NEA Big Read

Tips for Crafting a Successful NEA Big Read Application

Approximately 75 organizations in communities of varying sizes across the country are selected each year to participate in the NEA Big Read. To help you submit the best application possible, we've compiled some tips for you here.

Read the guidelines

Whether you have received an NEA Big Read grant in the past or are new to the program, take some time to read through the guidelines and application instructions. Make sure your organization is eligible to apply by reading through the Eligibility Criteria section, and take note of the Program Requirements that you will be required to satisfy if awarded a grant.

Read the sample applications

Three applications from organizations that were awarded NEA Big Read grants are available on the application process page. These organizations vary in type, location, and size, and provide examples of successful applications.

Gather inspiration

You likely have an idea of the title and kind of programming you'd like to do, but if you'd like to see what other NEA Big Read grantees have done, there are several resources available to you:

  • Our Planning Resources section features advice, best practices for hosting an NEA Big Read, and anecdotes and examples from past grantees.
  • Visit the Communities map and click on an organization's map pin and Community Information and Events Calendar to see what current grantees are doing for their programming.
  • Check out our Pinterest boards for examples of past grantee programming, advice on promotion, and grantee insights.
  • Many grantees use social media to promote their programming. Searching for the hashtag #NEABigRead on Twitter or Instagram will also bring up examples of NEA Big Read programming.

Call for feedback

If you applied for a grant in the recent past, you can schedule a phone conversation to receive the panel's feedback on your application. This feedback can help you strengthen your application. To schedule a conversation, email

Watch the application screencast

We've prepared a short screencast to walk you through the application process.


Prepare your application offline

Since there is not an option to save and return to your application, we recommend preparing all of your application materials ahead of time. The budget form and Offline Application Template are available for download. Fill them out, share with team members, and revise. When you're ready to submit your application, copy and paste your answers from the Word document into the form. The budget form will be uploaded directly. This way you won't lose any data if you're interrupted or experience connection issues.

Include as much detail as possible

A successful NEA Big Read application contains thorough and detailed program plans. We know that this application represents a proposal, and that many elements may be tentative, but the more information you can provide the review panel, the better. You don't have to reach the character limit in each narrative response, but you should make the case for your application as thoroughly as possible.

Don't forget the detail section at the end of the budget form! If there are any expenses or items on your budget that might warrant further explanation, make sure to include an explanation in this area.

Keep in mind that the review panel does not seek out any additional information about your organization or past programming. The only information they have to assess your proposal is what you provide them.

Seek a fresh set of eyes

It can be helpful to have someone who is unfamiliar with your proposed NEA Big Read project read your proposal before you submit. This reader can point out any areas that are unclear, hard to understand, or need more explanation.

Tackle your DUNS and requirements early

To apply to NEA Big Read you must have a DUNS number and an "active" registration. These steps are necessary in order to receive federal funds. Both steps are free, however, activation of your record can take a few days. Contact your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center for free specialized help with the registration process.

Get a DUNS number here and register at More information about and DUNS numbers.

Please make sure your registration is publicly searchable.

Reach out for help!

NEA Big Read staff members are available to answer any questions you may have. Contact us by email at, or call 612.238.8010.

While we are not able to offer feedback on the contents of an application, we can check your proposal (including your budget form) for any technical errors or missing information before the application deadline.

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