Join the movement, start a chorus
Singing together as a chorus has countless neurological and social benefits to help enrich the lives of people living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. But the benefits also extend to their care partners, volunteers, and the audience. For us, it’s about the joy.
Joy fills the room at a Giving Voice Chorus concert.
It’s indescribable, but you can literally feel the joy in the room. Giving Voice Choruses, and choruses like ours, help to change the perception of what it means to live well with Alzheimer’s. Our singers are changing the stigma around dementia one song at a time.
Sold? We hope so!
It’s our dream to see a Giving Voice style chorus in every community! We hope you feel inspired to start a chorus in your community.
If you are interested in starting a Giving Voice style chorus, you may be wondering how to get started.
In this toolkit, we’ll walk you through the steps to starting a chorus. There is no right way to run a chorus, and each chorus looks a little different based on the needs of the community. We’ll share what we’ve learned from running Giving Voice Chorus and helping other choruses across the country.
In this section, we’ll talk about first steps and how to plan for your chorus.
Step #1, Find your champions
Getting a Giving Voice style chorus started is a lot of fun (after all we are all about the JOY of singing!), but it’s also a big undertaking. Rally a group of interested people to form a steering committee and work together right from the beginning.
The goal of the steering committee will be to develop a plan for your chorus. You’ll want to spend some time discussing the needs of your community. You’ll want to figure out what you need to start a chorus in your area, uncover any potential roadblocks, and build potential partnerships and connections before you get started.
Step #2, Investigate community need and potential challenges
An estimated 50 million people are living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia worldwide. According to the CDC, the number of people living with Alzheimer’s has been steadily growing and is expected to triple by 2060.
There is a real need for community-based programs focused on well-being and created for people living with dementia and their care partners.
Typically, there are very few (if any) purpose-driven opportunities specifically intended for people with dementia. Your community may have memory cafes or other wonderful enrichment opportunities available, but what makes Giving Voice style choruses different is that they are goal-oriented.
Public performances are a key component of why Giving Voice Choruses and choruses like ours are so successful. People living with dementia can learn new music (we don’t just sing old favorites), they can learn to sing in 3-part harmony (we’re so much more than a sing-a-long), and they can be a vital part of a community working towards a common goal.
However, there may be some challenges to starting and maintaining a chorus.
One of the biggest challenges is stigma. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of stigma attached to living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Our singers challenge the narrative around what it means to live well with dementia simply by singing together in concert each semester. But, this means that singers and their families need a certain level of comfort with singing publicly in a chorus intended for people living with dementia.
Finding your founding group of singers
Subsequently, finding that inaugural group of singers may be a challenge at the beginning. It’s a great idea to do some community outreach and partner with another organization, such as Act on Alzheimer’s or a local memory cafe, to get the word out. You’ll want to reach out to people connected to your community resources; senior centers, caregiver support groups, adult day centers, aging consortiums, Meals On Wheels, and faith communities.
How many people do you need to start a chorus? Although there is no magic number. We’ve seen successful choruses with a dozen members and choruses with over 60 members. We’ve found that 25 chorus members (with a mix of people living with dementia, care partners, and volunteers), is a good number to target.
People actively working with older adults in your community can help you spread the word about your chorus. But, they can also clue you into potential barriers to participation for people living with dementia in your community. For example, if you’re in a suburb or rural area, you might find that transportation is an issue for many older adults. Working with other organizations will help your chorus become a vital community resource through connections and visibility.
Money or funding your chorus
Even better, partnering with another organization that can help with operating costs will give you a head start in getting your chorus off the ground. In the early stages, you may be able to rely on donated services, supplies, equipment, and location. Eventually, you might need to pay for all or a portion of the operating costs. You’ll need to find some funding sources to sustain your chorus over the long term. Sample budgets are provided in the Finances section of this toolkit to help you better understand the operating costs and possible associated expenses of running your chorus.
Step #3 Identify potential partner organizations
You’re ready! You’ve done the initial legwork and talked to others in your community, and it’s time to find a partner.
Okay, you’ve determined there is a lot of interest in a new chorus, so it’s time to identify the organization that will “own” and operate the program. Since our launch of the first Giving Voice Chorus in 2014, we’ve learned a lot, including:
- Use an established 501(c)(3) organization. Having an established 501(c)(3) organization host the chorus will often mean the chorus program can start up more quickly and foster sustainability from the get-go. Its 501(c)(3) status allows the organization to receive tax deductible contributions and foundation grants, and it likely has accounting systems, a track record, relationships in your community, and maybe some funds to get things started.
