the Senate Administration to award the state of Berlin's annual project funding to independent musicians and ensembles from the field of contemporary music. The inm's membership, which is made up of large parts of Berlin's contemporary music scene, decides on the composition of the jury itself. The independent jury is elected for two years at a time and decides on the distribution of financial resources for project funding, subject to the state of Berlin's decision on the respective budget.

In Cologne, it is Initiative Freie Musik (IFM) that awards part of the funding for the (entire) independent music scene on behalf of the City of Cologne's Department of Culture. The composition of the jury is similar to that of inm.

In most cases, the jury members themselves are artists, curators, musicologists, journalists and cultural managers who work in the independent scene and have a good understanding of the applicants.

Although there are some objective parameters that determine whether or not a project is funded, the composition of a jury should not be underestimated. It is worth taking a close look at who sits on the jury and what they stand for. In some cases, the composition of the jury can give a good indication of an application's chances. How a jury thinks can also be gleaned from the list of projects that have already received funding, which most funding organisations publish on their websites. The composition of the jury also provides information about its expertise. For example, is there someone on the panel who is familiar with contemporary music (in the case of interdisciplinary funding) or sound art (in the case of music-specific funding), or do I need to go into more detail in my application?

It is not unusual for applicants to familiarise juries with their own work by inviting them to events. This should never be done directly but rather via the funding body's office, which then forwards the invitations to the jury.

Grafik zu den Kriterien beim Antragsschreiben

Selection Criteria

The individual funding criteria vary depending on the funding organisation. The funding guidelines should be read very carefully before submitting an application. If there are any doubts, the office is available to answer questions.

The Senate Department for Culture and Social Cohesion in Berlin, for example, describes the basis for selecting projects as follows: »Funding decisions are based on the principles of transparency, procedural fairness and equal treatment. Decisions on project funding and grants are made according to the application principle and on the basis of comprehensible criteria, in particular, artistic quality.«[3] 

Opinions differ in particular on the transparency how artistic quality is understood. In addition to this criterion, the financing and application of project funds, the feasibility of the project, the level of professionalism of its realisation and, of course, formal aspects are also decisive factors in the assessment. Furthermore, the following further considerations are often included in the assessment, given varying levels of importance:

  • Participants
    The selection of composers, musicians, partners and other participants is often critical for the evaluation of an application. A jury considers whether the project brings together the right participants each particular issue. Suitability can be based on, for example, artistic background.
  • Relevance
    Why is the project needed at all, and why now? Is a contribution being made? Does the project include a focus on societal, social or political issues?
  • Level of Discourse / Expertise
    Particularly well-researched and well-founded projects have a clear advantage. A jury wants to be sure that the applicants are familiar with the given field and can be trusted to deal with the topic at hand. An application should indicate the discourse or artistic tradition that the project is part of.
  • Innovation
    Innovation and originality often appear as keywords in funding criteria. Is the whole endeavour redundant as something that has already been carried out by others before? Is it reinventing the wheel? Or is something new actually being created that contributes to a music-specific topic or social discourse?
  • Artistic Development
    Is there clearly artistic development? Is the project consistent with previous projects? Is it a plan that has developed organically? 
  • Beneficiaries
    Do different participants benefit from the funding? Does the festival only ever invite the same artists from its own surroundings, or is there serious research into different artistic approaches? Are perspectives shown that are otherwise not so frequently represented?
  • Coherence / Plausibility
    Is the project coherent and consistent in and of itself? Does the form or event match the content?
  • Establishment and Sustainability 
    Is the project well developed and designed to have a lasting impact, or does it seem likely to be forgotten once it ends? Is the project rooted in a community, for example, through choosing the right partners? Is there a recognisable effort to reach a broad group of people? Is there a follow-up or documentation of the project?
  • Financing
    Is the financial budget in line with the project? Are the participants paid fairly (i.e. are recommended minimum fees met)? Is the ratio between artistic costs and material costs appropriate?
  • Diversity
    By now, most funding bodies explicitly state the importance they place on diversity in line-ups and programmes, making it an important selection criterion among juries. It can also be a factor in the makeup of the team behind the scenes.
  • Ecological Sustainability 
    In recent years, environmental factors are increasingly being taken into account in project funding. Applicants are encouraged to address the issue. However, so far, only in cases of gross ignorance have projects been declined funding.

