Friends of Alvin Ailey "Goes Big" and Nets $375k Kauffman Grant—Here's How They Did It

At running the risk of sounding like a politician, Americans like big ideas. And when a nonprofit dance organization in a mid-sized city creates a strategic plan that uses dance as means to tackle race relations, philanthropic groups pay attention. The Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey was awarded a $375,000 grant from the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation to execute a strategic plan built on a series of public symposia devoted to dance education and discussions on diversity, race relations, and cultural differences.

We can't think of a bigger idea than race relations in the United States. In fact, if we remember correctly, President Clinton vowed to hold a series of similar symposia across the country upon leaving office. And while they never came to pass, the idea nonetheless underscored the obvious reality that issues like race relations and diversity remain hot-button issues throughout the US, especially in racially mixed cities like Kansas City.

Enter the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey. The organization formed in the mid 80s in honor of Kansas City choreographer Alvin Ailey, who started his own dance troupe in 1958. Friends of Alvin Ailey holds dance camps for young people across the city and is committed to teaching life skills through the art of dance. But the Friends of Alvin Ailey understood that dance had the potential to accomplish even more. So they partnered with Michael Kaiser, a well-known consultant, and with his help they drafted a strategic plan comprised of a series of public symposia that not only incorporate dance but openly addresses the issues of race relations, diversity, and cultural differences.

The Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation clearly liked what they saw. The $375,000 grant will be allocated across five annual payments. Friends of Alvin Ailey must also match it through new or increased gifts. To put this in perspective, after the match, Friends of Alvin Ailey will see a net benefit of $750,000. Their current budget is $900,000 to $1.3 million.

By fostering a discussion on the quintessential American challenge of race relations and using dance as a vehicle by which to frame it, the Friends of Alvin Ailey has shown that sometimes it pays to "go big."