Historic Preservation Grants

The National Trust Preservation Fund provides two types of assistance to nonprofit organizations and governmental entities. Matching grants of from $500-$5,000 are given for preservation planning and education. Funding is also provided for preservation emergencies. Examples of preservation planning activities may include the services of experts in architecture, archaeology, engineering, preservation planning, land use planning, fundraising, and organizational development.

The Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation provides grants for professional advice, conferences, workshops and education programs which contribute “to the preservation or the recapture of an authentic sense of space”, as stated on the website. Prospective grantees must in general apply for at least $2,500 and no more than $10,000. There are some exceptions to this. Nonprofits and governmental entities may apply for funding for any type of project which meets these general guidelines. Individuals and for-profit businesses may apply only if the project for which funding is requested involves a National Historic Landmark.

The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors is concerned with preserving the inside of historic buildings. Again, grants range from $2,500 to $10,000. Eligible applicants are the same as those stated for the Johanna Favrot Fund.

Heritage Preservation (http://www.heritagepreservation.org), a national nonprofit whose mission is to assist museums, provides assistance worth $3,000-$6,500 to undertake conservation assessments. This funding is geared toward any non-profit institution which possesses a collection of items which tell a story. This could include museums as well as zoos, botanical gardens, and historical houses. The collection must be small enough to be surveyed within two days. The site also lists other sources for historical conservation.

Heritage Tourism and Historic Preservation Grants

One of the most effective programs in this area is the National Scenic Byways Program. The U.S. Department of Transportation, through the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) administers this program, but delegates certain duties to the states, which nearly always handle this through their own departments of transportation. Two types of assistance are available. Local heritage organizations and local governments may apply for the designation of heritage routes within their jurisdiction as either National Scenic Byways or State Scenic Byways. Obviously, the national status confers a greater degree of benefits. The main advantage is the promotion and marketing undertaken by the federal government or the states, depending on which designation has been given. Applications for National Scenic Byways status are only accepted every few years.

The National Scenic Byways Program also awards grant funds for various activities undertaken by approved byway organizations to promote the byway and attract additional visitors. This could include signage, planning, the development of brochures and other marketing materials, the development of media materials, and other projects intended to make the byway more attractive and more easily accessible. Applications must be submitted online and are solicited once a year, with a pre-application and an application. State staff reviews each application and sends it on with recommendations to FHA. Information regarding the National Scenic Byways Program may be accessed at http://www.byways.org.

Having a Corridor Management Plan is a requirement to access certain types of funding from this agency. This detailed planning document should discuss the various attractions and challenges along the route, and offer a strategy for maximizing the appeal of the byway and attracting additional visitors.

The Preserve America initiative provides designations to communities which
operate exemplary historic preservation programs. Preserve America communities can be municipalities, counties, or neighborhoods within large cities. These communities are eligible to apply for grant funding which focuses on planning and the development of sustainable management strategies. The program aims to provide management capabilities which will ensure that these assets are federally protected from having their integrity compromised in any way and that they are maintained properly. Grant amounts range from $20,000-$250,000. In general, applications for grant funds are solicited once a year. Applications to receive designation as a Preserve America community are solicited quarterly. This designation provides more than just the eligibility to apply for grant funds. Designated communities receive a Preserve America Community road sign, authorization to use the Preserve America logo, and marketing of their community at the federal level.

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation plays a lead role in administering this program. However, a number of federal agencies are represented on the steering committee. Visit http://www.preserveamerica.gov to learn more about this program.

Save America’s Treasures (SAT) is another federal program which provides funding to assist in heritage tourism and historic preservation. SAT is administered by the National Park Service with input from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Presidential Commission on Arts and Humanities. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a partner in the sense that it works with SAT grantees in order to locate the required matching funds.

This program only makes grants for two purposes. Funding is provided to preserve nationally significant intellectual and cultural artifacts and to preserve nationally significant historical buildings and sites. In the case of artifacts, the applicant is given the opportunity to make the case for national significance. In the case of historic properties, funds are only awarded to assist in the preservation of sites which have been designated as a National Historic Landmark or which are contributing structures in a National Historic Landmark District or which are on the National Register of Historic Places due to their national significance. Applications are solicited once a year. A maximum of $700,000 per project is granted. The grant must be matched by an equal amount of funding from other sources. Eligible applicants are governmental agencies and nonprofits. For more information on this program, go to http://www.saveamericastreasures.org.