A lot of possible criteria have just been mentioned, some of which can be taken into account to a greater extent than others. But the sad reality is that there are certain other factors that cannot be controlled: What other projects are competing in the funding round? How much funding is available in total? Do sectors, genres, federal states or other similar aspects have to be considered equally? Do you have advocates on the jury?


Jury Process

When applying, it is helpful to know the jury's working process. It can vary greatly among funding bodies, simply because the nature of applications varies greatly. One thing is certain, however: most of the jury members are also quite busy people and most of the jury's work is done on a voluntary basis.

This means that the applications have to be read in a very short amount of time alongside the jury members' main jobs. During the meetings themselves, the applications are called up and discussed among the jury members. Firstly, the main data of the applications are quickly reviewed for the discussion. Then, the jury members exchange thoughts on the project and collectively evaluate the arguments in favour and against. There is usually not much time for these discussions. (A quick example: One day of 8 hours for a jury to assess 100 applications means less than 5 minutes per application – without breaks).

We can see that there is not much time either for preparation or for discussion at the meeting itself. What conclusions can we reach from this?

  •  The application must be designed in such a way that the important information is recognisable at first glance. To help achieve this, the short description should contain all the main data and a sensible structure of the application. 
  • Ideally, all information about the project and your artistic career should be included in the application so that there is no need for a lot of research online after the jury reads your application.
  • The application must generate interest quickly. An introduction with a concise description and a good example of music is ideal. A meaningful or creative title also helps an application to stick out.
  • The applicant's task is to provide supporters on the jury with good arguments in favour of the project and, if necessary, to preemptively rebut counter-arguments directly in the application.


Application procedures can be either one-stage or two-stage, with one-stage procedures being the rule in cultural funding. In two-stage procedures, an outline is submitted in the first stage. Only once this has been favourably assessed is the formal application submitted. In one-stage procedures, the application is submitted immediately. The respective programmes or guidelines determine which procedure is applicable.

The procedure is almost always the same: The project concept is the starting point, followed by a search for suitable funding programmes [1], followed by a thorough check of all funding criteria. (In rare cases, calls for proposals focussed on specific topics can lead to the project's concept.) The next step is to develop the concept for the project, which may involve working out the artistic idea as well as making arrangements with potential partners and enquiring about artists and venues. Once the key elements of the project have been outlined, the application can be written and finally submitted.

The Concept / Core Statement

The overall preparation of the application often takes longer than expected, but the time and effort can pay off. The more detailed the artistic project is presented, the higher the chances of success. A venue confirmation, which is often time-consuming to obtain, is often a formal requirement for the application. The list of participating artists should also already be known (and requested). Only in rare exceptions will juries grant a carte blanche. 

The most important point is, of course, the concept or artistic intention of the project. Even the most beautifully written application text cannot hide a lack of content. However, writing an application can help to develop the project concept, as it is often only by formulating the idea that you realise the conceptual weaknesses and problems.

The first step is therefore to work out the core concept or goal of the project. This could be a music-specific topic, such as the appreciation of a musician, the development of repertoire for a particular line-up, the interaction of sound in particular spaces, etc., or it could be a socio-political topic such as bird sounds in climate change, or the presentation of electronic music artists from the West African diaspora, for example.

Topics that are too general often remain superficial. It's generally better to work your way from the small to the large on the basis of individual phenomena. Make sure that the core idea is consistently reflected in all areas of the project, such as the format and the individual steps. This makes the application particularly well-rounded. If you are working on sustainability in music, then the project should not include too many overseas flights, or if it is about deep listening, then the location should have the appropriate acoustic qualities.

