Grant Writing for Music Classroom

Grant writing for the music classroom: Tips, links, and more for writing a grant to purchase instruments and technology for your music room!

I've finished up the first week of teaching Kodaly Level I Pedagogy and Folk Song Research at DePaul University. It has been a great week full of lots of singing, playing, and reflective discussions!

As we go onto the second week, I'm excited about the special topics classes taught by my colleagues. On Monday and Tuesday, my friend and colleague Donna Gallo will be presenting strategies for creating music with Garage Band. I just know that after this session I'm going to be wishing I had a classroom set of Ipads! I'm posting the information below about writing grants as a reminder not only to me, but as information for any of the students in the course who are also interested, or any of you out there! 

I originally wrote this article several years ago for the MKMEA Bulletin, when I taught in Lancaster City Schools. I've received one other grant since writing the article below, from my district. I used the funds I received from that grant to purchase a classroom set of world drums, and I am so happy I did! Many organizations offer grants; you just have to do some research and work, which is, of course, very much worth it!

In the fall of 2004, as I made plans for the year, I looked around at my old, worn-out, and broken instruments, and thought sadly that I should try to build my collection.  Unfortunately, though, my instrumental budget is typical $150 or less, and any monies I might receive from the PTO or music department would not be enough to truly give me the number or quality of instruments I'd like.

This is when I decided I should try writing a grant.

As I perused the different types of grants online, I found that many were program grants instead of capital grants.  With a capital grant, I'd be able to spend the money on a brand new set of Orff instruments, just for the sake of having new equipment.  A project grant, however, is given to support a specific set of activities, explicit objectives, and a budgeted cost.  I pondered what type of project I could begin with a set of instruments, which objectives I might meet.  I looked over my year plans, my lessons, and my books, and decided there was one area in which instruments could be very beneficial: improvisation.  Although I'd been able to do some rhythmic and melodic improvisation in the classroom, I felt that instrumental improvisation, especially in the pentatonic scale, was perhaps the most accessible way, to begin with, my students.

As I thought this over and came up with a plan of action, I became more excited about the improvisational skills my students might acquire, instead of just the access to the instruments. 

My sister is a grant-writer, so with her help, I wrote a grant to the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation.  In November of 2004, I received the grant.  In January of 2005, I received a set of seven Peripole-Bergerault instruments, twenty-eight hand drums, and two books which contained improvisational concepts and ideas: Orff Schulwerk: Applications by Brigitte Warner and Exploring Orff by Arvida Steen.  I'd like to share some grant-writing tips and procedures that I learned from my sister.

  1. The Wonderful World Wide Web.  By going to a search engine such as “google” and typing in search terms such as “music education” AND “grants,” I was able to find a slew of sites that might be appropriate for my purposes.  These sites often have the application and guidelines online for your perusal. (See “web sites of interest” below.)
  2. Do your homework.  Once you've decided which grant you'd like to apply for, study as much as you can about that organization.  What kind of grants have they given out before?  What are the aims and goals of that organization?  Much can be learned just from browsing through their web site for a few minutes.
  3. What are their categories or areas of giving?  For the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation grant, I applied under “improving learning in the arts.”  Not all grants are quite that clear, though, so you may need to put a lot of consideration into which area best describes your project.
  4. Be specific.  When writing the grant, the more specific you are, the better.  For example, if the organization asks for a timeline, give specific months.  When they ask for a plan of action, be as detailed as possible.
  5. Use “we” and “our,” not “I” and “my.  This may be a no-brainer to some of you, but it wasn't to me!  My first draft included “my school” and “my grant.”  You don't want to make it seem like the school and program are controlled by one person– rather, you need to show that this is a collaborative effort (even if you're the only music teacher, and your principal doesn't know much about the grant!)
  6. Along those lines…show that you have support.  There is a delicate balance between showing that your school is in financial need and showing that your school is willing to help out.  It could be as small as $10 of “in-kind matching” (your school will fork out $10 if the amount you're asking for exceeds the maximum the organization gives), or that your school will build you a bookcase for your new supplies.  For Martha Holden Jennings, a letter from the superintendent was required to show that he/she knows about the application, and will support the program in some way.
  7. What can the organization receive in return?  Organizations that give out grants do not do it simply for the sake of kindness.  That might be part of it, but they also do it because they'll receive something in return– most often, advertising.  You might put their name on your web site, in your newsletter, and/or in your concert program.  
  8. Follow their guidelines to a “T.  Just as book publishers have slush piles, so do grant organizations.  Do exactly what they ask you to do– don't give them an excuse to dismiss yours.

And once you receive the grant…

  1. Thank and recognize the organization.  First, upon receiving the grant, it is important to send a thank-you note or letter.  Then, you might recognize the board members of the organization by inviting them to performances, assemblies, or even a class.   They might not be able to come but will appreciate the sentiment.  And if they can come, it's a wonderful way to show them how much you and your students benefited from the grant.
  2. Make sure to finish your final report.  A report stating how you met your objectives, spent the money, and so forth, is usually required. 

The biggest reward I received from the grant was not the instruments but the looks of joy on my students' faces when they performed for the school and for their parents.  I hope this will help you to tap into the endless resources available out there, so you can enjoy the benefits just as my students and I did!

Web sites of interest:

Martha Holden Jennings Foundation:     www.mhjf.org

Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation:            www.mhopus.org

Mockingbird Charitable Funding           www.mockingbirdfoundation.org/funding

The Ohio Arts Council                           www.oac.state.oh.us

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