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Creative Spotlight on Social Impact Investing | Part 3

Ben Shinabery, founder of the
Dick & Jane Project, believes that middle school students are the best lyricists in the world. He believes that so much, in fact, that he started an organization that allows middle school students to write lyrics with professional musicians, which they then record, produce, and play on the radio.

“Middle school students are some of the most honest, earnest people when it comes to songwriting. They’re going through a lot and starting to see changes in their lives, in their relationships, and are becoming more aware of the world around them,” Shinabery said. “At the end of the day we are providing an outlet for them to share those thoughts and feelings, and we are allowing their voices to be heard.”

What makes the Dick & Jane Project impactful is the direct access students have to practicing musicians who work with them to create the kind of music that they enjoy. Since 2011, the Dick & Jane Project has recorded and published more than 80 songs, all written by middle school students and produced by practicing musicians in Columbus. Their mission to empower students through songwriting can be heard and felt through the students’ feedback. “It’s exciting to know that people are listening to your song, and it’s that recognition that makes you feel good about yourself and gives you that confidence to make you think that you could write another song,” said an eighth-grade student from Berwick Alternative K-8 school.

A professionally recorded, radio-ready song does not come with a zero dollar price tag. “We believe in paying our musicians and producers because it allows them to make time to ensure that the quality of work that they are producing is at the same level as any other song that you might hear on the radio at any given point,” Shinabery said. For the past few years, the Dick & Jane Project has relied on grants, school funding, and generous donations to be able to fulfill their mission.“One of the things that we have always struggled with is trying to figure out how to make the Dick & Jane Project more sustainable.”

That’s why Shinabery participated in the Wells Foundation’s social impact investing class. “It was a breath of fresh air to be in the class because it gave insight into other ways to raise funds to support our mission. In the past I’ve viewed contributions toward the organization on a binary plane; one side is a grant where all of the money is an extremely high risk investment that produces no return; on the other end, a high interest rate loan. And what the Wells Foundation class taught me is that there are so many possibilities that exist within the spectrum between those two things. This class has opened my mind to exploring unique and progressive opportunities for funding our initiative, which is also, in itself, progressive and interesting.”

Expanding beyond grant cycles and fundraising events, Shinabery and the Dick & Jane Project are actively seeking opportunities that go beyond a traditional route of nonprofit funding. “The class helped us recognize that we are in the music industry, and that most successful music performers and labels rely on a for-profit model for their businesses to grow.” Social impact investing allows the Dick & Jane Project to fuel its growth with alternative funding methods through close relationships and partnerships with foundations.

About the Series | Creative Spotlight on Social Impact Investing

This blog post is part of an ongoing bimonthly series between The Wells Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council. Over the course of this six-part blog series, we will highlight nonprofit leaders and organizations who are taking advantage of a new funding opportunity called social impact investing to stabilize operations, grow existing programs, and to start new social enterprise activities. Nonprofit leaders of Ohio arts organizations are eligible to apply for up to two $1,600 scholarships to attend the Wells Foundation’s bimonthly executive education course on social impact investing (August 2016 – June 2017). Learn more by contacting Patrick Westerlund.

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


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