Guiding questions to ask yourself may include:

  • What is the core concept of my project?
  • What do I want to achieve?
  • What is my personal motivation behind the project?
  • What sets my project apart from others? Is it a special location, or a special grouping of musicians? Does it shed new light on a research topic?


Which Funding Body is Right for My Project?

By choosing the right funding body, you can save a lot of time and effort. Every organisation provides funding under a specific cultural concept, and each one has a different consideration of what is (most) important when it comes to funding art and culture. Before you actually submit an application, you should think carefully about where your concept or cultural focus (e.g. artistic excellence, mediation, inter-/transcultural aspects) fits best. The funding bodies' guidelines usually provide information on their aims and objectives, which you should study in detail before submitting your application. You will find information about who and what are eligible for funding as well as what their focus is in terms of content. If you have any questions, you can and should contact their office.

It is recommended to keep these guidelines in mind when writing the application and, if necessary, to formulate the intentions of the project in such a way that they – credibly – fulfil the objectives of the funding body.

You should strictly observe the organisations' formal requirements. Some funding bodies provide standardised application forms; others provide a list of the documents to be submitted. So there is no single perfect way to submit an application – rather, the application is a good one if it lines up exactly with what the organisation wants both in terms of content and form.

(To find suitable funding programmes, we recommend reading our »Guide to Public Project Funding in Germany« and the overview of funding programmes in the field of contemporary music:

The Application

An application consists of several components. In most cases, basic information on the applicant's place of residence, previous funding, etc. is requested first. This information should be compiled in advance of the submission deadline. In addition, most funding bodies require the following information / documents:

  • Short description
  • Full project description
  • Professional / artistic background
  • Music example(s)
  • Confirmation of venues / letters of intent from partners
  • Financial budget (see also section on financing)

It should be assumed that those reading the application know nothing about the project or the artists involved. The documents you compile for the application should contain all the information: What is not included in effect does not exist. The individual building blocks of the application will be addressed step by step below.

Short Description

As it gives the jury a first impression and an overview of the project, the short description is a crucial aspect. During the jury meeting, it also helps the jury members to quickly remember the application.

The short description should concentrate on the essentials and contain all the basic information on the artistic concept and realisation. This includes information on the format (e.g. concert, sound installation, festival), location, duration, participants and anything else that is considered important for the project.

Sometimes it can be helpful to write the short description after you have done everything else, so that all the information is developed. To gain some perspective, it may also helps to sleep on the application for a night and then write the short description from memory. Alternatively, the short description can also be written by a third party.

The short description should contain the following information:

  • Who?
    • Organisers
    • Artists
    • Partners
  • What is it?
    • Artistic concept
    • Objective
  • How? 
    • Type of project / event (e.g. concert, sound installation, etc.)
    • Specific steps / details of realisation
  • When and where?
    • Location
    • Time and duration
  • (Target group)
  • (Reason for funding)

Good example: 

ABC is a festival organised by XYZ showing what can happen when musicians and composers explore the possibilities of Web3 and blockchains. For one weekend, ABC will be the home of not only concerts but also interdisciplinary workshops and panel discussions that contextualise artistic perspectives. Three newly commissioned works by composers with very different backgrounds in the field of contemporary music will take centre stage.

Bad example: 

Two close friends, two great cosmopolitans, whose anniversaries we will celebrate in 2059. They are not only the pride and joy of Spanish music history but also among the most influential and multi-talented figures in the European pre- and post-war period. Having both grown up with the music of Bach and Beethoven, they have spent their entire lives in close contact with German music and culture. Composer 1, a composer who composed musically in the Brahms tradition, made his debut in Berlin, where he later taught. Composer 2 was a member of the Academy of Music and received an honorary doctorate from the university. He himself said that he drew his greatest inspiration from Hungarian folk music and the music of J.S. Bach.

