Grants: The Nitty-Gritty of Grant Applications

Mike Lawson • Fundraising • October 22, 2006

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In the January 2003 edition, School Band and Orchestra surveyed band and orchestra directors about the process of applying for grants. By far, the top reason directors cited for not applying for grants was the time-consuming hassle of the application process. The aggravation, for many, just wasn’t worthwhile for what is oftentimes a small reward – and that reward is by no means guaranteed. The number-two reason directors refrained from applying for grants was that they felt there were too many “hoops” to jump through to fulfill the grant application requirements.

To find out more, SBO checked out a few music-related grant programs to see how much work goes into the application process.

For a Specific Population

SBO came across a grant program offered by the NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education ( Administered on behalf of the National Education Association, the NEA Foundation offers a Fine Arts Grant Program – 10 grants, each in the amount of $2,000 – to fine arts teachers for the purpose of implementing fine arts programs that “promote learning among students at risk of school failure.” The grants fund activities for 12 months from the date of the reward.

Right off the bat, many directors will probably not be eligible for this grant award because they do not serve an at-risk population. For those teachers who do qualify, there are other requirements listed under “Eligibility” that must check out: the arts teacher must also be a member of the National Education Association teaching in a U.S. public secondary school. The funds are intended for resource materials, supplies, equipment, transportation, software and/or professional fee, and may not be used to pay indirect costs, grant administration fees or salaries or for lobbying or religious purposes. Also, “a majority of the funds may not be used to engage an artist-in-residence.”

The grant application process for the NEA grant includes several steps, all of which must be done correctly or the application is disqualified.

The first step is the Application Data Sheet, which must be included with the proposal narrative (we’ll get to that in a minute). The NEA offers the Applicant Data Sheet in two formats: as a Microsoft Word File or as a PDF file. The Applicant Data Sheet asks for basics, such as contact information and NEA affiliation.

Then comes the confidential Race/Ethnicity Information Form, which is a voluntary part of the application process that the NEA requests to “track its progress” toward meeting its goal of “increasing the diversity of the total grant applicant pool.” This form is for the NEA’s informational purposes only, and is not distributed to grant reviewers. Again, this form is available in the educator’s choice of two file formats.

Next, a Letter of Support from the president of the local NEA affiliate must be obtained and submitted as part of the application process.

And then comes the meat of the grant application – the Narrative, which includes six questions that must be answered in four or fewer double-spaced pages (12-point or larger type and one-inch margins). Grant-seekers are asked to describe the at-risk population to be served by the grant reward, the activities and learning goals associated with the project in question, student evaluation, teacher qualifications, and how the grant funds will be spent.

When all of these steps have been completed, the grant-seeker must mail the original application and five copies to the Foundation for review. Of the 10 grant winners in 2003, one was a music teacher. Theresa Spittal, a K-6 developmental music teacher in Spokane, Wash., created an after-school hand-drumming program to help students who struggle with reading and music.

Following a Focal Theme

The American Music Education Initiative of the National Music Foundation ( awards grants to teachers who use American music to teach lessons to their students. The lessons can be for music classes or any subject in any grade (K-12) and any type of American music can be used. Winners are selected at three levels: finalists ($1,000), semi-finalists ($500) and honorable mentions. All of these winners’ lessons are published online for other teachers to incorporate into their own classrooms.

The application process for this grant is slightly different than the NEA grant. In this case, the application form is three pages long and seeks basic information as well as an overview about the lesson plan(s) being considered. In addition, there is a Lesson Plan Form that requests specific information about the lesson. The application must be submitted along with the lesson plan itself.

The Foundation also offers guidelines for the grant-seeker to ensure that the lesson being submitted meets the judges’ criteria, including: “Does the lesson use American music?…Is the information appropriate and relevant for students in the grade level indicated?…Does the lesson inspire students to maintain or develop their interest in the subject of the lesson?…Is there evidence of [the lesson plan’s] effectiveness?”

The majority of the 2002 winners, which were announced in January 2003, were music teachers. The three finalists were Christine Lee Gengaro, a seventh- and eighth-grade general music teacher in New York City, for “Film Music: America’s New Classical Music,” Howard Rappaport, seventh-grade band director in Menio Park, Calif., for “Trains and Musical Imagery: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Rehearsal,” and Judith Spitzberg, a third- and fourth-grade music teacher in Attleboro, Mass., for “Aaron Copland: American Music Through the Arts.” Their lessons, along with those of the previous winners, can be viewed on the Foundation’s Web site, to give grant-seekers an idea of what the judges are looking for.

For a Particular Purpose

While most grant programs offer cash awards, there are some that provide other types of assistance. The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation ( has three programs that supply musical instrument repairs and new instruments to music programs in need. The Melody Program assists existing K-12 music programs that have no other source of financing to purchase additional musical instruments and materials. These grants range between $500 and $5,000 in retail value. [The Foundation’s two other grant programs are geared toward community groups and individual students.]

The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation accepts applications throughout the year – there are no application deadlines. If awarded, delivery of new instruments can take up to five months. Unlike the previous two grant programs, this one does not grant a set number of awards. The Foundation aims to fulfill as many grant requests as possible, and in some cases may partially fund approved requests.

The eligibility criteria are quite extensive, specifying how much musical instruction and rehearsal time the school must offer to be considered. Also, facilities and storage space must be adequate.

In addition to the three-page typed application, support materials such as newspaper articles and printed programs and a signature sheet are required. A self-addressed stamped postcard must be included so the Foundation can confirm receipt of the application. The original application as well as seven copies of the application, signature sheet, letters of support and support materials must be submitted.

Since 1996, the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation has helped hundreds of schools repair existing instruments and obtain new instruments for students pursuing a musical education.

The Long and Short of It

Indeed, these grant applications require some work on the applicant’s part but, in many cases, the teacher is already doing or has already completed the work. In those cases, such as the American Music Education Initiative of the National Music Foundation grant awards, it’s a matter of putting on paper all the work that’s already been done.

But in other cases, such as government grants, the process is much more involved and can seem incredibly daunting. When seeking federal funding for a project (, the process begins with a letter of intent – which is optional, but encouraged. A letter of intent should not exceed one page, or 3,500 characters. This letter expresses the applicant’s intent to apply for a grant and includes the goal(s) the application will address, a brief description of the project and important contact information. The letter should also describe the project’s timeframe and provide an estimated budget.

As with other grant-makers, the government will disqualify any application that has not been filled out correctly or is missing information. Missed deadlines are another cause for rejection. Depending on the particular grant, several forms may be included in the application process, which may be accessed and completed online.

Adding It Up

Clearly, music educators have plenty of work to do without the added task of applying for a grant. The question to consider then is whether winning a grant would improve the music program and make the director’s life easier/happier/better. Spending some time researching which grant programs are most suited to the music department’s needs is an effective way to begin.

Last year’s survey revealed that 60 percent of the directors who responded had applied for grants and 40 percent had not. The surprising findings were that 25 percent of the directors surveyed had applied for five to 15 grants throughout their careers, and that 65 percent of directors said they plan to apply for a grant in the future.

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