Grant Writing: Winning the Prize

Mike Lawson • Fundraising • January 7, 2011

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When one considers the research, paperwork, writing, and valuable time involved with learning about and applying for grants, it’s no surprise that many are dissuaded from even trying. However, garnering funds for a school music program is an investment in the future. Securing large grants can be challenging for any program – it usually only comes with a great deal of patience. Research suggests that it is in the music educator’s best interest to build a network of foundation and corporate sponsors, for gifts both small and large. To get an idea of what organizations look for when allocating grants, SBO did some research and called upon experts, both from the educator’s perspective and that of the grant giver, who offer a few insider tips.

If you’ve decided that you want to apply for a grant, the first step is finding a granting agency that best matches your program and needs. The easiest and most inexpensive (free) way to find the right grant opportunities is searching the Internet. The best places to search are the federal government, state governments, foundations, or private businesses, as these are the top granting entities. Grant writing seminars may be helpful, but the cost may be prohibitive. These seminars cost, on average, anywhere from $400 to $700 for a two to three-day workshop. Grant writing seminars are held all over the country and are hosted by various enterprises, including the federal government.

If you have found the grant that you are looking for, now is the time to take the opportunity to learn from others’ oversights and gaffes in the grant writing process.

According to Moriah Harris-Rodger, executive director of the Fender Music Foundation, one of the most common mistakes is when the applicant makes assumptions about what the Fender Foundation wants to hear. For example, because they are connected to Fender, applicants may think that they should say how much they love Fender, or what a great advertising opportunity this is for Fender. “That’s not what we’re about,” Moriah explains. “We are not a corporation – we are a non-profit. We are about more people making music. We care how these programs are being structured. How are they getting their funding? Do those funding sources look sustainable? If an applicant is going to make any assumptions about the organization they are applying to, at least base it on the organization’s mission statement.” The time-honored advice that has been given to writers, “Know you topic and your audience,” certainly also applies to grant writing.

As silly as it may sound, you not only have to know your topic, but you have to be in love with it. “From the perspective of the grant maker,” Moriah explains, “we want to be inspired. If you don’t care what you’re writing about, don’t use language that conveys how important this is to you, or we can’t see your passion, it is less likely that we will hand over a grant. That’s why applications are stronger when they’re filled out by the person running the program – the music director or the teacher. The ones that are filled out by people who write grants professionally are often not as strong. There’s a degree of separation.” For those of you who are not professional grant writers, this is great news!

Music director John Currey received a grant for his music program at Champaign Central High School in Champaign, Ill. His school was awarded $3,000 for desperately needed percussion instruments from the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. For Currey, reaching out for support, particularly from parents, was an important step in the process.

“I would say to any young director that you need to take full advantage of every opportunity and all resources available, especially parents,” Currey says. ”There is no way that I could run the program that we have without the help of many, many parents.  Identify each willing parent’s strength, and have them use their gift to help the program, organize travel events or fundraisers, get materials donated, or with grant writing. These are all many of the resources that will make the director’s job of dealing with the music issues much easier.”

The grant writing process can go much more smoothly with the help and support from peers. Networking and reaching out to other educators who have been awarded grants is another great way to get advice and support. Social networking sites can be an effective avenue for reaching out to other educators. As Moriah says, “It’s important to learn from each other and not look at other music educators as competitors. In the end, we all want more people making music, and we all have to work together to get there.”

Grant Resources & Guidelines

Music Matters Grant Program

The Muzak Heart & Soul Foundation’s Music Matters Grants are open to schools and music programs throughout the United States. Grant amounts range from $1,000 to $12,000 and are made on an annual one-time basis. Music education – vocal or instrumental – must be the key component of any music program requesting funds. Public school programs (qualifying for Title I federal funding and serving a minimum of 70 percent low-income students) or non-profit programs directly funding music education (serving students regardless of their ability to pay) should apply. Schools and programs must already employ a music educator and have an existing music program in place. Grant requests must articulate specific music program needs – for existing and/or planned programs.
National Endowment for the Arts’ Learning in the Arts for Children and Youth

The NEA’s Learning in the Arts for Children and Youth grant does not make awards directly to individual elementary or secondary schools — charter, private, or public. However, schools may participate as partners in projects for which another eligible organization applies. Local education agencies (school districts) and state and regional education agencies are eligible. If a single school also is the local education agency, as is the case with some charter schools, the school may apply with documentation that supports its status as the local education agency. The NEA offers the following guidelines, divided into two areas:

School-based projects are for children and youth between kindergarten and grade 12, are directly connected to the school curriculum and instructional program, and ensure the application of national or state arts education standards. Such activities may take place in or outside of the school building at any time of the day. This includes after-school and summer enrichment programs that are formally connected to school curricula. Projects also may address professional development for teachers, teaching artists, and school administrators.

Community-based projects are for children and youth generally between ages five and 18. This area supports important activities and training in the arts that occur outside of the school system. Activities must occur outside of the regular school day, and may take place in a variety of settings. These activities may be offered by arts organizations or by other community-based, non-arts organizations or agencies in partnership with artists and arts groups. While not formally linked to schools or their instructional programs, projects must be based on a curriculum that ensures the application of national or state arts education standards. Projects may include professional development for teachers, artists, and program providers.
The Fender Music Foundation

Generally, Fender Music Foundation grant awards are traditional instruments and the equipment necessary to play them, ranging in value from $500 to $5,000. Qualifying applicants are established, ongoing, and sustainable music programs in the United States, which provide music instruction for people of any age who would not otherwise have the opportunity to make music.
Mockingbird Foundation

The Mockingbird Foundation provides funding for music education for children by awarding grants to schools, community centers, workshops, camps, and scholarship programs.
Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation

Mr. Holland’s Opus donates musical instruments to under-funded school music programs.
VH1 Save the Music Foundation

VH1 Save the Music supports music education in American public schools by providing new musical instruments.
Coming Up Taller

The federal government’s Coming Up Taller Awards recognize and support outstanding community arts and humanities programs that celebrate the creativity of young people, provide them learning opportunities, and chances to contribute to their communities. These awards focus national attention on exemplary programs currently fostering the creative and intellectual development of America’s children and youth through education and practical experience in the arts and the humanities. Accompanied by a cash award, the Coming Up Taller Awards also contributes support to a project’s continued work.

Award recipients receive $10,000 each, an individualized plaque, and an invitation to attend the annual Coming Up Taller Leadership Enhancement Conference.

Coming Up Taller is an initiative with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Coming Up Taller Award operates as a program for children and youth in pre-school, after-school, weekend and/or summer programs, however, may have a school-based component or use school space.
Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts Music Scholarships

The purpose of the fund is to provide grants to accredited colleges and universities that offer degrees in the performing and creative arts. These grants are to be used exclusively for scholarship assistance to students. Grant applications are available by invitation only.

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