“I find my greatest pleasure, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success.”
–Thomas Edison (The Musician’s Way, p. 216)

If we want to organize self-produced events – things such as concerts, festival, and community-engagement initiatives – one way that we can mitigate financial risk and boost our bottom line is to partner with non-profit organizations and then raise money via grants.

This post summarizes two strategies for doing so.

Prelude: Grant Basics
Most institutions that award grants, such as foundations, can disburse monies only to registered non-profit organizations – typically those designated as 501(c)(3) in the U.S. tax code.

Although there exist some grant programs in the U.S. that aid individual musicians and artists, most either confer paltry sums or are not suited to performance or educational projects. (Composers will find more avenues to obtain individual grants.)

Besides, it’s best for us to come up with projects that can attract bigger sums and forgo trivial grants because funders typically require applicants to submit time-consuming applications and recipients to provide detailed reports.

A sensible way to proceed is to team up with non-profit organizations whose missions intersect with ours. Then, those organizations can serve as our presenters or our fiscal agents.

Strategy No. 1: Non-Profit Organizations as Presenters
Let’s say that we want to start a concert series or festival in a town that we feel would embrace our music – we’ve got a powerful idea for our event, a well-written proposal, and an itemized budget.

We might partner with the likes of a college or church that has an appropriate performance space to host our concerts.

That non-profit organization would then submit grant applications to potential funders to underwrite costs such as artist fees, insurance, and advertising (we’d usually write the bulk of the grant proposals that the organization submits).

Case Example: I employed this funding structure when I directed the Southwest Guitar Festival in San Antonio, Texas. The University of Texas at San Antonio served as the presenter and the recipient of the grant funds I raised. Festival artists were then paid by the university, which also contributed resources. In this way, the festival didn’t have to rely solely on ticket sales and registration fees to pay its bills. We kept ticket and registration prices low, making the event accessible to everyone, and the university was able to fulfill its mission of serving the greater community. We drew large audiences, and the festival earned glowing reviews and a modest profit. The surplus monies remained in an account at the university and helped fund subsequent festivals.

Strategy No. 2: Non-Profit Organizations as Fiscal Agents
Another funding strategy that can complement or replace the one above involves working with non-profit organizations that don’t necessarily put on events but can obtain grants to support our projects.

For instance, if we develop programs tailored to schoolchildren or the elderly – ones that we’d present at multiple sites in a particular region – we might partner with a community organization whose mission includes serving those populations.

That non-profit organization, acting as our fiscal agent, would receive grants and then pay us to deliver programs in the region it serves. Often, such fiscal agents retain a small portion of the grant monies received – the amounts vary and sometimes can be negotiated.

Case Example: I implemented this strategy to fund my fees to teach workshops to teen musicians at a number of high schools in Forsyth County, North Carolina. A local music society that promoted arts education served as the fiscal agent. It was awarded grants from the North Carolina Arts Council and the Winston-Salem Foundation, and my workshops didn’t cost the schools or the students a penny.

Along similar lines, many US artists and emerging arts organizations partner with FracturedAtlas.org, which provides fiscal sponsorship nationally. In addition, the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors offers concise guidelines for finding fiscal sponsors; also see the Fiscal Sponsor Directory.

Attracting Non-Profit Partners
To entice non-profit partners, we have to begin with cogent project goals – ones that will break new artistic ground, impact disadvantaged people, target unmet needs, and so forth.

The first steps, therefore, entail not only understanding basic business principles but also recognizing opportunities, generating ideas, and identifying possible partners.

For grantwriting resources along with links to funders, check out my post Resources for Grantseekers

Other related posts are categorized Entrepreneurship.

© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Losevsky Pavel, licensed from Shutterstock.com

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