5 Reasons Every Music Teacher Needs to Learn Grant Writing
By NAfME Member Elisa Jones
These days more than ever before music educators are discovering a decided lack of something essential to having a successful and thriving program: funding.
This lack of funds not only limits the opportunities that can be provided for students, but also drives music directors to look everywhere they can to get the funds that they need. It takes time, energy, and effort to solicit funds—often above and beyond our contractual requirements.
Which is why we’re going to talk about one source of funding that can nearly eliminate the inevitable hustle that accompanies fundraising efforts: grants.
Here are five reasons you, and every music educator you know, should learn grant writing.
1. No Selling
Whether it’s window clings or cookie dough, frozen pies or candles, going door-to-door or relative-to-relative is tedious, time-consuming, and challenging for students. Why would we subject ourselves to the management headaches, and our students to peddling wares? Especially when your program could get more funding by not selling anything at all.
2. You Only Have to Ask Once
If you craft a well-written appeal for funding, you can use that same information to apply for several grants at a time. The truly savvy music educator will then use that same language in online donation pages, direct mail campaigns, and any other request for donations you can think of. You develop your “ask,” and you ask in every way you can.
3. You Can Get a Grant for Anything
You may think that there are only so many grant opportunities out there, and that those that are out there aren’t going to fund what you need. But you’re wrong. From local giving clubs to national foundations, all you need are the right search tools to find the organizations that are looking for a school music program just like yours to give to. You just need the skills to find them.
4. They Net a Lot More Than Individual Donors
It takes 1,000 individuals donating $5 for you to get that $5,000 you need. A single well-written grant submitted to your local Lion’s club could net you just as much.
And though collecting online donations is a great place to start, you still have to get those thousands of people to care enough to give, and even then, you aren’t collecting as much as you think. Which leads to the best reason of all . . .
5. You Keep What You Get
There are some important figures to keep in mind whenever you are fundraising: How much are you spending to make money? This is where we get to learn some business terms:
Revenue is the amount of money the donor pays, whether it’s through an online portal or a check your student collected when they ordered those Butter Braids. It’s what they can claim they donated to you.
Expenses are the funds that went toward collecting that revenue. For goods like t-shirts and hot dogs we call this the “Cost of Goods Sold” (COGS). This is typically 50% of the revenue . . . or sometimes more. But it could also be the service fee that a crowdsourcing site collects, typically 30% of the revenue, or even the processing fee from your PayPal button, 3% of revenue is a pretty good rate.
Profit is the money that is left over. This is what you’ve actually made and can use.
So that fundraiser that you’re so excited about and other teachers assure will make you the big-bucks may look like this:
Frozen Cookie Dough Fundraiser
$1,200 in sales
Online Crowdsourcing Fundraiser
$1,200 in donations
$360 Service Fee
$60 Processing Fee
PayPal Donate Now Button
$1,200 in donations
$60 Processing Fee
That’s right: The same total of donations can mean a whole different outcome for your program.
But grants are different. That $1,200 revenue from the local Lion’s Club, Education Foundation, or Kiwanis Association means you get $1,200 profit.
You just made $1,200 without selling anything—without begging for donations from individuals. Without guilt trips or door-to-door trips or tracking inventory, which can trip you up.
This is why grant writing is such a valuable tool for the professional music educator: because time and time again you get virtually free money.
Is it easy? No. But it can be simple. Just like any skill, the more you do it the easier it becomes.
You can learn all the tricks and tips for writing grants and writing them fast by checking out the NAfME Academy workshop, “How to Write a Grant in 30 Minutes or Less.”
About the author:
NAfME member Elisa Jones specializes in helping music educators build, grow, and manage thriving school music programs. With an MBA alongside her degree in music, she is also a coach and consultant to small businesses and nonprofits around the country. She has been teaching music for nearly 20 years and currently holds the prestigious position of elementary music teacher at a private K-8 Catholic School in Grand Junction, Colorado.
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