Tips for the Application Process:

 Make letters of inquiry brief (no more than 2 pages) but informative – stress the need for the project, your organization’s ability to carry it out, and the benefits which will accrue from it.
 Respond promptly if a foundation requests a full proposal based on a letter of inquiry.
 Check the web site of a funding agency thoroughly before e-mailing or telephoning so as to avoid asking questions which are clearly answered on the web site.
 Ensure that you have the latest version of the application and regulations.
 Check the math in the budget – although this is obvious, many applicants make mathematical errors.
 Pay attention to those agencies which require that a Letter of Intent be filed prior to a full application. In nearly all cases, there is a specific deadline for submitting this letter.
 Pay careful attention to the rating and ranking criteria when crafting a proposal. Incorporate the application language into the narrative.
 Be concise but thorough in the narrative.
 If there is a specific page maximum, be sure that you come as close to that as possible without exceeding it. You can rest assured that the other applicants will provide as much information as possible.
 Give a descriptive narrative with specific examples.
 Be crystal clear in your writing. Do not “beat around the bush”.
 Be complete and thorough in the narrative – do not leave the reviewer wondering what you mean. Answer the questions completely.
 Use good grammar and correct punctuation and spelling.
 Re-read the application at least twice.
 Give proper attribution for all information derived from others and cite sources for statistical data
 Answer the funding agency’s requests for additional information completely, cheerfully, and on time.
 Send letters of support with the application itself unless the guidelines state otherwise. However, some U.S. Representatives and Senators will only send support letters directly to the funding agency.
 If there is any doubt whatsoever about whether an application will reach the office of the funding agency on time, send it overnight or two-day guaranteed delivery.
 Send the application directly to the person named in the solicitation, with the correct number of copies.
 Check to see that the application arrived on time.
 Start on-line applications early so that you can get your questions answered before the deadline.
 Keep the user name and password for on-line applications in a handy place where they will not be lost.
 Do your best to stave off performance anxiety as the due date for the application arrives – this will impair your ability to do the best job possible.
 Do your best to be available for site visits when the funding agency wants to come. Only change the date if there is an emergency.

The Importance of Critical Thinking


In the grant field, critical thinking is absolutely necessary. The caveat here is to take nothing for granted. I would like to point out several areas where grant writers should think critically. These are just examples and it is incumbent upon the grant writer to use this type of big picture thinking in all aspects of their work. These examples are as follows:


  • Do not assume that what has worked in another place will work in yours.  It is necessary to consider how the geographic location of that project affected the results.  If that is the case, then it might not be completely transferable to your area.
  • Do not assume that intangibles do not count in a project. Not everything can be measured in a scientific and mathematical way. Most projects do not take into account how individual will (or lack thereof) can affect the results. This is particularly true in projects having a social services component. An after-school program may not take into account students who are unusually ambitious and dedicated.
  • Do not assume that the staff of your agency necessarily has the capacity to carry out a particular project. It is necessary for the grant writer to mentally put herself and her colleagues into the picture of the new project and try to visualize the various pitfalls as well as strengths there might be in a given situation.
  • Do not assume that commonly accepted remedies to problems are always the best way to go. One of the best examples of this is working to create new jobs in a community and not being selective about what types of companies come in. Always putting the creation of new jobs ahead of environmental considerations will, in the long run, be detrimental to the community.


Reasons for Rejection of an Application

There are many and various reasons for rejection of an application.  Some of these are as follows:


  • The grant proposal is poorly written.
  • The project is a poor fit with the need and will not do much to alleviate that need.
  • The proposed activities are not clearly thought out and do not seem feasible.
  • The competition from other applications is overwhelming.
  • The application is good and the need is great, but other projects will serve even needier populations.
  • The funding agency does not have confidence that the applicant has the capacity to successfully carry out the project.
  • The applicant has had problems in administering other grants.

Part of the problem is getting to the real root of the rejection.  This can sometimes be difficult.

A debriefing is a discussion with the funding agency as to why the application was not funded.  Many governmental agencies will be happy to discuss the reasons for rejection.  However, I would urge the grant writer to listen to the debriefings with a bit of caution.  Feedback is sometimes given by staff members who were not actually reviewers and were not charged with the responsibility of assigning points to the application.  When this is the case, something can sometimes get lost in the translation.

Overall, however, it is an excellent idea to request a debriefing.  This information can be invaluable in developing the proposal for a re-submittal or for a submittal to a different agency.  This is especially true for beginning grant writers.  As one gains more and more experience, it will be easy to see the weaknesses in your proposal even prior to submittal.  I would definitely recommend that a proposal still be re-submitted even though there are minor flaws in it.  Sometimes these can be worked out with the funding agency.  Sometimes they are so insignificant as not to matter.  It is important to take to heart the information received in a debriefing and attempt to remedy the problems identified.