Long Project Description

Every funding application has its own unique structure. Likewise, it's good if you find your own way to make your application stand out from others. What follows are therefore only suggestions and guidelines. The more experienced and comfortable applicants are, the more confidently they can deviate from them.

Generally speaking, a funding application is neither a scientific publication nor an advertising brochure – and certainly not a begging letter. When submitting an application, the aim should be to convince readers through a well-founded argument of your project.

Even the most appealing style cannot disguise weak content. Juries usually consist of active members of the scene who often have experience with submitting applications, so they can quickly recognise whether an application is solid. You don't need to know InDesign to submit a good application. What's most important is that the application is well structured and that all information is included and easily found.


Depending on the length of the application, you can improve readability with a title page, table of contents, headings or other organisational elements. It can also be helpful for the jury if you work your way from the most important points to the details. For the sake of clarity, the short description can be repeated on the first page of the long project description. Alternatively, the basic information can also be presented in bullet points on a fact sheet. Use formatting to emphasise important aspects. Images and graphics can highlight important aspects, and furthermore, they may help your application stand out so that jury members better remember it.


  • Tense: Applications are formulated in the present tense.
  • Articulation: There are different possibilities; the easiest way to read is if you write as if it were happening. »Our goal is this and that, and we are realising it.« This also shows self-confidence, as opposed to, »In the event of funding, we would like to do this and that.«
  • Rhythm: A good text is written with both short and long sentences. A text melody is created when main and subordinate clauses alternate loosely. Rule of thumb: Use very short sentences to emphasise the content. The long ones usually only explain details.
  • Adjectives: Many older books on style often state that adjectives should be avoided altogether. However, as long as they are informative or add colour to the text, they can be used in moderation.
  • Active instead of passive voice: A bike being taken into the garage sounds somewhat dull. But if Peter takes his bike into the garage, someone is taking action and the sentence becomes more readable.
  • Specificity: The more precisely and accurately your words describe what you mean, the more comprehensible and interesting your application will be.
  • Clichés: The sentence »Music is a universal language,« for example, has surely caused applications to be declined!
  • Technical terminology: The correct use of specialised terms helps to present issues precisely. However, a formulation that is easy to understand should always be given preference. Only use jargon if you know exactly what you are talking about and you are sure that the jury will, too.
  • Less is more: Avoid unnecessary words, sentences, details and anything else that might only distract. Make your text as concise as possible.
  • These words and phrases are often unnecessary: absolutely, already, always, as is known, to a certain extent, highly, at all, by the way, definitely, extremely, for a long time, for all intents and purposes, indeed, mostly, namely, now, obviously, often, quite, really, relatively, simply, so to speak, undoubtedly, very


How you develop the content or artistic idea is entirely up to you; this guide can only be about how you convey this idea. As explained at the beginning, a large number of criteria such as relevance, coherence and diversity are taken into account when evaluating an application. When writing, you should always keep these criteria in mind. It is best to imagine that you are providing your supporters on the jury with arguments for the jury meeting.

Goals and Steps

A project is a one-off endeavour. It has a specific goal and encompasses a clearly defined plan. In order to achieve this goal, certain steps must be planned and taken. The project has a beginning and an end.

Funding bodies often expect these goals and steps to be specified in the project description. Goals describe what you want to achieve, and steps describe the implementation or how you want to achieve these goals. Even if this sounds simple, goals and steps are often confused in applications. The goal is not, for example, to organise a concert with field recordings. That is the activity that should lead to the goal, which could be to raise awareness of the sounds of the environment. This goal could be achieved by presenting works with field recordings from sub-Saharan Africa.

An application's strength is also measured by whether the right steps are taken to achieve the goals. Each formulated goal should be underpinned by appropriate steps. Goals in the arts are not measurable, of course, but the steps taken in order to reach the goals can be specified very precisely.

