Ideas for Funding Musical Arts Programs in School

What toll is the recession taking on state economies?

$ 538,000,000,000

This is the combined total of state budget gaps experienced and projected over four fiscal years (2009-2012) per the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Federal stimulus funds, budget cuts, tax increases and reserves used as gap fillers create a short term illusion of security. We can still drive on roads, expect a response to a 911 call, and our kids go to school. But the underlying cash flow imbalance will continue to squeeze, including key elements within our education system.

School programs viewed as non-essential such as band/orchestra remain cost saving targets. Urgent levies and political changes are unlikely to shield further cuts given the nature of this recession. Such cuts deny our children (i.e., our future society and leaders) the benefits of a well-rounded education. Those benefits are nicely articulated in an April 9, 2010 speech by Education Secretary, Arne Duncan.

This post offers a few “high leverage” ideas to raise net-extra funds to help preserve music making in our schools. They’re about monetizing or tapping into existing material and cash-flow streams. Offered without warranty, but in a spirit of ideation. Something to share with your school/PTA/PTO and booster leaders to assess interest and viability within local rules. Easy links are built into the subtitles.

1. Amazon Associates program – create an Amazon “aStore” on your school’s website or affiliated music program site. Simple and free. Load it with Amazon sku’s that students are going to need or want as part of regular school year purchases … books, supplies, gear for school teams/clubs, school related clothing, any other common items congruent with school spirit. Ask parents to originate their Amazon purchases via the site’s aStore. Amazon will then reward your directed marketing efforts with commissions in the 4-15% range. No added cost to the shoppers!

Enlist a student/faculty team to create the aStore page, keep it fresh. Integrate fun incentives to encourage frequent visit, e.g., create a related YouTube channel on the site featuring clips from marching band performances, concerts, talent shows.

2. Kroger Neighborhood Reward program – similar to preceding concept, this allows your school to earn commissions on purchases made at your local Kroger and affiliated stores (e.g., Ralphs, Dillons, King Soopers). Easy setup. Fill in the application with proper 501(c)3 verification, then purchase loaded gift cards that are re-sold to participating families. Cards can be continuously recharged. When aggregated purchases exceed the $5k per 4-week threshold, your school receives a 4% commission check. Everyone needs to eat, Krogers is a great place to shop.

3. eBay Instrument Resale Program – where do all those instruments go that were played by graduating seniors? Some to college, some to younger siblings, most likely hibernate in a closet. Find a seasoned eBay’er in your parent population, or better yet, a local music shop that would host an “eBay drop off store” capability. They can efficiently refurbish instruments as necessary, and with more shops building online presence (to survive), they have optimized listing and shipping techniques.

The music shop earns a consignment fee and gets to boost their eBay transaction volume and feedback ratings, whereas the school collects net proceeds. There may be some tax benefit for the family donating the instrument … need to check with a tax expert. Think broader than the band/orchestra instruments … all those guitars, amps, music books. eBay is a huge market (90 million traders globally) to monetize value from those closet-destined instruments.

4. Ukulele After-School Club – yes, a plug for my program, but it offers relevant help. Not as much a fundraiser as it is a program to create more incentive to join and support music making. The more students involved, the more parents that see value and give it weight. The enrollment of 8th grade students in band/orchestra across US schools is only 1-in-5. Not every student desires to play or can afford such instruments.

Simple model. Bulk orders from True Joy Acoustics are discounted. The discount is channeled to the school (kits are resold to families at face value), or passed on to maximize enrollment. The music teacher, student or community leader implements a fun and engaging program (ukuleles are easy to learn) … students learn and perform together. This creates a value-added extension to traditional school music programs, reaches more students and stimulates cross-over synergy (e.g., I kind of like playing music together with my friends … maybe I’ll look into joining band).

If you like any or all of these ideas, please share them with the appropriate contacts and forums in your school district. Point a link to this post out there in your social media networks. Perhaps they will invite testimonials and learning from those who already implement them (e.g., my children’s district uses the Kroger Reward Program) or spur on discussion and additional ideas. Let’s keep the music playing!

Greg H., True Joy Acoustics founder

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