Bringing the Power of STEAM to the Classroom
June 28, 2016 2:06 PM   Subscribe

I recently developed a new invention that combines art, music and technology together in a pretty cool, very interactive way. I've received several requests from teachers in my state asking me to bring this project to their schools and asking what my fee would be. I don't know what I should charge for my time, travel and materials, and I'm not sure if I should charge the schools directly or if I should look for external grants to fund the cost.

In a nutshell, I developed this project* about a year ago as a part of a performance art installation series in my city. I've received two small grants (<$1000 each) from local arts foundations to partially subsidize the cost of supplies and development. Recently, I showcased a beta/demo version of this project at a local Maker Expo and I received an extremely positive response. Many art, music & science teachers wanted to know: 1) could I bring my project to their schools for kids to try out? and 2) what would I charge to do so?

I wasn't expecting questions like this, so I was caught off guard. I took their contact info and told them I'd follow up later.

I really don't know what I should charge! Now that the project is mostly built, the cost of materials for future 'performances' is minimal, but it would be nice to somehow gain back the initial money I invested in developing this project. I'd like to be compensated for time and travel as well.

Is there a systematic and fair way to put a price tag on this? Should I charge a flat fee or tailor my cost to each school's budget? Should I charge the schools directly, or is it possible to find grants/sponsors to subsidize my costs so that I can go to any school that wants me, regardless of their ability to pay? Do I need to set up an LLC? I would rather not set up a 501(c)3 right now (or ever...?), but I know that there are some art non-profits that can receive grant funds on behalf of an individual.

Thank you in advance for your advice!

*I'm being intentionally vague about the specifics of this project because it's still in beta and I'd also like to avoid the MeFi self-promotion ban-hammer. If you need more details to answer the question accurately, please memail me.
posted by chara to Education (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you're still in Kansas City (just checked your profile), you might want to look over the programs page on the Kansas City Public Library's website. Many bigger library systems are doing STEM or STEAM programs these days, and for the most part, performers/presenters charge by the program. If you could get in touch with the person in charge of programming at the KCPL, you might be able to get some guidance.

Also, you deserve to be compensated for time, travel, and your investment in this project. It's fine to want to offer a freebie here and there to schools that really can't afford it, but if teachers are approaching you and asking what you charge, that tells me that their schools definitely have room in the budget for the type of presentation you're offering.
posted by jabes at 2:38 PM on June 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

What I _wish_ you would do is think of how much it would cost to fund development of your next project, and work that into your fees/grant seeking.

Also, I'm really curious about this. Have you considered posting it to Metafilter Projects?
posted by amtho at 2:43 PM on June 28, 2016

Charge $800 plus an extra smaller amount for extra days plus the cost of one nights hotel and plus the cost of your mileage. Do not apply for grants, it's their job to do that, although if you know of any grants you can send that information to anyone who asks you. If you start to get more work than you can handle, raise your rates.

This advice is worth every penny you paid for it.
posted by bq at 3:10 PM on June 28, 2016

This sort of thing is within my professional experience.

Your fee depends upon the scale and staging of the experience. If this is something you would bring into a single classroom at a time, say up to 35 students, and talk about it and demonstrate, something like a $250 base fee plus a per-head fee for additional kids/classes above that size would be reasonable. If it is more like something you would set up in an assembly auditorium, present to 300-400 kids at a time for a 45-60 minute educational "show" program, then start at $1000. I'd say the same for something you set up in a stable space like a gym and have multiple classes cycle through throughout the day.

Set a geographical limit for how far you are willing to travel without charging additional travel compensation (hotel + mileage that bq mentioned). Set a maximum that reflects your true willingness and ensures you won't lose money on a day - for instance, if a school 300 miles away books you for a 45 minute program, you might end up in the hole if you don't have a much lower setpoint for triggering an "additional mileage" charge. A one-hour radius from your home is within reason - I would advise charging mileage for anything further.

If you did want to charge different rates for low-income schools, investigate your state for the way they tier schools according to budget. There are usually classifications that will help you get a sense as to whether it is a low-income, middle-, or high-income school district. At the same time, I would discourage you from using this as a means of scaling your fees. School finance is complex and defies reason. Often a lower- or middle-income district will have access to funds that are not available to high-income districts, and that might allow them more flexibility to hire in special programs. Parents' groups or outside sponsors will sometimes pay for a program like this if an entrepreneurial teacher pursues the funds. So not everything goes according to school and classroom budget. If you are concerned about access, I'd recommend just noting somewhere on your website or email outreach "program fees negotiable where access to program funds is prohibitive" or something like that.

I can't speak to your organizational setup but you could explore the nonprofit development groups in the region and call and ask what income level would trigger a need for a tax-exempt org. If you are going to be earning several thousand a year from this, you do need to declare it as income, but it could just as easily be self-employment income. Advice on that sort of thing is best coming from an accountant and/or regional nonprofit development councils and/or state attorneys general offices/revenue offices. As for grants, you don't need to be a 501(c)3 to receive grant funds paid to you as a contract fee. Only the receiving entity - the school - would need to serve as grant recipient, and they are set up to do that. As a 501(c)3 I can pay pretty much anyone I want, whether they are self-employed, a for-profit company, or another nonprofit. You don't have to worry about that unless at some point you do want to apply for grants yourself. Right now that is a function your host org would do. To make it easier, though, you could offer them some 'boilerplate' narrative information they can write into a grant.

My last note is a little bigger-picture, and that is to say, you don't have to have all this pre-baked in order to get started. Now is a time to go into this with a design thinking mindset, and consider your first few school groups prototyping sessions. Use the kids and teachers as a feedback mechanism and seek their advice and recommendations as to how to plan and deliver the experience. That will set you up for a stronger program 'product' down the road. Your first few programs are inevitably going to be bumpy as you learn to optimize for the school setting. Things like materials distribution, introductory opening, order of events, student grouping and participation, time of day, and room arrangement will impact your program's quality. You should allow yourself some time now to experiment and iterate, adjusting your presentation style and format after each session. A helpful partner teacher - maybe one who has already reached out to you - could be a great ally in sitting down to plan and deliver your first program or two. They can provide you advice and examples of other programs they hire into their classrooms, as models. They will offer you excellent information about marketing your program, such as which state- and Common-Core-mandated standards are addressed by your program and how to foreground that information in your marketing (which is key to securing funding much of the time) and how you would fit into a standard curriculum at different grade levels. They will also be a good source of wisdom about structuring the program and handling the logistics, since they manage large groups of students all the time. Since this design phase is pretty important to developing a successful traveling school program, I'd encourage you to do the first 2 or 3 of them gratis or at a basic materials cost, before setting your working pricing structure. Your 'compensation' would be the design experience and advice you will be getting from these initial clients, and ideally they would be willing to sit with you for an hour or two both before and after the program, and also share some form of formal feedback from students themselves.

Also, assuming the web will be one of your main marketing tools, you can change your pricing structure and arrangements any time you want if you find something isn't working.

Good luck. It sounds cool.
posted by Miko at 5:30 AM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

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