Taking it for Granting…..

The Springfield Symphony (MO) was just awarded a substantial grant from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks for implementing a city wide program of community concerts with the assistance of students from 4 elementary schools helping to produce them with the aid of our professional staff. But, there’s a twist!  Two hours before presenting the proposal to the committee, I was standing in front of my Audience Connections class discussing both the program and the presentation getting their feedback which actually altered my presentation.  However that’s not the twist (more on the program soon).  It’s that the grant is not the reason we are doing the program……

Bottom line, if we propose a program to be considered for grant funding or foundation support, we’ll have either already started the program, or we’ll do it regardless and find other ways of getting it supported.  I believe the reason for doing any outreach or educational program (in this case it is both) is because it’s important to do, and will make a difference, and not because there might be a check to support it!  That is insincere.  When I went before the committee I had the prior commitment of two donors who had pledged their support. They knew then, that we were being sincere, and I went on to explain that the only thing the grant would do, would be to make the program happen sooner.  I pledged to get it supported either way, I believe in it that much.  Furthermore if the program proves to be a success, we are not going to wait till the money runs out throw up our hands and blame that for it’s demise.  No, we will fight to sustain it.

It’s so easy to blame a lack of funding and so hard to admit that it’s our fault we didn’t put the effort into getting more support in time to continue the program.  Of course there are grants for one off projects such as compositions, buildings etc… but too often I’ve read about the demise of a great idea because the funding ran out.  If a grant is the only reason you are doing it, then it’s not a true program and if it was a great idea, it was wasted.  It also gives the program recipients a false premise that we cared for them and that the program was for them, when it was really just for us to get a grant.  That new audience – the true “supporters” of an orchestra in the purest sense – might then be lost forever.  In other words, we would have given them a wedding, but no marriage!

  • So, how about a “Pregrantial Agreement”?:

I would argue that all foundations and even arts councils  should require from organizations initial support for a project before even considering a grant request so there is proof that the idea is sincere and that the community wants to invest in it.  At the very least, they should never fund the full amount, therefore challenging the organization and the board to find a way to make up the difference for the program to happen (no money if it doesn’t), to prove that they can and want to!   By doing this you will then have established a potential donor base for the program to continue and build beyond the original granting period.    I know there are matching programs, but they should all be in some way.

The Knight Foundation as well intentioned as it was with their Magic of Music project gave substantial and full funding to many orchestras for different kinds of programs and concert series.  There was one concert series in particular on the West Coast that was touted as highly successful, selling out just about every time.  It was innovative, and a beacon for “transformational change” in the search for those “shining eyes” the foundation was looking for.  I say was,  because the money ran out, the program was canceled and the audience, well it seems they ran out too, and haven’t come back…in droves!

I want to have to justify, argue and fight for what I believe in.  Funding something at 100% means that we will always be in danger of ….taking it for granting!

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