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REPORT: HOW TO WRITE A GRANT PROPOSAL

Josh Harris • Fundraising • January 1, 2002

HOW TO WRITE A GRANT PROPOSAL
In addition to teaching, music educators often find themselves saddled with a variety of other responsibilities that are time-consuming, but very important to the prosperity of their programs. One of those tasks is grant-writing. When extra funding is needed to pursue a special project outside the day-to-day operation of the music program (above and beyond fundraising efforts), many directors turn to grant-makers for financial support. But the process is complicated, and every grant opportunity has a sea of applicants vying for attention.

Getting Started
When writing a grant proposal, it is important to have a clear definition of the project in need of funding. Otherwise, determining prospective sources of funding will be very difficult. The Congressional Research Service recommends envisioning the project from the perspective of the potential grant-maker to determine its viability. The Service also suggests contacting recipients of the grants in question for insight into the recipients’ experiences with the grant-making organization.

The Foundation Center, an independent nonprofit information clearinghouse established in 1956, 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, www.fdncenter.org. 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.

“When you’re starting out, the most important thing is to do research into what foundations are appropriate for your proposal,” said Susan T. Erdey, director of communications at The Foundation Center. “There are many foundations throughout the country and you need to target the ones that are interested in funding your proposal.”

Grant funding for projects is available on both a national and local scale, and finding the foundations that support specific music-education endeavors will mean the difference between acceptance and rejection of a proposal. It is important to gather as much information as possible about grant-makers and grant opportunities, and the accompanying guidelines for application, before sitting down to write a grant proposal.

When starting out, it is also helpful to create a summary of the project’s concept and gather background information that supports the project’s needs. Addressing these points earlier on will make the grant-writing process go more smoothly.

A Unique Project
It is important to note that grants are not usually available for “bread-and-butter” program staples like instruments, uniforms and sheet music. Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation/Melody Program (www.mhopus.org/melody.htm) is one of the few that aids existing school music programs with new instruments and repairs. These grants typically range between $500 and $10,000 in value.

Other grant-makers accept applications for more open-ended projects that serve a specific purpose, such as Target Arts in Education Grants (www.target.com). These 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.” Projects that are supported include programs that provide art exhibits, classes or performances — bringing the arts to schools or kids to the arts. While Target’s supported projects are less stringent in scope, the company does not award grants to programs in communities that don’t have Target stores.

Still other grant-makers approach the grant-awarding process in an entirely different way. The Grammy Foundation and Folgers Coffee (www.folgers.com) have partnered to create 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.

But most grant-makers are looking to fund a unique project that will benefit a large number of people and have a lasting impact. Some fund very specific music projects, such as Texaco’s Musical Roots: Hearing Our Heritage. This grant program supports projects that exemplify and explore the traditions and heritage of diverse cultures in the nation’s communities. Projects that are supported include presentations of ethnic and cultural music festivals, programs that teach traditional ethnic music to new audiences, and cultural programs presented to the community.

The Grammy Foundation, for example, awards grants ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 for the archiving and preservation of the music and recorded sound heritage of the Americas; for research projects related to music teaching methodology in early childhood and the impact of music study on early childhood and human development; and for projects that address the medical and occupational well-being of music professionals. The foundation’s guidelines clearly state that priority is given to “projects of national significance, that achieve a broad reach and whose final results are accessible to the general public.”

Having a unique project that sets itself apart from other proposals of a similar nature will increase its chances of being funded.

Follow the Guidelines
No two grant-makers are the same. Therefore, the information each one seeks will not be identical. Read the grant application guidelines carefully and be sure to address each request or criterion. If any of the guidelines is unclear, seek clarification. All of the funder’s requirements must be met or the proposal will more than likely be rejected.

If possible, try to obtain copies of the proposals a grant-maker has funded in the past. This will help demonstrate what the grant-maker is looking for while providing insight into how to make the project stand out.

Writing the Proposal
According to the Foundation Center, a grant proposal should consist of several components. First, write a one-page summary of the proposal that presents the “problem,” the “solution,” funding requirements and a brief statement about the applicant. Next, include a two-page needs statement that explains why the project is necessary, with background information and statistics, when applicable. This section presents the evidence of need, backed by factual data and accurate, up-to-date statistics that best support the project. Try not to present too dreary a proposal that will seem hopeless to potential funders. Convince the reader that the problem, while a serious one, can be resolved through the steps put forth in the grant proposal. Also point out how the proposed project will resolve the problem better than other grant proposals.

The third component is a detailed project description (three pages) that illustrates how the project will be implemented to meet the needs outlined in the needs statement. Included in this section will be the project’s objectives, methods, staffing/administration, evaluation and sustainability. Addressing these five topics separately will present the overall project. The population to be served, the project’s timeframe and specific outcomes must be clearly defined.

Next, include a one-page budget that gives a financial description of the project as well as supporting data. This section could simply list projected expenses or give a more detailed account of how the funding will be used and explain any potential revenues. If possible, group costs into subcategories that reflect primary expenses. If there are any unusual line items in the budget that need explanation, be sure to include a paragraph clarifying those items.

A one-page history, or resume, of the organization, including its structure, primary activities and audience, should follow. Be sure to provide details about the staff and volunteers as well. The conclusion should consist of two paragraphs tying together the proposal’s main points.

Seek Feedback
At every stage possible, have peers review the proposal and make suggestions for changes and improvement. Sometimes, grant-writers become too close to the project and need an outside perspective. Seek help from those familiar with the project as well as “neutral” people who are not associated with it. Avoid using jargon and tangential information. Make sure the ideas and points flow from one section of the proposal to the next.

Writing a grant proposal is not a simple task. It is an extremely time-consuming undertaking that will require countless hours of overtime from music educators. It is not something that can be done with a minimal amount of effort — but it can be done. Additional help and inspiration can be found on the Internet and from other educators who have written successful grant proposals. Find out who these people are and seek their assistance.

This Report appeared on pages 31 – 34 in the January issue of School Band and Orchestra.

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