The little rows of numbers take up their place across the page of the project spreadsheet. Adopting an orderly fashion, the lines serve the purpose of a groove marked in the soil by a gardener before planting can begin. These rows are the unsung heroes of community music, the basis from which the seeds of community music can grow. They give structure and scaffolding to all CMVic’s projects and programs, forecasting growth, duration and outreach. And while the figures are only the start of the story, it’s all a bit of a chicken and egg situation when it comes to applying for funding.
Over the next page or so, CMVic’s ‘head gardener’ Administration and Finance Coordinator, John Howard, talks about laying the groundwork and shares his tips on the hard graft of applying for project funding, the font of so many wondrous things. Thankfully, John not only sings numbers he can play them and juggle them too, something he really enjoys. As he says, “I kind of don’t get what’s so weird about numbers.”
Over the course of the past year, John has spent a considerable amount of time researching grants and exploring funding options to sustain and develop some of Community Music Victoria’s current key projects.
One of these projects is Growing Community Music (GCM) which has just reached the end of phase one, a state-wide gathering of information from community music leaders and participants about what they need to support their practice, led by Jane Coker and Lyndal Chambers.
“Growing Community Music (GCM) is what Community Music Victoria is all about as an organisation, it’s what we’re doing“, says John. “We’re growing community music and growing participation. One of the things to emerge from the first phase has been the need for local catalysts, a bit like CMVic had back in the days of big funding from Vic Health, and the opportunity to actually employ people to do that work of mapping what’s there and connecting people up. That’s what we’d like to try and do as part of the next phase of GCM, and I think also having a local steering group in place in each of the regions. To do this would be upwards of around $700, 000 bucks, but any amount can kick it off and get things started.”
Because of the scope and financial requirements of the project, John is looking to secure funding from multiple sources. “If we apply for $90,000 from one funding body, that’s not going to go very far but maybe some of the other applications will come through and that will be fabulous!”
It isn’t easy applying for funding, it’s time consuming and there are invariably knock backs along the way. One rule of thumb is to apply to funding bodies with whom you have a working history who are already familiar with your work. “I think what we’re likely to do is to approach Helen Macpherson Smith Trust because they know us, they know what we’re doing is fabulous and they have a history of supporting what we are doing.” In considering the next phase of GCM, John believes it’s imperative to demonstrate to potential funding bodies the activity and outcomes which’ve been effective and ongoing, since the concept of regional catalysts was originally implemented to support community music making across Victoria.
As the primary funder of Community Music Victoria, Creative Victoria serves as an advisory body offering support and advocacy about where to go and who to approach for grants pertaining to specific projects, and when to do this. Given that applying for grants is a fairly ongoing pressure, what is it, other than his own passion for community music making, that fires and inspires John to put pen to paper and fingers to keys when he’s faced with a funding deadline?
“Sometimes I feel like it’s such relatively piddling amounts of money that we’re asking for in the grand scheme of things, but what happens to people when they take part in making music is fantastic. We get to see that a lot and I love that and I live for that in some ways, it’s a big thing in my life, making music in various contexts and I just think it’s a wonderful thing for human beings to do, so let’s make it possible for everyone to do, or as many people as we can!”
One of the challenges John finds is expressing this joy in the comparatively formal style of writing required: “It can be hard to express this in the dry fashion within a grant application, you know, the ‘research shows that blah blah blah’ side of things. And different things go to different mobs. Sometimes you have to write a lot, and sometimes you just send in a pro forma about your organisation and what your main priorities for funding are, with a link back to the website.”
John feels that in terms of funding it is good to think both big and small. “I think the small is sometimes more likely and if we can get a bit of a start to allow local groups to be set up and help them apply for money from their local councils, that’s another way to get something happening. The Ian Potter Foundation is a lovely foundation to approach as they only fund upwards of $100k!” Even if you approach an organisation and get knocked back, nothing is ever wasted as they will have become aware of your work and you may be lucky with subsequent applications. It’s about building rapport and it’s important to be recognised as a charity that does bloody good work!”
Before applying for a grant, John suggests it’s well worth making time to establish a rapport with the relevant project officer and tailoring the nature of the content for your audience. Consider the style of language used by the funder. Are they looking for ‘excellence’? Do they refer to practitioners and participants as ‘artists’? Is their focus more ‘high end’ ie, the Ballet or the Opera. “There’s a lot of good stuff out there to advise you in how to approach a grant writing application. Use plain English, that’s meant to be good. Be direct and clear about what you’re applying for. So much depends on who’s giving the money and what they’re asking for. Our Community is a good place to go for advice and you can find out what grants are available as well as info about courses on how to write good funding applications. It’s generally about reading the guidelines and ascertaining upon what basis they’re going to decide to allocate.”
If you require an incorporated organisation to auspice your grant application, John recommends getting in touch with Auspicious Arts Projects. “They will meet with you at their place next to the Malthouse in South Melbourne, help you with your grant application, and will only take money from you if you actually get your grant – and they will have helped you build in their 5% auspice fee too. I can’t recommend them too highly.”
Lastly, don’t worry! As John says, while applying for funding can sometimes feel tenuous in some ways, keep in mind that when the outcome is successful, amazing things happen. Think positive, do your research and as you write visualise all the great things you can achieve with the funds.
Written by Deb Carveth with John Howard for Community Music Victoria
For a full list of current projects from Community Music Victoria, click here.
Auspicious Arts Projects: a not-for-profit creative community management organisation who assists artists and arts organisations
Our Community: Where not for profits go for help: advice, connections, training and easy-to-use tech tools for people and organisations working to build stronger communities.
Funding Centre: Where not for profits go for money
Creative Victoria Grants and Support
Regional Arts Victoria Funding Opportunities