If your foundation was presented with $1 million and the Hollywood spotlight, would it be ready? At the National Association for Music Education, a partnership with the producers of the television show Glee was an opportunity to make an immediate impact on school music programs, but it also presented a challenge to build momentum for a long-term future of fundraising. [Titled "A Grant to Grow On" in the print edition.]
Ask any successful musician—whether a Norah Jones or an Itzhak Perlman or a Victor Wooten—about his or her greatest influences, and it's likely the answer will be a school music teacher or bandleader who passed on the gift of music to a young student.
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) knows all about this kind of giving. The organization's 75,000-plus members are music educators in the public, private, and charter school sectors. "Our mission is to encourage the study and making of music by all," says Jane Balek, assistant executive director at NAfME. That mission received a massive and unexpected boost in 2011 when the producers of a hit television show donated $1 million to the NAfME foundation as a means of enabling music education in schools.
While such a generous gift is a powerful resource for an organization like NAfME, there was just one problem: The association's foundation was essentially dormant, ill-equipped to administer a grant of that size and potential complexity. NAfME had created the Foundation for the Advancement of Music Education in 2009, but many saw it as little more than a fundraising arm of the association. "There was no real consistency to it," says Jennifer Schleining, fundraising and development manager for NAfME. "By the time I came on board in spring 2011, things were sort of stopping, and there had been no recordkeeping of philanthropy or donors."
Balek agrees. "We really created that foundation without any real sense of why. So, as you can imagine, nothing happened. We did not raise any funds. There was no fundraising plan put into place. We didn't do any events."
That started to change when a new executive director, Michael Butera, arrived in 2010. Butera wanted to know what the organization was doing with its foundation. "His thinking was, 'Look, if we have one, we're going to do something with it. We need to get some legs under it,'" says Balek.
A grant of $1 million certainly qualifies as "legs," especially at a time when school budgets are tightening and municipal governments are cutting funding, often making music programs among the first casualties. Now NAfME had been given a rare opportunity to make a measurable difference in students' lives. But the organization would have to find a way to re-engineer its foundation to distribute the new grant money responsibly, while it also sought to build a structure for long-term sustainability so that its efforts wouldn't fall by the wayside once again.
Partnership in Harmony
The planets were beginning to align in 2009, when Balek got a call from Corey Gibson, with a marketing firm in Los Angeles. "Corey said to me, 'I have this great idea to save music education,'" says Balek.
Gibson's plan was to line up a corporate partner for a fundraising initiative and a corresponding awareness campaign. He had pitched it to a couple of national corporations and nobody had shown much interest, but his firm had a relationship with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, and when he picked up the January 27, 2011, issue of The Hollywood Reporter, a light bulb went on.
In a cover story about the wildly successful Fox television show Glee, creator Ryan Murphy revealed intentions to donate up to $1 million to fund arts education. Gibson approached the Glee team with his plan and connection with NAfME, and Fox and the Glee producers were soon on board.
The team that produces Glee had been seeing a groundswell of support among its fans for music education. Rio Cyrus, senior vice president of marketing at Fox Home Entertainment, says, "We were actually thinking about creating our own 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. So we said, 'Rather than do that, let's go with the biggest nonprofit that actually champions public schools every day.' So it was a natural to partner with NAfME."
A New Composition
The $1 million grant from Fox was a game changer for the team at NAfME, which had a fair amount of "back to the drawing board" work to do. First was a rebranding of the existing foundation as the Give a Note Foundation. Then, much of the work centered on two key sets of stakeholders: the foundation's board of directors and NAfME's 45-member staff.
The foundation board had previously consisted of three members from the NAfME board: the current president, immediate past president, and president-elect. It was a "caretaker board," as Balek calls it, and it had not taken an active role in setting direction for the foundation. That needed to change, so NAfME began the process of recruiting new board members who would guide the Give a Note Foundation into the future.
Meanwhile, Balek and colleagues took on the task of restructuring the foundation's governance, bylaws, and policies. The board would expand to five members, always to include the immediate past president of the NAfME board, to ensure accountability of the foundation's activities to the parent association.
"It's something we deliberately created a policy for," says Balek, "because we learned that, sometimes, when you create a foundation related to an association, you run the risk of the foundation becoming more powerful because it has more assets or it gets more attention. We didn't want that to happen." This shared oversight gives the NAfME board confidence that the foundation's goals and activities will continue to support the association's mission.
Nonetheless, Give a Note is its own entity. "From a legal perspective, it is a separate corporation; they maintain minutes and they have board meetings and so forth," says Eileen Johnson, legal counsel to NAfME and a partner at Whiteford Taylor Preston LLP. "One of the benefits of structuring it that way is that its funds cannot be used to cover the debts of the other corporation. And if NAFME were to have creditor issues, they couldn't come after the funds in the foundation."
When the foundation launched, Butera asked the NAfME board members to make a donation, and every one of them did. "For Michael to step up to our board leadership and say, 'This is how you demonstrate leadership, and it starts with a culture of giving,' that was just huge," says Balek.
