“Creative mentorship” affirms mentoring as a tool of personal and professional development, strengthens the capacities of the cultural sector and provides support to prospective professionals interested in developing, networking and sharing knowledge and experience. We want to build, gather and support a community of motivated and socially responsible individuals that will contribute to the development of a society based on creativity, culture, knowledge and mutual cooperation.


How can we ensure funds for cultural projects? (part I)

At the beginning of October, the participants of the 5th generation of the “Creative Mentorship” program had an opportunity to follow a workshop about different ways they can gather and ensure funds for cultural projects. Tatjana Nikolić, an assistant at the UNESCO Chair at the University of Art in Belgrade and a member of the advisory board of the “Creative Mentorship” program, Nathan Koeshall, founder and director of the organization Catalyst Balkans and mentor in the current cycle, Tijana Jugović, representing the main partner of the program, United States Embassy in Belgrade and Dragana Jevtić, founder and director of “Creative Mentorship” shared their knowledge on this matter. 

Since this topic is interesting to everyone who works with cultural projects, we are sharing with you a summary of this workshop in three texts, divided by subjects and approaches that may be useful in your work. 

In the first part, Tatjana shared her knowledge and experience concerning project applications: what sources can we use when it comes to cultural projects, what are their differences and similarities, what preconditions should organizations fulfill to be considered as a serious candidate for a grant, and what processes includes preparation of the application. The sole process of writing a project was introduced and explained to the mentees of the current cycle within a workshop held by Višnja Kisić, while Tanja explained certain terms more in-depth and helped understand the available information and present practices related to the funding of cultural projects. 

Tanja pointed out six sources where organizations can apply for grants and handover their projects: 

  1. Public sector
  2. Foundations
  3. Sponsorships and CSR 
  4. Crowdfunding and fundraising
  5. European programs

Donators may vary and each of them has a certain model and budget the group the projects within categories. As well, we should always bear in mind the interests, goals, and needs of our organization – we may be in a position where it is required to adjust them to the regulations imposed by the donor. Besides, there are activities within the project, marketing activities that contribute to their visibility, and, in the end, other potentially important investments

The chances that our project will get a grant and the possibilities of gathering the funds and donors may vary, depending on the sector of our activity (public, private or civic). They can also depend on the size and structure of our organization as well as of our capacities and strategy. 

If we aim to realize projects majorly funded by the public sector, it means that public institutions like ministries, city councils, local government, or some other institutions established by them, will invest money in us. But, that can also be foundations and embassies, which we can approach and present our project outside the open calls. 

Foundations that decide to contribute to projects, do it as an intermediary between those who have funds and those who need them. In this case exist, as well, certain expectations because all donors have goals and criteria we should correspond to, more or less. One of the criteria is, very often, collaboration or partnership with other organizations. When it comes to the organizations in Serbia, establishing regional or European cooperation that encourages dialogue, exchange of knowledge, and experience is usually a prerequisite. Foreign foundations work oftentimes on the promotion of certain civil values and goals on a local, national or multilateral level, and most of them differ from one another. We should always keep this in mind if we plan to apply for this kind of financial support. 

Commercial revenue can also be a source of means if we have products that can be the base of it. This model of financing is especially encouraged in Serbia because it leads to the sustainability of the organization and decreases the investments of public funds which then can be redirected. One especially good side of this model is that we depend not on others to invest in us but solely on our ability to ensure a sufficient quantity of products whose distribution on the market will secure our sustainability and budget for future work. If we opt for this model of financing, it is highly important that we take in count capacities and skills in our team. Since we cannot have all the capacities and skills needed to ensure high commercial revenue, but we need to build them through time, this model requires a detailed, long-term planning and strategic approach. However, this should not discourage us – we should not produce in large quantity, we should rather start making enough of products that will suffice to finance our further activities and basic expenses so our organization continues to exist. 