If the goal is to achieve the highest musical quality, the steps could include extended rehearsal times with composers and the choice of a venue with excellent sound quality. If the aim is to create performance opportunities for emerging artists, the steps could include opportunities for young musicians to network with professionals. If the focus is on exploring the artistic potential of intersectional approaches in musical practice, this should also be reflected in the structure of the organisation, the decision-making process, the choice of participants and the format. If you want to introduce a particularly broad audience to contemporary compositions, you should organise the event in a participatory way and explain how you want to reach this audience.

Programme and Line-up 

The selection of composers and musicians is often a decisive factor in the evaluation of an application. Particularly well-researched and innovative programmes have a clear advantage.

Be aware that by awarding composition commissions and other roles, you are allocating resources. So do your research particularly well, make use of databases, and advertise publicly to reach artists outside your circle. To make your programme more diverse, you can also involve experts and communities who face discrimination.

The application should show why you would like to work with certain musicians and composers and what contribution these artists will bring to the project. Make these reasons transparent and comprehensible for the jury.

The programme should already be in place when the application is submitted. Too many instances of »TBA« are often rejected immediately, as juries are reluctant to grant carte blanche.

As the programme and line-up are so important, these details should be clear from the application at first glance. You should also make clear which works will be commissioned as part of the project (world premiere, German premiere, etc.)


Ensemble XYZ performs

  • Composer 1: »(Title of work)« for recorder, double bass and soprano (world premiere)
  • Composer 2: »(Title of work)«
  • Improvisation by the ensemble
  • Composer 3: »(Title of work)« (world premiere)
  • Composer 4: »(Title of work)«

You can also request statements on the individual works from the composers or artists. Such descriptions are usually not mandatory but may bolster your application.

Correction Round

Before the application is submitted, there should be several rounds of correction. You can give the text to a third party who ideally is not yet familiar with your project's concept. Ask them read the application for ten minutes and ask what stuck. If you subtract about 30% from this, you have a rough idea of what might stick in the minds of jury members who probably read 50 other applications on the same day. If you don't know anyone who can help you, then at least sleep on the text for one night. The next day, you will have a different perspective. Alternatively, you can read the text out loud to yourself. This is a great way to find stylistic errors and inconsistencies. Make a note of the places where you get stuck and rephrase as necessary.

Self-Introduction / Artistic Background

Juries are usually keen to find a balance between established artists and newcomers. In the case of already established artists and groups, jury members can often draw on impressions from concerts they have personally experienced in addition to the application. This tends not to be the case for younger artists, which is why information on their artistic background is all the more important to provide.

In the self-introduction or artistic background, you present yourself, your ensemble, collective, association or organisation with your objectives, convictions, working methods and references. What projects have you already realised, and with whom have you collaborated? To what extent do core values such as diversity, sustainability and innovation influence the design of your programme? What roles do your team members take on?

Ideally, your self-introduction clearly lines up with the project. A jury wants to know that you are familiar with the content and perhaps have even already done related work. You have no control over what else the jury learns about you. What you write about yourself in the application should be consistent with your internet presence.

Make sure that your self-introduction is up to date. It should contain key biographical data and information on your artistic expertise. Links to video and audio documentation of previous works don't hurt.

Very few people like to write about themselves. As the self-presentation has uses beyond the application, such as for your website, it may be worth asking a professional writer to take on the task.

Music Examples

Something many people don't realise is that the music example is the most important part of the application. The audio file being uploaded should be carefully considered. It needs to be of the highest musical quality and to represent the essence of the project. The name of the file should also be clear and explanatory.

Venue Confirmation / Letters of Intent

These almost always take longer to attain than you expect, so allow plenty of time. You can speed up the process by preparing the text or document for the partners yourself, so that they only need to sign.


Send the funding application to the respective office as early as possible. This will give the staff there the opportunity to carefully review the application and, if necessary, consult with you if the application needs to be revised or amended.

Come up with a (working) title that summarises the project well and will stick in the jury members' heads. It can be changed later.

Some committees give feedback on all projects, others only on request, and most, unfortunately, not at all. Be proactive about getting feedback from the office or jury members.

  • Projektförderung
  • Förderung

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