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Voices of the Arts

Reprinted from The Post-Crescent, March 14, 2014

Very similar to a student applying for scholarships to pay for college, nonprofit organizations must rely on grants to help fund a portion of their budget each year.
And, like that student sweating over the essay questions and lists of their accomplishments, nonprofits devote much time and energy making sure their grant applications are well written and compelling.

Grants are defined as funds given by an organization for a particular purpose. There are grants that benefit all types of needs in a community, including the arts. Grants start with donors — corporations, individuals, or organizations — who have a passion for a particular social issue and a desire to make their community a better place to live. There are grants for basic needs like groceries and housing. There are grants for cultural and artistic ventures. There are grants for educational initiatives. Some have broad objectives and some are very narrow in scope.

A grant may have a matching component, where the amount awarded is dependent on the organization raising a portion of the funds. Some grants support local projects, some take applications from throughout the country.

Many of us in the arts spend significant time and effort looking to those granting organizations to help us fulfill our missions. While we would like for our ballet performances to generate the revenue to cover all of our costs, it is a reality that supplemental funds are a necessary to sustain us.

According to Jeanie Kurka-Reimer, executive director of newVoices, “Grants are an extremely important part of the growth and sustainability of our organization. For example, a grant from the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region made it possible for us to plan for and hire an executive director, which has been a significant benefit to the sustainability of newVoices.”

Some organizations have a staff or board member solely devoted to seeking out and writing grant applications, as well as keeping track of their deadlines. Often, grant writing is part of an entire fundraising, or development, position. There are also many professional firms that organizations can hire to seek and write their applications.

During fiscal year 2013, of the $12 million in grants from all charitable funds within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, 9 percent went to arts and culture programs and projects.

“The arts sector is certainly an important part of helping our community be vital and creative, and we have worked to support the arts throughout the years. Between 2006-09, we launched a Youth Education in the Arts initiative to encourage arts organizations to work together on creating and growing arts opportunities for children and youth,” said Marti Hemwall, vice president of community engagement for the Community Foundation. “Most importantly, we used our experience to identify two priorities in the arts and culture focus area — to increase access to the arts, and to support arts education and participation among our children and youth. “

Many grants are competitive, with several organizations vying for a limited pool of funds. Those writing the grants strive to make their requests as compelling as possible. Applications often will include detailed information about the organization’s mission, project, budget, populations served and ways in which the funds will be used.

The final step for any grant is some type of final report that reflects the use of the funds. It’s important that this report be thorough and just as compelling as the application. A final report may be referred to by a granting organization in the next application a nonprofit writes.

We can think of grants as the scholarships of the nonprofit world.

Linda Drezdzon is the executive director of the Makaroff Youth Ballet, a member group of the Fox Arts Network. FAN is a grassroots arts organization made up of nonprofit arts groups serving the Fox Cities and surrounding communities with a goal of encouraging trial in all art forms. You can contact them at [email protected].

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