Grant Administration- How Hard is This Going to Be?


The grantee should be prepared for many varying requirements in grant administration.  I feel that it would be helpful to give a few examples showing the difference in the required paperwork for various granting agencies.  All funding agencies will request documentation that the funds were spent appropriately and for the purposes specified in the grant application.  This is the very least that one can expect in terms of documentation. 


Probably the simplest grants to administer are those from private foundations.  The application forms can be very simple, sometimes involving no more than two pages.  Sometimes, no grant agreement is required.  The grantee is still obligated to use the funds for the purpose for which they were intended. I am not aware of any foundation or government agencies which would simply send the money and not require some accountability.


Some foundations require several progress reports.  It is also possible that special conditions may be attached to the grant in order to meet the specific preferences of the board members.  These can vary widely.  It may be that the foundation requires the grantee to only utilize American labor and products, or limits funding to certain geographic areas, or wishes to remain anonymous.


Most governmental entities will require the following once the grant is approved:


  • environmental review (this is sometimes done prior to approval)
  • execution of the grant agreement
  • documentation of banking information in order to expedite the processing of payments
  • written progress reports at varying intervals — these could be either quarterly, semi-annually, or annually
  • execution of grant closeout documents


Letters of Inquiry to Foundations

Most foundations require a letter of inquiry as the first contact.  If the project seems to be within their guidelines and funding priorities, they will then invite the submission of a full proposal. 


First of all, the grant writer should restrict the length of this letter to no more than two pages if the guidelines do not specify.  In this letter, your only job is to convince the foundation that your project is a good fit with their fields of interest. 


Prior to beginning the letter, a decision should be made on the amount to be requested.  This will be dependent in large part on the resources of the foundation.  Search material should discuss the total assets of the foundation, along with the average grant amount, the smallest grant, and the largest grant.


The first paragraph should clearly state the purpose of the project so that the reviewer will know exactly what will be done. This is also the place for the total project cost and the amount requested from the foundation.  Lastly, a couple of sentences regarding how the project fits with the foundation’s funding priorities should be included.  These basic facts are important to have in the very beginning, so that they will catch the reviewer’s eye and she will want to read on.


The next paragraph should go into detail regarding the need for the project and include as much statistical information as possible.  This is also the place to make a strong appeal to the emotions of the reader.  It is wise to give one or two specific examples of the distress suffered as a result of the need for the project.  This is where the “human factor” comes in.  The grant writer will be wise to combine hard data and emotion in this section.


Following this, a history of your organization should be given.  This should include a description of similar projects which have been successfully undertaken.  This is also the place to discuss your organization’s mission and its priorities. You want to convince the reader that your organization has the capacity to undertake the project, that your staff has the appropriate skill sets for the work, and that you will give it the priority it deserves so that it may be completed in a timely manner.


The next section of the inquiry letter should go into some detail regarding how the project will be implemented.  It is important to detail each step in the process from beginning to end.  By doing so, the reader may see the feasibility of the project and feel confident that your organization knows exactly what it takes to get the project completed on schedule and within the budget.  Goals, objectives, and positive outcomes will also be discussed here.


Sustainability and evaluation should be discussed next.  Having solid plans in place for both issues assures the foundation that your organization has thoroughly thought through the entire process.  The foundation will want to know that resources have been identified to continue the project beyond the grant period and that a thorough evaluation will be performed in order to determine its effectiveness.


Close the letter by offering to meet with the foundation officials at their office, host a site visit, or discuss the project over the telephone.  Emphasize your willingness to provide any additional information requested by the foundation.

Training vs. Experience

My purpose in writing Getting Your Share of the Pie-The Complete Guide to Finding Grants was to disseminate a complete “how to” guide to the grant world.  The reference component of the book gives the reader additional resources to consult as their grant writing career proceeds.  This will ensure that the serious student is given the tools to keep up with the most current information in the field.  I began with the very most basic element of receiving a grant-identifying the true need-and concluded with steps to be taken if the grant application is not approved.  In the pages in between, I advised the reader on how to develop a fundable project, find the most promising grant sources, develop a strategy for which sources to approach, and write a successful proposal.

However, as in my own experience, time spent on the job is critically important.  There are, as in any other profession, various nuances and subtleties which show themselves as one actually begins to work.  No book can cover all of those situations.  We all know how various judgment points are different at different parts of one’s career.  The seasoned veteran will obviously think of the proper questions to ask and look behind the scenes to see what is not obvious, whereas a novice might tend to take the situation at face value.

