What's the Shubert Foundation Looking For in Nonprofit Theater Organizations?

Not all funding dollars are equal. For proof, look no further than the Shubert Foundation, which doles out "unrestricted" grants to theater groups nationwide. The foundation just announced the recipients of its 2014 grant cycle.

Now don't get us wrong. Any theater, regardless of its size, location, or financial needs, would be happy to receive a grant with strings attached. It happens all the time. But funding from the Shubert Foundation is special. As we note in our Grant Finder profile, they allocate funding for "any operational support costs the grantees determine." In other words, they more or less write a blank check (with some obvious stipulations).

At the same time, the foundation's grant application criteria specifies the types of investments it does not explicitly support. This includes funding for:

  • Project support
  • Audience development
  • Direct subsidy of reduced-price admissions
  • Conduit organizations (agencies that disburse funds to individuals or other organizations)
  • Media (film, TV and radio)
  • Renovation projects, loans, capital or endowment campaigns

Now, we know what you're thinking: If you're a theater organization that needs to boost audience development, can you apply for a grant under the foundation's general application criteria and subsequently use the unrestricted funding for activities pertaining to audience development purposes? The answer is most likely no, but that doesn't mean you can't use the money in other ways that may have the added benefit of promoting audience development. This assumes that your application meets the foundation's standards, which asks applicants to document:

  • A record of artistic achievement
  • The impact of the organization and its programs
  • A record of developing new work and developing artists
  • Other significant contributions to the field
  • Administrative strength
  • An ability to generate both earned and contributed income
  • Fiscal stability

The foundation prefers organizations with an annual budget of at least $150,000 (those with less are asked to contact the foundation before applying) and seem particularly interested in theaters located off the beaten path. As a result, competition for Shubert Foundation grants is extremely competitive.

As for this recent round of funding, the foundation awarded $22.5 million to over 200 nonprofit theater companies, as well as over two dozen dance organizations. The largest amount awarded in 2014 was $300,000 to both the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and Lincoln Center Theater in New York City. And while the foundation certainly rewarded "big city" organizations — 22 recipients hailed from the Chicago area, for example — smaller cities and towns like Bristol, PA and Lewisburg were very well represented.