Everyone knows that music education programs in the United States have been going through a funding crisis period for more than a decade. Whenever school districts need to cut back on operational expenses, music programs are often the first to be affected despite complaints and grumblings from students, parents, educators, and members of the community. American schools are hardly alone in this regard; a similar situation has been experienced in the United Kingdom and many other developed countries.
When we look at the reasons music education has suffered critical funding cuts, we can find many factors at play. Ever since Silicon Valley exploded with innovation and cash generation, education leaders have deeply enamored with the whole science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) trend. Cutting back on arts education for the sake of promoting STEM has become almost fashionable. It is clear to see that this is a shortsighted approach to socioeconomic formation because it completely ignores that music and arts education could do more for innovation than STEM.
The sad thing about this whole STEM thing is that it is going to be difficult to put the rabbit back in the hat; it will likely require a generational change, but this does not mean that music educators and advocates should just wait around for this to eventually happen. If you are a concerned music education stakeholders, there a couple of things you can do for the purpose of obtaining funding for the programs you wish to support.
Parent-teacher associations and booster clubs can be good sources of funding for a music program; the advantage of these strategies is that tend to bring stakeholders together. Another strategy involves attracting outside funding through grants, and this is what we will be discussing below.
How Grants and Foundation Funding Work
Foundations are non-profit endeavors that seek to endow individuals, groups, or activities. For the most part, foundations focus on charitable operations; in fact, some school administrators insist that music booster clubs properly register with the Internal Revenue Service as foundations, and this is why sometimes it is easier and better to request grant funding from established foundations.
A grant extended by a charity is exactly what it implies: A tax-free economic contribution to a project. Since grants are not financial instruments, there are no expectations of repayment or gaining equity ownership. The foundation providing the funding always hopes for the best in terms as to how the proceeds will be utilized, but there will be no control over the project unless a specific agreement is drafted and executed to such effect.
Some foundations actively seek out projects to fund. In the U.S., for example, the National Endowment for the Arts has established relationships with schools and academies that can benefit from grants. Specifically, the NEA provides grants for:
- Arts projects
- Existing partnerships
- Nationwide initiatives
- Creative fellowships
Even though the NEA typically issues grants to benefit major projects at the community level and beyond, we mention this foundation because it is tied to Grants.gov, a federal website where you may be able to submit your request and proposal.
In essence, if you plan on doing something special in terms of enhancing your music education program, the first step would be to ask the school for funding, and you do not need to learn about grant writing in order to do this. When the funds are not available for any reason, writing a grant request and proposal is the next logical step. You will be presenting the proposal to foundations, which means that you will have to do some research so that you can find suitable targets.
Finding Grant Applications
Before we get into the topic of grant writing in and of itself, you may run into situations that do not require composing a proposal at all. Some organizations such as the Foundation for Contemporary Arts post eligibility questionnaires and application forms for some of their grant programs; when this is the case, all you have to do is follow the instructions closely. Should the instructions call for you to include a narrative of the project and its needs, you will find writing tips below.
How to Write an Effective Grant Proposal
Having a clear goal that you can put on paper is crucial. Once you have completed your research on potential funding sources, try to get a feeling for how the targeted foundations manage their grant criteria. The NEA, for example, tends to be very formal, which means that you will have to adjust your writing style accordingly.
Going online to search for grant proposal examples and templates is a good idea. If you want to cover all bases, you will need to expand on the following points of your proposal:
- Cover Letter: Make it brief, respectful, and to the point.
- Summary Statement: This is where you should mention the benefits of your project along with your competencies and why you think the project qualifies for foundation funding.
- Statement of Needs: Don't be shy about detailing the shortcomings of your school or community. Be sure to mention previous attempts that failed to attract funding.
- Objectives: What you want to accomplish. This is a section of the proposal that needs to be realistic.
- Methodology: Write down how you intend to manage the project for the purposes of reaching your objectives.
- Budget: Include a line-by-line breakdown of how you will be spending the grant money. If you intend to purchase instruments, their individual prices should be listed. If taking a class on a trip to either perform or attend a performance, don't forget to include applicable expenses such as meals and transportation. Emergency reserves should be mentioned, and if you are reaching into your pocket for some expenses, do not be afraid to mention it.
- Backgrounds: Everyone involved in the project should be mentioned on the proposal, and their educational or musical backgrounds should also be included. Brief profiles of the students will be of interest to certain foundations that award grants based on cultural ethnicity and diversity.
Thinking outside the box and presenting projects that will provide a positive impact to the community will go a long way towards getting the attention of the organizations you are requesting funds from. This will be part of the presentation attached to the proposal, which we will be discussing next.
Presentations for Grant Proposals
We have been living in the digital media for a while, so it stands to reason that we should include a presentation along with our written grant proposal. This is your chance to get creative with multimedia; if you can make a presentation that is not only explanatory but will also touch the hearts of the grant makers, you should by all means do so.
Let's say your project involves forming one or two jazz combos from a single class of beginners. The ultimate goal will be to put together a performance for classmates, parents, and the community. This does not have to be complicated; it can be a recital of two or three jazz standards such as Blue Bossa, Green Dolphin Street, and a simple arrangement of Mr. P.C. by John Coltrane. We know music education is the main objective, but you can help the community by going all out with this project. Choose a nice venue with acoustics, decorate the place, serve refreshments, print out recital program booklets as souvenirs, and have some students write short speeches about how the project come about. These are the kind of details you want to include in your presentation.
Whenever possible, try to make a video presentation. Get permission from parents to feature some students along with short biographical information. Include clips showing your students playing or practicing; if they are terrible at the time of the presentation, make sure to state that you and your associates have the ability to foster improvement. Don't forget to include sound clips of the songs the jazz combo will play at the recitals; don't take for granted that everyone at the foundations reviewing your proposal will be familiar with Coltrane and Miles Davis. Digital video is a good format for presentations attached to grant proposals, but you can always use presentation cloud software apps such as Microsoft Sway or Prezi.
In the end, you have no reasons to be shy about requesting grants. Foundations expect to receive grant proposals; their managing members are always looking our for incoming requests, and they will hit the road looking for projects if their inbox falls silent, but what are the chances they will come across your project? You need to let foundations know that you are working on something because they are not clairvoyants, and they are not likely to knock on your door offering cash.