With so many Americans with some degree of hearing loss, the need for facilities to provide assistive listening is greater than ever. Additionally, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates public facilities provide assistive listening for hard-of-hearing people. This includes many nonprofits. This article discusses funding options for assistive listening systems for nonprofits.
A nonprofit organization (NPO) must operate exclusively for one of several specific purposes, ranging from educational, scientific, or literary to religious and charitable organizations. Whether United Way, Carnegie Hall, Harvard University, or your local community theater or neighborhood house of worship, fundraising is a necessary and ongoing component of an NPO’s existence. The raised funds are essential to support the nonprofit’s mission, pay operating costs, provide services, and finance improvements. One such improvement could be assistive listening technology.
The Prevalence of Hearing Loss and the Need for Assistive Listening Systems
With 14.6 percent of American adults reporting some degree of hearing loss, over 48 million adults aged 18 and over are subject to limited communication across a range of activities. Personal and public assistive listening technologies provide individuals with hearing loss with improved access to an inclusive communication experience. Public or wide-area assistive listening systems are common in venues such as lecture halls, theaters, churches, and sports facilities. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law in 1990, requires most public facilities to provide assistive listening for anyone that requests it.
An Assistive Listening System (ALS) is a wireless system with a transmitter and one or more receivers, sending the audio directly to headphones, hearing aids, or cochlear implants without amplifying ambient noise. Assistive listening systems provide a vastly improved experience for those that are hard of hearing.
While many organizations provide an assistive listening system to be in legal compliance, it is important to note that assistive listening is not just about compliance nor just about the hearing impaired. An assistive listening system can help solve frustrating but common sound issues caused by distance, ambient noise, or poor room acoustics, even for those without hearing loss. Plus, it is the right thing to do. Providing assistive listening systems ensures that your venue is inclusive. Whether patrons, colleagues, guests, or members of your congregation, everyone deserves the chance to experience the event fully, whether they are hard of hearing or not.
Funding Your Assistive Listening System
The relatively low cost of adding an assistive listening system makes it easy to provide a reliable, quality assistive listening system. ADA compliance requires a minimum quantity of assistive listening equipment based on seating capacity, so a venue with a seating capacity of 50 or less can provide a fully compliant, top-tier assistive listening system for under $1000. Even a 500-seat venue can purchase an assistive listening system for under $3700!
Your organization may need an Assistive Listening System, but you’re unsure how or where to find the funding. Most nonprofit organizations rely on individual donations and grants to fund their projects and programs. The following is a short primer on how you might find funding for small projects such as an assistive listening system.
Talk to your bank. The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) encourages banks to make services and loans available to their local communities. In this spirit, many banks also form a special department to respond to this requirement. The CRA Officer of the bank often handles the community giving program, whether you ask for sponsorship or a grant.
Regardless of your NPO’s mission, there is almost always a national and local professional association affiliated with what your NPO does. If your goals are similar, those associations have a vested interest in the success of your organization. For example, if your organization is a nonprofit spay and neuter clinic, Google: spay and neuter + professional association, and you will find the American Humane Association, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), or your local or national Humane Society.
Many professional associations give small grants to their constituent organizations, while others only fundraise for themselves and use the funds for their programs. If you have similar missions, it’s still worth looking over their website to see whom they are partnering with to identify potential funders.
Smaller nonprofit organizations may find that local, grassroots fundraising is the best approach. Establish a special fundraising project or campaign, such as “Community Theatre 2024 Listening Upgrade,” and briefly explain the project and dollar goal. Now you have the basis for creating a funding strategy and enlisting the help of your best supporters: donors, volunteers, co-workers, and friends.
Once you have a concept and team, the opportunities are countless. You know your organization and your community. Try to be creative and have fun! Host a golf tournament, a fun run, or a good ol’ car wash. Create a membership program or direct mail letter. Appeal to local businesses for sponsorship. And grassroots can be digital, so add a donation page to your website or consider creating a crowdfunding campaign.
Track your campaign’s success, keep donors apprised of your progress, and endeavor to turn those special project contributors into an ongoing donor base.
It is common for many nonprofits to maintain a list of potential funders from whom to request funds. This target list may include individuals, businesses, or local civic services organizations such as the Kiwanis, Rotary, or Lions Clubs. Soliciting specific funding sources requires a deliberate approach. Request an in-person meeting and be prepared with a concise proposal that includes an explanation of the particular need, the benefits of the solution, and the cost.
The strength of your relationship with a business or funder is directly proportional to your chances of receiving financial assistance. Use your networking skills. Before contacting a potential funder, ask your board, staff, and key volunteers if they have a personal connection or common ground with them.
The best long-term solution for ensuring ongoing funding is cultivating a donor base, but it requires a dedicated and ongoing commitment. Many nonprofits seek the bulk of their funding from grants. A grant is an award of money to an organization that supports its mission or a special project. Typically, grants are awarded from three primary types of funders:
- Government (local, state, and federal)
- Private and public foundations
- Businesses and corporations
Grants often provide significant supportive funds. Billions of dollars are available annually through grants. And grants are competitive – other organizations are seeking that funding too. Some grant applications involve completing a simple form, but most often, the grant application process is involved and time-consuming. Identifying grant sources, determining eligibility, and writing the grant proposal is not a simple endeavor. Some NPOs have a staff member or department dedicated to grant research and application.
Fortunately, grant research and applications can be learned. There are many online resources available — some free, some not. A simple online search of nonprofit grant funding yields a wealth of resources.
A great starting point to learn about navigating the grant process is The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Grants.gov. The website provides a common forum for federal agencies to post funding opportunities and grant seekers to find and apply for them. Grants.gov also offers an extensive learning center with how-to blogs and video training resources. Many state and local governments offer similar websites, some with referrals to private foundation funders.
Whatever methods you employ to raise funds for your assistive listening system, you’ll want to have some key points handy when you make your proposal. Here are some that may help:
- Over 48 million American adults suffer from hearing loss.
- That equates to one out of five men and one out of eight women reporting some hearing loss.
- Nearly 15% of school-age children (6-19) have some degree of hearing loss.
- Poor room acoustics and noise compromise listeners’ comprehension.
- Using an assistive listening system ensures that all participants fully experience the event.
- High-quality technology, such as assistive listening products, ensures inclusive experiences for more connected communities.
- It’s the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990.
- Assistive listening systems can also be used for other applications such as language interpretation, audio description, and tour groups, allowing venues to accommodate people with broader needs.
Grassroots fundraising, targeted funding, and grants – regardless of how your organization raises funding for an assistive listening system project, it is always important to follow up! In the spirit of cultivating long-time donors, be sure to send a handwritten note of thanks to any funder who helps toward your assistive listening system goal. Let them know how the new system is benefiting your organization. Invite them over for a site visit to experience the system themselves. While they’re onsite, you’ll have a chance to educate them on your organization’s mission better. A little gratitude and special attention to donors go a long way!
 CDC National Center for Health Statistics NCHS Data Brief No. 414
 United States Census https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/04/2020-census-data-release.html
 The Journal of American Medicine https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/187415