How Do I Fund Thee?
Let Me Count the Ways
By Karen Thickstun, NCTM
American Music Teacher, April/May 2020
My beloved project.
I envision thee in all thy beauty.
But whereof is the funding?
Fundraising is not an Elizabethan tragedy. Successful fundraising is a concrete plan of action with specific, targeted and diversified activities. Fundraising can be undertaken by a Collegiate Chapter, a non-profit organization, an individual teacher or performer—anyone! Let's count the ways!
Fundraising by a Collegiate Chapter
The following strategies are utilized by the Butler MTNA Collegiate Chapter to fund national conference trips and various outreach projects:
- Student Government Association (SGA). As a student organization on campus, the Collegiate Chapter is eligible to apply for SGA grants. This has been one of the Chapter's largest funding sources.
- State Music Teachers Association. Indiana Music Teachers Association offers travel grants for collegiate members.
- Letter to local associations. Local teachers have been thrilled to help out aspiring young professionals, often donating more than the Chapter asked.
- School of Music travel grants and University research grants. These are fruitful sources for the years when the Chapter is presenting at a conference.
- MTNA collegiate travel and/or enrichment grants. Up to $100 for travel or $750 for enrichment is available from MTNA. Deadline is typically in early November.
- Crowdfunding. The Butler Chapter uses GoFundMe as an easy way to connect with out-of-state friends and family and to manage donations. Learn more at
- Personal letters to family, colleagues and friends.
- Donation jar at Chapter events, such as the annual Children's Festival or Member
Recital. Parents are often willing to help out young teachers.
- Various activities, such as bake sales, white elephant sale, merchandise with logo and singing Valentines. Check university policies for limitations.
Fundraising by a Non-Profit Organization
The following strategies are utilized by the Butler Community Arts School to raise more than $100,000 annually for its scholarship fund:
- Grants from local and state foundations, and the Indiana Arts Commission. A previous column, "Grantwriting 101," is a resource for getting started with grants. 1
- Surplus revenue from those who can afford to pay full price.
- Strategic partnerships. Partnerships with community centers, United Way agencies and a local youth orchestra enable everyone to jointly share costs for outreach classes.
- In-kind (or non-monetary) contributions, such as musical instrument donations and pianos loaned by the local music store.
- Corporate donations and sponsorships, especially for underwriting special events.
- Individual donors.
- City/county government. Check your mayor's office or tourism board for initiatives that align with your organization's mission.
- Civic groups. In exchange for a short performance by our students, civic clubs and women's groups have made donations.
Other ideas include naming rights, especially if the project is a capital item such as a piano or stage; "selling" the piano keys on a Steinway; and a performance Piano-a-thon. A previous column, "Fundraising: Who Cares?" provides more information. 2
Fundraising by an Individual
The following strategies have been utilized by recent graduates to support a performance and/or teaching career:
- Family and friends.
- Individual donors who will "build your tribe." Stay in touch through regular communication. Create "perks" that encourage loyalty, such as priority
seating or a private reception.
- Grants for individual artists from a local or state arts council or MTNA. Individuals can apply for MTNA's teacher enrichment and community engagement grants; deadline is typically early May.
- Strategic partnerships, such as a local music store for a performance venue.
- In-kind contributions or barter agreements.
- Corporate donations and sponsorships.
- Crowdfunding. Jeeyoon Kim used Kickstarter to launch her first CD.
- Special events, such as a house concert or CD release party.
- Sales of CDs and other merchandise.
- Diversified revenue streams, such as advertising in the program book.
David Cutler's The Savvy Musician is a resource for additional strategies for individual artists.
Do I need 501(c)(3) Not-For-Profit Status?
Yes, but only if you expect donors to value the tax-deduction benefit for their contributions. For small scale or local projects, this may not be important to donors.
One solution is fiscal sponsorship—the relationship between a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization and an individual or group that has a similar mission, without the individual or group having to file for non-profit status by itself. Fractured Atlas (www.fracturedatlas.org) is a not-for-profit organization that supports artists by serving as the fiscal agent, which allows donors to make tax-deductible contributions.
So now you have a defined project (with goals that align with your mission), a fiscal agent (if needed), and multiple strategies for building a diversified fundraising plan. Time to get started!
1. Karen Thickstun, "Grantwriting 101: Just the FAQs," American Music Teacher, August/September 2017 , pp. 42–43.
2. Thickstun, "Fundraising: Who Cares?" American Music Teacher, December/January 2017/2018 , pp. 37–38.
Karen Thickstun, NCTM, teaches piano pedagogy at Butler University and directs the Butler Community Arts School. She holds degrees in music, economics and business. Thickstun is MTNA president-elect.