Music Lessons

How can this nonprofit rock camp for girls keep rolling? The experts compare notes.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the December 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Misty McElroy happened upon her business idea by accident--it started out as a school project but snowballed into a business venture. Called The Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls, the annual event aims to teach music to girls in a fun way. To date, McElroy has found some success--this year's camp accepted 25 more campers than the previous year. And with workshops led by stars such as Erykah Badu's drummer, Gaye Lynn McKinney, and punk rock band Sleater-Kinney, demand is skyrocketing. The only real snag in the plan is financing.

Because she charges just $50 per camper, McElroy's Rock 'n' Roll Camp, which was formed as a nonprofit (501c-3) corporation, needs a steady stream of capital to keep running. Other issues: securing the right facility to host the yearly camp and finding a way to start a new after-school program. Says McElroy, 33, "It is a logistical nightmare to come into a space and make it work for us." The first camp was held at Portland State University in Oregon; the second took place in a Portland ballroom.

We had a few experts weigh the situation, and here's what they had to say:

  • Peggy Outon, founding executive director of the Bayer Center for Non-Profit Management at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh: "If you can attract people to your [board of directors] who are well-respected and well-known in the community, they help open the door to funding sources." Outon also suggests trying to land contracts from the local Department of Health and Human Services because it will often pay for summer camps, especially those that focus on low-income kids.

"Build relationships with program officers at foundations that are interested in the development of girls, because it's a get-to-know-you kind of a game," says Outon. "There are 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, so [McElroy is] going into a very crowded and highly competitive field. She's got to work to distinguish [her nonprofit from others]." For instance, she could recruit high-profile celebrities to write a letter of support, perform a benefit concert, or donate some of the proceeds from their concerts.

  • Ken Goldberg, assistant professor of management of the Center for Entrepreneurship at National University in La Jolla, California: "An active and viable board of directors is critical in maintaining sustainability and getting funding. As far as getting [a facility], the big issue is networking and [making] contacts in her local area." How could McElroy get a property for free or an inexpensive lease? Goldberg suggests networking in the Portland area and contacting local public agencies. Nearby cities and counties might have some land or office space to donate, and she may be able to sign a lease for a minimal investment.

"[McElroy also] needs to diversify her funding sources," he says. That means approaching corporate donors, individual donors, government agencies and other potential sources. Goldberg also recommends checking out the Alliance for Nonprofit Management, where she can conduct a geographical search online and get answers to specific questions, such as how to fund the operational costs of a nonprofit.

What does McElroy think of all this advice? "I have pretty much followed [Outon's advice]," she says. "I've gotten some fairly big rockers to spread the word at their concerts, and I try to [have an information table at] as many big shows here in Portland as I can," explains McElroy. "And yes, the board is more crucial than I ever realized. It's becoming more active--we've already [had more meetings] in the past two weeks than we've had in months."

She also plans to look into a government subsidy and contact public agencies. And how about that Web site? "[I know] it will be very helpful," McElroy says. "I'll share [the idea] with the board at our next meeting."

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