Collaboration with companies and sponsorships are forms of cooperation that we can realize both through open calls and outside them. Since this is the context of the private sector, the form of collaboration can vary. Companies today have very often developed CSR sector and project financing makes part of marketing activities because investing in a certain project can improve the visibility of the company and ensure even bigger or additional profit. Although, it may occur that a company supports us without demanding to improve their visibility. It is also important to know that we should not hesitate to contact companies even outside of open calls and that we should not hesitate to contact smaller companies – they receive much fewer requests for this kind of support and may be more open for it than big corporations. 

Crowdfunding and fundraising are processes where individuals gather funds and donate money through various campaigns and activities that familiarize them with the project. The main challenge with this model of financing is the dependence of the community and its readiness to support the initiative. It is possible that a crowdfunding campaign may meet the resistance, but on the other hand, we can use that as motivation to work on community development through this type of campaign. Also, we can try not to focus on the local community but to create content or product that will be available for broader society. Crowdfunding and fundraising require additional work and activities, especially because their success depends on community engagement. 

European projects are realized in Serbia very often and over time more organizations decide to participate in them. Still, we should keep in mind that European projects require a lot of knowledge and preparation. First, we should know well the capacities of our organization. Grants dedicated to European projects are big and require good management of expenses and finances, as well as regional or international cooperation. It is possible to realize cooperation with partners from the region and Europe and write a project aimed at the local community, but many of the regulations defined within them do not correspond to our smaller, local organizations that work on cultural projects. One of the advantages of European projects is that they offer a budget for a few years within funds dedicated to projects realized in Serbia. On the other hand, it enables long-term development of the organization, long-term planning, and certain long-term influences that we should take into count, while the organization is obliged to hand in reports and match all the conditions agreed at the moment of getting the grant. 

Anyway, before we contact a potential donor, sponsor, or partner, or even before we apply with a project, we should think and understand well our own organization and figure out responses to some key questions: 

  1. What type of organization are we?
  2. What is the correlation between our work and the requirements listed in the open call?
  3. What are our needs presently, in the short-term and long-term?
  4. What capacities we have in order to work on this project we want to apply for?

Only when we answer these questions, we will have all the information needed to direct us for our further work. We should also take into count the parameters such as the knowledge we already have, the reputation of the organization, the context of giving (locally, nationally), the context of the domain we are active in. Then, we should take care of all the rules set up by the donor – what is preferably and what is not according to them, so we can optimize our project in the best way possible. 

In this way, we can also use other organizations for inspiration – their experiences, successes, and failures can serve us as a guideline in order to learn what can bring us the results we aim for and what can be counterproductive. “We are all colleagues – we do not compete with each other, we all have the same goal we are going after”, Tanja pointed out and drew attention to the importance of networking and connecting. In the end, any additional exchange and connecting can only expand the impact and positive change we want to bring to our communities. 

In case we still do not have a clear idea who to contact for sponsorship or where to apply with our project, the website Građanske inicijative offers a list of organizations, foundations, and sponsors that can be a good starting point. This list may not be the most updated, but we can use it as an initial phase for more profound research. 

Another detail that many organizations in Serbia oversee easily, and very important for overall improvement is the practice to see our own organization and projects from the outside. We should invest some time and energy into building the credibility of the organization. This requires dedication and strategy development for the promotion of our work, improving the visibility and distribution of content instead of focusing only on its production. Many organizations in Serbia risk excessive production of content that is showcased only once to our audience and soon forgot. Alternatively, we should direct our capacities to take as much as we can from our organization. 

Last but not least aspect Tanja touched was ethics in fundraising. It is perfectly fine to ask ourselves: would we accept any kind of money? Do we have criteria when it comes to sponsors and collaborators? Answering these questions, we also define whether our attitudes and values make part of our criteria and do we pay attention to the values and ideologies that funds and companies promote. 

Nevertheless, we should not give up on applications even when we are not entirely ready for them. If we do not get the grant or sponsorship, we can always use that experience as an opportunity to learn and improve.