Supplement Your Theatre Budget with Grants
By Karen Gilchrist
Karen Gilchrist has been an educator for 34 years, teaching K-12 music and drama at both private and public schools. She has directed over 120 plays and musicals, including a great number from Pioneer Drama Service.
You know that finding enough funding for theater programs — especially middle school programs — can be a big challenge. In our district, we are not allowed to sell tickets to our shows, so that avenue of income is not an option for us. Over the years, my students have sold all sorts of various items. Personally, I hate this because (a) people don’t need or want what we’re selling, (b) parents wind up purchasing the stuff and paying anyway or (c) you drive yourself crazy trying to get all of the money returned and balanced. With that in mind, several years ago I decided to try to write some grants that would help shore up our budget and have discovered this is a wonderful and often under-utilized financial resource.
So how do you go about finding grant money? First, start small. Check to see if your district offers small grants for teachers. Often times there are parent groups that have done fundraising specifically so they can fund special activities or projects. Look beyond the PTA! For instance, our district created an Education Foundation that fundraises and then offers teachers a chance to write a grant proposal.
Next, look at local businesses that support the schools. Target, for example offers grants for educators. Our local energy company offered grants for teachers’ creative ideas with the condition that the company then posts the grant proposals, including a unit or lesson plan, so other teachers can search the database and even contact the person who created the unit or lesson.
Another source of grant funding comes through various educational organizations. For instance, Colorado Association of Middle Level Educators (CAMLE) awarded our school with a small grant to support a WWII unit we were doing in conjunction with the Pioneer Drama Service musical Kilroy Was Here. (See example below for more about this.
Finally, there are large grants that are frequently found through online searches, in educational publications (e.g. Teacher Magazine) or publicized by large corporations. While the amounts can be impressive, the larger the grant, the more heated the competition. That being said, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth applying for one of these grants. After all, somebody has to win them, and you can’t win if you don’t try!
Since your time is a precious commodity, you don’t want to waste it filling out grant applications for grants that you cannot qualify for. You should take the time to carefully read the requirements when deciding to apply for a specific grant and not cut corners. You can write the most wonderful grant application only to find that you are not within the given geographical area required by the grant or that your subject area isn’t included in their funding plan.
When you find a grant that fits your circumstances, make a checklist of the information and documents required and leave yourself plenty of time. You can supply the general information required, but if exact data is required that is only correctly known by the administrators of your building or district, it will take longer to complete your application. It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: make sure you fill out everything neatly, completely and correctly and submit your application before the deadline.
Most importantly, thoroughly think through what your goal is for the grant money so you can communicate it in a clear and concise plan. You will need to be accountable for the use of the money if the grant is awarded, so be detailed and specific in your proposal for how the money will be used. While your overall goal is undoubtedly to give your students a quality and memorable theater experience, there will likely be at least one person on the funding committee who likes data. Including solid information with measurable goals will impress the number crunchers on the decision panel. How many students will be involved? How many audience members do you anticipate will experience live theatre? How does your play fit into the school curriculum? How does being involved in the performing arts affect a student’s grades? (You can find great stats about this online or by calling Pioneer Drama!)
Along with your proposal, provide a professional business style cover letter that restates your contact information. If possible, also include a photo of your students in action. It puts a fun, friendly face to your group and makes your application stand out for the evaluation team!
Finally, once you get the grant and you’ve successfully implemented your plan, put together an end report — even if they don’t require it — that also serves as a thank you letter. Include photos, programs, quotes from students, parents, teachers, guests, etc. to give weight to the importance and impact of your project. Not only is it just good manners, it also puts you in a good light for when you apply again next year!
My experience with the WWII musical Kilroy Was Here is an excellent example of how we received significant grant support for not only the musical but also the outreach activities surrounding the unit.
Because our plan tied in nicely to academic curricula and standards already in place in 7th and 8th grade social studies, our grant proposals had more clout than stand-alone theater applications. Kilroy was an arts-driven unit, which tied all learning together across grades and subjects throughout the unit. Our plan also included bringing in community members (members of The Greatest Generation) to take part in the activities, thus creating good will between the school and the city. Ultimately, we received four different grants for this all-school unit: an Education Foundation grant, an Excellence in Education special award, a grant from CAMLE and a grant from XCEL Energy. This grant money allowed us to include activities and presentations that would have been far beyond our normal financial ability as a school.
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