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Fighting for Territory

Hi All,
(This question was inspired by my recent conversations around my town as well as a comment here on ChoralNet about fighting for grant money with other community arts organizations--prophetic!)
I have had some interesting conversations in my community of late, as I begin auditions for my next concert cycle. I was wondering how you handle this in your situations and maybe I'm just not seeing it clearly.
I conduct a chamber choir, which I founded.  We started out as a 'community group' and now were are more 'semi-professional'.  All that means is many of my singers have degrees in music or had a very good audition and can sing more difficult music than the typical community ensemble or  make their living in music but are not paid for singing in my group.  One reason this is a chamber choir is I didn't want to be in competition with the very fine, larger groups in the area.  In fact, as I was preparing to begin my chamber choir, I took the two conductors (at the time, one group has a new conductor) of those large choruses out for coffee and for lunch (separately) to tell them what I was doing so they would know and notbe  blind-sided.  I tried to have my rehearsals and concerts not conflict with theirs (though my rehearsal night had to change and does conflict with one now) and I always make sure if we share one of their singers, we work around what they need for the other group, though the same cannot always be said about them.  In short, I try to be a good neighbor and since we sing a totally different repertoire, have assured those groups we are just trying to enhance our community's arts scene, not steal from anyone.
I was told this week, one of the groups believes we are applying for grant money that should be theirs.  We have not had any grant money, though it would be nice, because we have a very small budget right now.  We have had to fight for any recognition and now we are finally getting it, others seem to be upset and threatened by our very existance. 
Rather than continue whining--I could-- I am wondering if any of you have had a similar experince--'dueling choruses' if you will--and how you handled it.
Replies (3): Threaded | Chronological
on February 3, 2012 4:26pm
Some years ago I was the first Director of Development at a 50+ year old aviary, a bird zoo in the central part of the city. In the same city there was a large, well-funded "regular" zoo. After 50 or so years of the aviary being less-than-optimally managed and funded by the city, a newly-formed "Friends of the..." nonprofit group petitioned for and received the right to take over the management of the aviary and "save" it, with the financial support of the city contractually dwindling to almost nothing over just a few years. The original board members were bird lovers, biologists, academics, veterinarians. Only one had any fundraising experience. We were David battling Goliath for funding of all sorts. The large zoo had a development office with several employees; I was working solo. The aviary's first executive director was a very young (mid-twenties) woman with little experience in the nonprofit world.
So, although this wasn't the arts world, I can say with confidence that I do understand your struggle, and can offer a little advice:
1. Do not let any other nonprofit group guilt you out over seeking grant funding. You have as much right to seek it as any other group does.
2. Know your competitors. Go to and look at the other nonprofits' 990 financial reports (this is free). The most recent completed fiscal year's report may not be there, but other recent ones will be.
3. There are many very good guidebooks about grant writing. I can recommend this one:
4. Generate as much income from other local fundraising activities as you possibly can. Grantmakers are very impressed by groups who can prove that the local community is strongly behind them by their willingness to financially support the organization.  Ask for financial support, face to face.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Thank the heck out of your donors.  Give them special privileges (maybe the top five or ten could each choose a song that your group would sing, from a list of choices that YOU would provide to them, with the final "donor-chosen" song being randomly drawn).
5. Make sure your financial statements are in good order. Do not skimp on this.
6. The competition for grant funding is fierce, and becoming even fiercer with the current economic climate. Funders not only have less money to spread around, but individual contributions are down at most nonprofits and so they seek grant funding even more vigorously than before. The grantmaking pie is shrinking; the grantseekers are more desperate.
7. Whenever possible, get to know the appropriate person at any grantmaking foundation/agency/etc. personally. Ask for a meeting. Take him or her to lunch. Better yet, invite the person to one of your concerts or even one of your rehearsals. Let them be able to put a face to the grant proposal that crosses their desk.
Now, go back and read #1 as many times as you have to.
Good luck!
on February 3, 2012 4:58pm
I agree with Julia.  I have several years' experience in the non-profit arts world in a relatively small town where several worthy arts organizations share a lot of the same individual donors.  Fund-raising is all about relationships, and that includes the people at the grant-making organizations.  If the other choirs feel threatened by you, then perhaps they haven't built the best relationships with the people behind those grant-making organizations.
Do what's best for your organization--you can't always avoid conflicts, and you're bound to step on somebody's toes. It sounds like your group has something different to offer (both in terms of the service to your community and to your singers), so go with it, and use that distinction as your strength. The people who will 'get it' will be worth persuing. The ones that don't aren't worth your time and effort.
And again, read #1 as many times as you have to!
Good luck!
on February 3, 2012 5:57pm
Thank you both.  I do have to tell you, one of my new-ish singers teaches grant writing at a local university and is a former member of our state's art council--which approves a number of performing arts grants.  We used a quote from her (we didn't tell people what she does, we referred to her as one of our members)in our new PR.  Maybe some one from those organizations looked her up that's what set this whole thing off. It didn't occur to me until I started to read your replies. We've been talking about grants but haven't decided which we will apply for, it any this year, but certainly no one knows that.
I have done my homework so we don't conflict with concerts and we are asked to sing a lot for other people's fund raisers in addition to our own.  We're good and others know it and I think that frightens them. But as you know, singers (especially if they're on a board) can be nasty! I tend to think it's the board and not the directors or even the regular singers. 
I will read #1 many times as I need to...........thank you!
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