Are Grants Worth the Effort?

Mike Lawson • Fundraising • January 1, 2003

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Even the most ambitious fundraising campaigns can sometimes leave a music program short. When that happens, music directors have another option available to them: applying for grants to supplement their programs. Fundraising itself is an often stressful and time-consuming practice. And, many directors agree, so is the process of applying for grants. Does the effort expended yield enough of a reward in the end?

In a recent SBO Survey, 60 percent of participating band and orchestra directors said they have applied for a grant to support their music programs at least once in their careers. The other 40 percent have never applied for a grant. But 65 percent said they plan to apply for a grant in the future, while 21 percent said they would not and 14 percent were undecided.

The time-consuming nature and the hassle of grant-writing topped the list of reasons directors would not apply for grant funding, according to the survey. Fifty-eight percent of the survey participants reported that the time required to write lengthy pleas for additional funding is a discouraging factor. Thirty-two percent said they find it challenging to “jump through the hoops” required by many grant-makers.

“The amount of preparation work for small grants is no less than the preparation work for grants involving hundreds of thousands of dollars. I find the preparation phase takes too much of my time, which would be better spent preparing for classes, etc.,” says Alan M. Clark, director of bands at Ellis Middle School in Hendersonville, Tenn.

Another source of frustration for 21 percent of the directors surveyed is their lack of experience with writing grants and a lack of information available on how and where to find available grant resources.

“We have never applied for any type of grant. The process takes too long, the results are never guaranteed, and looking and finding who is giving grants is very tedious,” notes Bruce Hertig, music department head at Arrowhead High School in Hartland, Wis.

Regardless of these obstacles, the majority of directors have managed to submit a grant application or two, and many have received subsequent funding. Twenty-seven percent of survey participants have applied for only one grant. Fourteen percent have applied for two grants at this point in their careers. Thirty-eight percent have written three to five grant applications. Fourteen percent of directors surveyed have submitted five to 10 grant applications. Six percent have applied for 10 to 15 grants for their music programs. And one percent of survey participants has written more than 20 grant applications.

Band director Tom VanDyke, in the Hillsboro, Ore., school system, has received some help with the grant-writing process from supporters of the music program.

“Oftentimes our community and band booster organizations apply on our behalf for these grants, so as not to take time away from teacher work time,” he points out.

Spending Grant Money

Band and orchestra directors seek grant funding for a variety of needs, all of which are, for the most part, expensive or considered “extras.” Some grants cover only specific needs, while other grants have a broader scope and can be applied to multiple areas.

Twenty-nine percent of directors responding to the SBO Survey said they have funneled some of their funding toward the purchase of instruments. Adding and updating technology and equipment in the music department is another high priority for 25 percent of directors.

Sixteen percent of those surveyed have sought the assistance and inspiration of clinicians or artists-in-residence. Eleven percent have opted for some professional development opportunities. Special projects – such as commissioning music, travel, camp, lessons, forming a partnership with a symphony, and others – have been achieved through grant funds, by 26 percent of the directors surveyed. Nine percent have addressed their ensembles’ uniform needs with grant money.

The directors surveyed have big plans for grant money in the future. Instruments, again, topped the list, with 37 percent of survey participants expressing an interest in purchasing them with future grant funding. Clinicians and technology/equipment are also a popular choice for future grant applications, according to 29 percent of respondents. A variety of special projects – revising the music curriculum, developing a private lesson program, building a new auditorium, creating a music theater program, and building a new music facility – also ranked high among 28 percent of surveyed directors.

Finding Grant Resources

Figuring out how to spend the grant funds is the easy part. Finding the grant resources in the first place is not so easy, as many directors have found. Fortunately, the Internet can open many doors for those who seek grant opportunities.

Depending on the type of grant funding desired, there are many options and resources to explore:

  • The Foundation Center, an independent nonprofit information clearinghouse, provides resources and guidelines for grant-seekers. The Center maintains a database of 60,000 grant-makers and 240,000 grant opportunities, and offers insight and information about the grant-writing process on its Web site, The Foundation Directory, which lists grants and grant-makers, is available in print form (and can be found at many public libraries), online or as a CD-ROM.
  • The U.S. Department of Education’s Web site is another launching pad for researching grant opportunities:
  • Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation ( melody.htm) aids existing school music programs with new instruments and repairs. These grants typically range between $500 and $10,000 in value.
  • The International Foundation for Music Research (IFMR) supports scientific research to explore the relationship between music, learning and physical and emotional well-being. Its Web site,, includes new funding guidelines. Grant inquiries are accepted by e-mail. Research grant awards are awarded for one to three years in the $20,000 to $100,000 range.
  • The MENC: The National Association for Music Education has a variety of music education grants resources on its Web site, infoserv/artsfund.htm.
  • Donna Fernandez, a former grant-writer for the 
    Dallas Independent School District, founded her own Web site to help educators find grant resources,
  • The Grammy Foundation and Folgers Coffee ( are partners in the Wakin’ Up the Music program, which awards $2,500 grants to 10 schools that are recognized as the “top” in the nation, as determined by a panel identified by the Grammy Foundation. To be eligible, music educators are asked to complete an online survey and qualified schools receive an instructional resource kit.
  • The Target Arts in Education Grants (, which average between $1,000 and $5,000, support community-oriented initiatives that “make the arts more accessible and affordable for the whole family.”

Success With Grants

One director, D.L. Johnson, at North Monterey County High School in Castroville, Calif., has tipped the scales with an estimated 400 grant application submissions over a period of 16 years. Johnson (who has written grant and other articles for SBO in the past) approximates that he has sent applications to about 25 foundations and corporations per year, which have resulted in about $550,000 in funding for his program, over the years.

About 50 percent of this money has been applied to instrument and equipment needs. Twenty percent has been used for chairs, stands, acoustic sound panels and instrument lockers. Five percent has gone toward the general operation of the band program, including new music, lyres, reeds, flip folders and the like. The remaining 25 percent has funded the band’s tours, including a trip to China two years ago.

While his applications have been successful, Johnson does have some concerns about the present and future state of grant funding.

“I am concerned that my success in grant writing has given the school district a sense that it no longer needs to support the band program. Fortunately, my principal is working to correct that,” Johnson says. “Grants are also inconsistent and are much smaller and harder to come by during a weak economy. However, even this year during this weak economy we have already received over $10,000 in grants.”

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