One example of how experience is just as important as knowledge is my policy of looking for “deal breakers” in the very beginning of an assignment.  I examine the project closely and consult the funding agency if there is any doubt as to project eligibility.  This may sound like common sense, but the novice has a tendency to want to think that the project is fundable under a particular program regardless of any issues which may be a potential problem.  He may not want to think that this potential source, which may have been very hard to find, may not be the right choice.  I highly recommend that the grant writer minutely examine the program guidelines at least twice in order to ensure that the project is eligible for funding.

Another very obvious skill which the aspiring grant writer can only pick up with experience is making contacts within the various funding agencies.  In my case, this has been carefully developed over the years. I am proud to say that the funding agencies I work with know me as an individual who lives up to her promises, meets deadlines without exception, and understands the restrictions under which that agency is working.  I would advise the novice grant writer to deal with funding agencies with the utmost honesty.  One of the worst things anyone can do is leave the impression that you are trying to “pull the wool over their eyes”. Most of the agencies can pick this up in a heartbeat. Needless to say, this leaves a very bad impression of the grant writer which can linger for years.

Private Funding

Private Funding

Private funding is supplied by wealthy individuals, corporations, banks and foundations. A “foundation” is a non-profit organization with a board of directors and trustees which provide funds for various charitable causes. Most foundations have been organized under federal or state charters. Others have been organized under trust agreements. The following generalities in regard to private foundation funding apply pretty much across the board:


  • Most foundations will accept a brief letter of inquiry as the initial contact, where- as, with government sources, letters of inquiry are never used.  The applicant will submit either a pre-application or an application. The pre-application can sometimes be as lengthy as an application.
  • Many foundations accept inquiries throughout the year.  This is also true of some governmental sources.  However, governmental sources are more likely to have a specific period of time when they will accept applications.  In many cases, this is done once a year.
  • Private foundations are less likely to have specific, concrete rating and ranking systems with points assigned to various factors.  Most government sources of funds spell out very precisely how they will rate and rank an application.
  • Private foundations are more prone to making decisions based on personal factors.  This could include having personal knowledge of the applying organization or being personally acquainted with one of its staff members.
  • Most foundations tend to have less complex requirements for grant administration.  In some cases, a final report may be required. Nearly all federal and state funding agencies require some sort of formalized reporting procedure and may have other administrative requirements which must be followed
  • In line with the idea that foundations are freer to choose their grantees without benefit of a formal rating system, some only give grants to pre-selected organizations. The family or individuals funding the foundation may have an interest in certain subject matter and wish to support only that particular cause.
  • Most foundations are not able to make large grants and, in general, support smaller projects.
  • Foundations are not under the same scrutiny as state and local government funding programs, and thus are freer to utilize their own rules and regulations.  Federal and state funding sources must abide by the laws governing their grant programs as well as the regulations which have been developed to ensure that those laws are followed.  This gives private foundations a much greater degree of internal control.  Governmental agencies are bound by the strictures put into place by Congress and the various state legislatures.


Searching for Grant Funds

Fortunately, the grant seeker will find a plethora of search resources.  This is due in part to the pervasive availability of electronic information.  We are in the enviable position of having to spend a significant amount of time weeding out grant search tools and potential funding agencies, rather than having to work hard to ferret out this information.  It is a matter of learning to work efficiently and utilizing those search tools which will give the most “bang for the buck”. This could also be expressed as “learning to work smarter, not harder”.  Of course, the beginning grant writer will need to take time to learn which search tools provide the most reliable and easy-to-access information.  Learning the art of discrimination in this area does take time.  Do not be discouraged if you feel at first as if your energy is being scattered in a dozen directions.  With patience and diligent work, the grant writer will learn how to make the most effective use of time when doing a grant search.”

Fortunately, the grant seeker has a number of free sources to choose from in searching for federal government grants.  In my opinion, Grants.gov and the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) are two of the more useful search tools, although there are others which I utilize from time to time. One of the most effective methods for determining whether a particular federal program is a good fit is by taking note of the total amount of funding available and the number of awards which will be made. This will allow the grant seeker to determine how intense the competition will be.

All of the individual states offer a wide array of grant programs in such areas as water and sewer, transportation, parks and recreation, economic development, historic preservation, law enforcement, and fire fighting.  States award grants to municipalities and counties as well as nonprofit organizations.  Some states will also offer assistance to for-profit entities in support of economic development. If your organization is a non-profit, get to know your local elected officials. It is quite possible that they will be able to supplement your list of potential funding sources by making suggestions from among the state programs with which they are familiar. I always search for state sources of funding first.  The state programs are easier to access than federal programs due to the fact that the applicant is competing only on the state level and not against other applicants around the entire country.