Hello, Houston!

Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) is the city’s designated local arts and culture agency.



Amy Gibbs, Capacity Building Initiatives Manager

Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) is now accepting applications for the Pre-Incubator Class of 2017. We get a lot of questions about this unique Capacity Building program and wanted to share answers to some of the most common ones.

But first, some background information…

The Pre-Incubator Program is an intensive, 12-month program that nurtures start-up and emerging organizations by supporting the development of critical infrastructure in management, governance, financial resources and administrative systems. Participants have access to monthly organizational assessments, mentorship, consultant presentations and an organizational learning database. During the first six months, participants complete specific action items. At the six-month mark, each organization goes before a panel to review its performance. Organizations earning the highest panel scores receive an unrestricted grant award of up to $7,500. Following the performance review and grant decision, participants are encouraged to continue through the remainder of the program and benefit from HAA's services.

Q: Okay, that sounds nice, but what is the Pre-Incubator Program really like?
A: Honestly? It’s like a nonprofit administration boot camp. For six months, the leaders of the selected organizations work very closely with HAA staff, attending monthly meetings, completing homework assignments and assessing their progress. Then the organizations will be reviewed by a panel of experts; those who have worked the hardest and shown the most improvement may be awarded an unrestricted grant of up to $7,500. Regardless of the funding decisions, all participating organizations can continue in the program for the remaining six months. The second half of the term shifts to a slower pace and really allows for organizations to focus onand prioritizetheir trouble spots.

Q: Wait, back up there… did you say homework?
A: Yes! There is homework. It’s just like high school all over again, only better. Each month the organizations will be given four to six Action Items (a fancier way of saying homework) to complete. The assignments will focus on different areas of organizational administration in the four core “competency” areas of the program:

  • Governance – board leadership and structure
  • Financial Resources – fundraising and financial management
  • Management – the people getting the things done
  • Administrative Systems – the tools and resources in place to help get the things done

Some possible Action Items include:

  • Acquiring, adopting and using accounting software for regular bookkeeping and submitting monthly financial statements
  • Writing job descriptions for staff or board members
  • Drafting fundraising letters
  • Reviewing bylaws
  • Completing assessment surveys

Each organization should plan to spend about eight to ten hours per month completing the homework assignments. This is where the Leadership Team is key, as you will need a group of committed individuals to help divide up the work. (It can be pretty taxing for one person to take on everything.)


Q: Who should be asked to serve on the Leadership Team?
A: There are minimum requirements for the Leadership Team. It should consist of at least three and no more than six people, all of whom have already demonstrated a commitment to the organization in some fashion. These individuals may be board members, staff, or other volunteers. We do require that the following roles be included on the Leadership Team:

  • Executive Leadership (This may be the artistic director, executive director, CEO, founder, or another title, but really whoever is the primary leader and decision maker for the organization.)
  • Board President/Chair
  • Board Treasurer

If one person fills several of these roles within the organization, (e.g. the Board Chair is also the primary leader for the organization) then additional people will need to be added to the Leadership Team to meet the three-person requirement. Beyond that, we trust your judgement in knowing who within your organization would be best.

Q: This is starting to sound like a lot of work, is it really worth it?
A: ABSOLUTELY! We really look at this program as an educational opportunity first and a grant opportunity second. As with any learning experience, you get out of it what you put into it. The harder you work, the more you will gain along the way. We have seen great successes from organizations who have completed the program in the last several years. These organizations have been able to increase their budgets, grow their boards, have higher levels of engagement from their board members, add staff members and improve their bookkeeping practices. This has all been a direct result of what they learned while participating in the program. Organizations that really dig in and commit to the program are able to run their organizations significantly better. And, on top of all that you learn directly through the program, you also have the opportunity to attend local conferences and workshops for FREE (plus possibly receive grant funding)! I promise that you won’t regret it.

Q: Hmmmm, how do I know if this is the right fit for my organization?
A: There’s more detailed information about eligibility in the Pre-Incubator Program guidelines (page 10), but organizations accepted into the program usually look something like this:

  • A formed, nonprofit organization whose primary mission includes the production or presentation of arts and/or cultural programming;
  • Has been presenting/producing programing as an entity for one to five years;
  • Has an annual budget between $10,000 and $50,000;
  • Physically based in the Greater Houston area (does not necessarily need to be based out of the City of Houston); and
  • Has a board of directors with a minimum of three people

Q: Okay, fine. You’ve sold me. How do I apply?
A: Awesome. The first step it to submit a Letter of Interest and completed Business Model template by Wednesday, August 3, 2016, 5 p.m.. There's more information about that on our website and in the program guidelines (page 11). If you have questions about the application process feel free to reach out to me, Amy Gibbs, Capacity Building Initiatives Manager, at amy@haatx.com.