Meanwhile, a number of NAfME's staff members were asked to take on additional duties. A written cross-sharing agreement was established that says the association will fully support the foundation's operations—staff, overhead, facilities, and so on—for its first two years. "It can be stressful. We're basically running a second organization with the same staff as the association," says Balek.
Management consultant David Kushner, president of the Kushner Companies LLC, was brought in to work with staff and potential board members during the transition. He believes transparency was a key part of getting staff buy-in for Give a Note. Balek hosted in-house lunch meetings, for instance, to educate staff.
"They came together and had fun, and she explained what they were doing and why they were doing it and what it would mean," Kushner says. "I think it became clear that it was well thought out. From the staff's perspective, it wasn't like 'Another brilliant idea from upstairs.' They could see why it was being done, how it was going to be done, who would be involved, what their roles would be, and so forth."
Give a Note launched officially on June 15, 2011, followed by a formal announcement at NAfME's annual conference later in the month.
Setting the Tempo
NAfME worked with the team at Fox to identify the areas of greatest need, and the Fox team's level of engagement impressed Balek and her colleagues. "The Glee people asked us, 'What's the problem? What can we do? How can we make the most impact?'" she says.
Fox decided to fund the $1 million grant by way of DVD sales. When the Glee Season Two DVD and Blu-ray went on sale in September 2011, one dollar from each unit sold went into the grant fund, a fact touted on a Give a Note sticker on each package. Fox also produced promotional posters, which were sent to NAfME members at the secondary and high school levels, and NAfME worked with news teams at Fox affiliates on stories focused on the struggles and successes of school music programs in local communities.
Balek says everyone involved wanted to encourage students to participate in the process of applying for a grant. "The Fox people thought it would be great for schools to create videos," she says. "And rather than it being a performance-based video, they wanted to have the kids creatively talk about why their schools needed funding."
It was decided that any school could upload a video, up to two minutes in length, to a website, www.gleegiveanote.com. And upload they did: In September and October 2011, close to 500 schools submitted videos to the site.
Two rounds of voting were set up. The first was a public round, in which music students mobilized their own communities—family, friends, fellow students—to vote for their videos online. The approach worked, with more than 1.7 million votes cast over a 30-day period. "We heard stories where principals actually got on their PA systems and said, 'Alright, everybody take out your phone, or whatever you're using, and vote now,'" says Balek.
A second round was then conducted, with a panel of music educators from around the country viewing the videos on a blind basis, without knowing who had submitted each one or where the submitting school was located. In late November, winners were selected by the panel based on criteria agreed upon by NAfME and Fox. The winners were announced in mid-December, and the grant awards were made early in 2012.
One winner, Detroit's King High School, used its grant as seed money to send its band to perform at the London Olympics this month. "The schools were fantastic, the children and the teachers were inspirational, and NAFME was among the best partners we've ever worked with," says Fox's Cyrus.
The partnership has been a winner for NAfME, as well. "Once you get a sponsor like that, or a donor like that behind you, it gives you some credibility in talking to other potential donors and potential board members," says Johnson.
It also helps in reaching a national audience, says Schleining, who became development director for Give a Note in addition to her association responsibilities. "The program generated a lot of awareness of the struggles that schools, big or small, around the nation are having with their music programs. It created that national exposure to the problem."
Balek sees the partnership continuing. In fact, one of Glee's producers, Mary Robinson, is among the members of the foundation's first full five-person board, inducted in June. "It's been great good fortune on our part," Balek says. "The folks at Glee and at Fox have been amazing. They've loved the cause and the mission so much that they suggested another event to do with us, which is a charity concert that they'd like to do either this fall or spring 2013 for the Give a Note Foundation, at the Hollywood Bowl."
The Beat Goes On
Since receiving the grant from Fox, the foundation has taken advantage of the buzz to build momentum for its work. It has raised more than $50,000 in additional funds as a result of actively soliciting donations through donation forms in NAfME membership renewals, membership card mailings, and merchandise orders. NAfME also is using website promotion and donation envelopes in its publications to drive giving to the foundation, and a number of schools and churches have raised funds for Give a Note after hearing about the cause through the Glee contest.
The 100 percent participation of NAfME's board in giving to Give a Note also has served as a powerful example to NAfME's constituents. "We think the changes we've made in the way we communicate with our stakeholders about giving is a factor," says Schleining. "We won't completely change our culture overnight, but we've definitely made a lot of progress in that direction."
Now, the foundation has set its sights on supporting music programs for years to come.
"We believe very strongly that the kinds of grants we gave in the Give a Note program should be part of a long-term plan for the foundation … to continue to provide what we call 'boost grants' for music education programs, especially for schools in need," says Balek. "But we want to make sure that those grants go to programs that are going to be around for a few years. We're trying to provide funding to programs that have some sort of plan for sustaining themselves. Sustainability is very important."
Douglas R. Kelly is editor of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers' Marine Technology magazine. Email: [email protected]