Grants vs Gambling

Photo: Steven Depolo  Creative Commons License

Photo: Steven Depolo  Creative Commons License

HYPOTHESIS: My odds of getting a grant of $5000 is about the same as winning the same amount by betting at a Roulette table.

Here's what made me form this hypothesis:

In the first quarter of 2014, I wrote three grant applications - each one requested less than $10k. Of those, I've been rejected by one and have received a partial grant award for another. I wouldn't be surprised if I don't get the third grant award. This is the way it goes and it's perfectly normal to get more rejections than successes. Although I haven't been writing grant applications for decades, it sure feels that way sometimes. Because there are not many grants that I qualify for as an individual musician, on many days I wondered if my chances would be better if I just bought a lottery ticket instead of applying for another grant. I contemplated getting my act together to submit a grant application for the New Music USA project grants which closed on April 1st but I just ran out of time. Out of curiosity, I looked at some of the statistics for the New Music USA project grants to see what my odds would have been.

According the information on the New Music USA website:

  • On Feb 24, 2014, the first round of grant awardees were announced. $337K total were awarded to 60 projects.That's an average of about $5616 per grantee
  • 1618 applications were submitted and 60 of them received grants. That means that 3.7% of the applicants received grants

Considering the amount of time it takes to write a grant application, and because I truly dread the grant writing process, I wondered if it was the best way to spend my time. I am not a very experienced grant writer so it takes me HOURS but an experienced grant writer would probably need just a few hours. I once asked Brent Miller (composer, co-founder of San Francisco's Center for New Music, and very experienced grant writer) how many hours it would take him to write a grant application for a typical small grant (not a huge foundation grant he hasn't looked at before) and he said probably 2-3 hours. For me, it takes me at least one full day of focused energy: 8 hours (best case scenario). If I had a minimum wage job in San Francisco at $10.55/hr, that's $84 (rounded to nearest dollar). If I had a day job that paid $50/hr, that's $400 worth of time that I'm spending on the grant application. If I go with $70/hr (what I charge for private lessons) that's $560 worth of time I would spend on a grant application. 


[All the math is correct but this is not a scientific paper. I don't have the time to design a real study and document/execute it as one could. The last time I followed through on the scientific process was in High School so give me a break if you see holes in my "experiment" and please DO NOT GAMBLE BASED ON THIS BLOG POST.]


EXPERIMENT/CALCULATIONS

For this exercise, I'm not going to count the postage, photocopying, CD-R materials costs since the New Music USA project grants use electronic submissions. I am using the roulette rules for United States for "double zero roulette" as described on this website.

What are my odds of winning at least $5616 at roulette, by placing the fewest number of bets if I bet the following amounts?

  • If I bet $84, I would have a chance of winning $6048 1.25% of the time. [In order to get to $5616, I need to win about 67x my investment of $84. There is no single "spin" that would get me exactly 67x so I calculated the odds for two "spins" that would get me a total of 72x my investment ($6048) which is 1.25%. "Any one number" odds multiplied by "Red" odds  = (2.63 x 47.37)/100 = 1.25%]
  • If I bet $400, I would have a chance of winning $5600 6.23% of the time. [In order to get to $5616, I need to win about 14x my investment of $400. There is no single "spin" that would get me 14x so I calculated the odds for two "spins" that would get me a total of 14x  which is 6.23%. "First five" odds multiplied by "Red" odds  = (13.16 x 47.37)/100 = 6.23%]
  • If I bet $560, I would have a chance of winning $6720 7.89% of the time. [In order to get to $5616, I need to win about 10x my investment of $560. There is no single "spin" that would get me exactly 10x so I used the 12x calculation ($6720) which is 7.89%.]
  • If I bet $234, I would have a chance of winning $5616 3.74% of the time. [In order to get to $5616, I need to win 24x my investment of $234. There is no single "spin" that would get me exactly 24x so I calculated the odds for two "spins" that would get me a total of 24x my investment ($5616) which is 3.74%. "Street" odds multiplied by "Red" odds  = (7.89 x 47.37)/100 = 3.74%]

The odds are not good in any of the above scenarios. One does not need to actually play roulette at a casino to know that she will probably lose money. Luckily, there's a website where you can play for free. I bet all four of the above scenarios on the web based roulette game and lost each time. 

 

ANALYSIS

If I value my grant writing time at $234, and I played that amount at the roulette table my odds are 3.74% that I would win $5616 at roulette. Since 3.7% of the NewMusicUSA grant program applicants were awarded grants, with an average grant amount of $5616, I'm OK with making the claim that grants are like a crapshoot sometimes! (Or roulette spin??) 

There are many upsides to grant writing. There are also downsides of grant writing. This is not a post debating the merits of grants. I am just another frustrated artist with limited resources. This is why so many of us now choose to ask our friends and fans to help us fund our projects via crowdfunding instead of applying for grants (or in addition to applying for grants). 


[AGAIN: All the math is correct but this is not a scientific paper. I don't have the time to design a real study and document/execute it as one could. The last time I followed through on the scientific process was in High School so give me a break if you see holes in my "experiment" and please DO NOT GAMBLE BASED ON THIS BLOG POST.]


FYI

1) Info regarding the 2nd round of applications which closed on April 1 from the New Music USA twitter feed: 

If I had applied for the 2nd round (due on April 1) my odds would have been better than the first, assuming that they award 60 grants again and they had the same pool of funds to distribute.

2) I actually planned to use lottery ticket (scratchers) odds for this blog post but the math got too complicated.

3) Many thanks to my husband Dave, who helped me with the math and suggested calculating roulette odds instead of lottery odds.

4) Yes, I will continue to apply for grants. As they say in the commercials for the California State Lottery, "you can't win if you don't play!"

5) If you would like to support my projects by making a tax-deductible contribution, please email me! You know, cut out the middle man (grant committees) and give directly to the artist! :)