- Resist the temptation to use a residential care facility. One essential objective of a Giving Voice Chorus is to provide realistic and positive opportunities for people with dementia to socialize comfortably with others. In our experience, people with dementia who live in their own homes don’t have as many social opportunities as do residents of senior housing developments, assisted living facilities, and memory care residences. To reach people living outside of care facilities, we recommend that the host organization be an Alzheimer’s Association, a community arts or music organization, a church, a senior center, a YMCA, or an aging or caregiver support organization (e.g., senior services, home health care, health/wellness organizations), or another type of non-residential community-based organization.
- Commit to being inclusive. The first Giving Voice Choruses have succeeded by understanding, honoring, and embracing all people, regardless of their abilities, their differences, their backgrounds, or their present circumstances. The host organization should reflect this attitude and be committed to nurturing it. The intent is to welcome and embrace persons early in the disease process and as long as they are able to participate.
- Be open to collaboration. The success of our chorus has been possible only with the assistance of numerous collaborators that have provided facilities, music and Alzheimer’s expertise, access to singers and volunteers, research capabilities, and much more. The host organization should be open to collaborating with partners that build strength and sustainability.
- Have a diverse leadership team. Successful development and operation of a chorus requires active involvement by people from areas such as aging, health care, music, dementia, caregiving, and community engagement. Include members of multiple ethnic and cultural communities on the lead team to get essential perspectives about dementia and people touched by it.
Finding the right host organization is critical to long-term success. It can be a challenge, so we urge you to take the time to find a great host, not just an adequate host. The toolkit and other information on this site provide a solid understanding of both the work and the rewards of being a host organization.
Step #4, Evaluate available resources
As you’d expect, planning and operating a chorus requires resources like funding and dedicated volunteers to lead the assessment and planning process, a qualified music director and accompanist, an administrative infrastructure, access to people in early and mid stage dementia and their care partners, and more volunteers to both sing and assist with rehearsal and concert logistics. You also need access to expertise about dementia and music, a place to rehearse every week, a place to perform, and financial support.
A realistic review of potential funders, volunteers, and in-kind donors is a key element of the feasibility assessment. Selecting a host organization that can readily provide operating dollars will give you a head start. In the early stages, you will most likely rely on donated services, supplies, equipment, and facilities. Over the long term, however, plan to pay for a growing portion of the personnel, facilities, and other operating costs of the program. Sample budgets provided in the Finances section of this toolkit will help you anticipate future budget needs.
Step #5 Planning the chorus program
When you’ve identified a partner organization and completed the assessment process with confidence, it’s time to plan the program in detail. You have already identified what resources are needed and where they might be found. But for internal management purposes, as well as fundraising and external communications, you will want to have a written business plan.
The plan should address the following:
- What are our objectives?
- How will we inspire and recruit persons with dementia to sing?
- Who has ultimate responsibility for the program?
- What geographic area do we serve?
- What personnel—paid or volunteer—will be required?
- What does the revenue and expense statement look like?
- How will we pay for the program?
- Where will we conduct the program?
- Who will handle the accounting and other administrative aspects of the program?
- How will we communicate with singers, volunteers, donors and potential donors, the media, and the general public?
There is a wealth of online information about nonprofit business planning, including this resource from the Council of Nonprofits. The remaining toolkit information is designed to help you plan key program components, particularly those unique to a chorus for people with dementia and their care partners.
Can we use the words “Giving Voice” in the name of our chorus?
“Giving Voice Chorus” is a registered trademark of GVI. At this time, GVI has no process in place for licensing the trademark for use by others.
How many singers must we have to move forward with starting a chorus?
There is no magic number of voices required for a chorus. It’s important that the participants enjoy the rehearsals and concerts and they feel good about what they are creating. Don’t forget that in addition to singers with dementia and their care partners, singing volunteers are also an important part of every chorus. We recommend that you try for at least 25 singers including volunteers, care givers, and individuals with dementia. If the chorus is too small, the participants will feel too exposed in singing their parts.
What things should we consider if we want our local assisted living or nursing home to be the host organization for the chorus rehearsals and concerts?
GVI’s priority is to meet the needs of people with Alzheimer’s who live in the community, outside of care facilities, because they generally have fewer opportunities to socialize and be creative. Please review the Toolkit’s Initial Assessment and Planning section carefully. You may determine that the nursing home is the best available host organization and offers the best available facilities.
Is GVI available to advise us as we plan our chorus? Is there a way for us to communicate with other choruses like ours, to share experiences and exchange ideas?
Currently, GVI does not have the staff to provide consulting or advisory services to startup choruses. We developed the Toolkit to provide useful information and extend its reach via this website. Please use the Forum to exchange questions and ideas with others.