What makes a proposal stand out to Alexia Foundation grant judges? What goes on in the heads of the judges who narrow hundreds of projects down to six winners? In conversation with 2015 Alexia competition judge Sarah Leen, Director of Photography for National Geographic, we learned what makes a winning proposal.
Submit a clear written proposal
First, judges are given the written proposals to read. Leen said, “We receive the proposals before we ever saw the pictures.” Extra care must be taken to make sure the written proposal is easy to read and understand. Judges try to imagine what the work is like based on the written proposals.
Be clear about the goals of the project
Leen said the proposals that worked best were “very clear about what their goals were.” Photographers applying for grants should be clear about what their story is and how the grant will help tell the story. “There were a lot that just rambled on about the topic but you never had an idea of what they wanted to do, where they were going to take it,” said Leen.
Propose intriguing ideas
A grant proposal should generate interest by finding a new way to look at something. Leen said that a successful proposal made her more interested in the topic. A great project idea made her want to say “I want to see that” or “I want to see more of that.” Successful grant proposals reflect research into the issues that will be explored visually, as well as intriguing ideas that leave judges — and the public — wanting to learn more.
Submit the best images
In addition to a well-written proposal, the images must convince the judges that the photographer has “the ability to actually do [the project] successfully,” said Leen. “The work and the proposal all work together to inspire the jury to not just love the idea, but love the photography and believe that they have the ability to actually do it,” she said. If the project requires special access or the ability to work internationally, the images must reflect those abilities.
Use images that relate to the proposed project
According to Leen, “the proposals that work the best are the ones where the person has already started on it, so you got a hint of what this looks like.” It’s difficult for judges to assess a project if the images and written proposal are not related. “It’s really much harder to connect the dots,” Leen said.