Fundraising doesn’t need to be scary. In fact, it can be an opportunity to think creatively and create new bonds between your cast, crew and larger community. In order to get you started on banishing the fundraising boogeyman we’ve compiled this series on common fundraising strategies employed by high school theatre programs. Today’s post covers applying for grants but next week we’ll be posting about crowdfunding and funding a show with another show. It’s an ongoing project, of course, and we’d love your input – please email us anytime to share your success stories.
Part 1: Applying for grants
There are millions of dollars in grants available for schools but finding grants that fit your needs and submitting all the necessary documents and applications can easily become a full time job. That’s why it’s important to focus your energy where it counts the most: start small and start local.
Smaller, targeted grants will have less competition and, particularly for those of you who are new to fundraising, will yield a better return on the investment of your precious time. Check to see if your school district offers small grants for teachers, then move progressively larger in scope, reaching out to county, city and state governments. Many local governments have arts commissions with a number of annual grants supporting arts in the community.
Don’t limit your search to the public sector though; the private sector of your community, both non-profit and for-profit, can be a great source of funding as well. Many national corporations invest millions in giving back to their local communities. Target, for example, gives out community based grants focused specifically on arts education. On the non-profit side there are various local and state wide educational organizations (usually with names adhering to the formula of “State/Town + Association/League of Middle/High Schools”) that have targeted grants in the arts, or can help you find the grants that you need elsewhere.
Once you have selected the grants that fit the needs of your theatre the next step is writing the application. The most important advice for writing a grant application is also the simplest: carefully read the objectives of the grant and write your application to actually show how you will achieve those objectives. Every person who has ever been on the receiving end of those applications has plenty of horror stories of receiving formulaic applications containing the wrong organization name or referencing a completely different grant. Panel members want to award grants to projects that have a clear vision that is thoughtful and passionate but also backed up by quantifiable data. Don’t just write that you need a grant to buy new lights or to build bigger sets; write about what you can do with those lights or sets; write about the shows that you will be able to stage, their importance to the history of American musical theatre, their connection to the school’s broader curriculum, the number of students that you can engage in musical theatre and the impact of that engagement on those students. It may be tempting to save time by cutting some of these corners but a rejected application is never time well spent.
A caveat about grants: grants can be a great way to supplement a shrinking (or non-existent) theatre budget but there is a steep learning curve involved in researching available grants and writing the applications. The good news is that this process gets much easier with experience but if you are new to it you may want to consider asking for assistance. Perhaps the PTA or a drama club parent with a non-profit background would be willing to lend a hand.