Added to Medium, July 26, 2018
Museum professionals understand that grants are significant for funding museums to keep them exercising their practices such as running programs and caring for collections. Based on my experiences, grants are a tedious necessity since there is a lot of paperwork that needs to be filled out to fund museums, and the information we need to fill out for grants is repetitive depending on how many times we need to apply to the same grant.
One of my responsibilities at the Long Island Explorium includes writing grant applications and proposals. I have worked with state grants and kit applications to keep the museum fulfilling its mission. With the Executive Director, I filled out paperwork to send to the state representative and the county legislator. Also, I filled out online applications for program kits such as the Earth Science Earth & Space Toolkit to be able to use at the museum. In the Earth Science Earth & Space Toolkit application, I would first write in the museum’s demographics as well as a brief explanation of how the museum will use the toolkit in a downloaded form then copy the information into the online application after making adjustments to reflect the current year.
While my main interest in the museum field is education, I see value in learning about grant application processes since we need a fund source that is at least somewhat consistent to keep museum education programs running. The problems we all come across in the field is limited availability of grants and being able to convince foundations, government agencies, and other funders of why we need these funds. It is a challenge to find funding for our museums but it is worth the time and effort to search and apply for these grants.
Foundations, organizations, government agencies, and other funding sources have websites that share resources on what grants are out there and how to apply for them. I came across a blog post on the American Alliance of Museum’s website written by Charlotte A. Montgomery who shared some of the websites about grants to help museum professionals get started on the grant search process. One of the websites in the post was for the Foundation Center (http://foundationcenter.org/) which connects people to the resources they need by using data, analysis, and training. Another grant website discussed in the blog post was Grants.gov which is a place to find and apply for federal grants, and it is highly advisable to make sure the organization is registered with the System for Award Management weeks before planning to submit a proposal. Once museum professionals find the grant or grants they want to apply for, they need to figure out what the grant process is like to accurately submit a proposal.
Sarah Sutton’s second edition of Is Your Museum Grant-Ready? revealed one of the first things to do before even thinking about applying for grants is to understand the grant funding system. According to Sutton, she pointed out that
If you need funds for programs or capital projects, then the best way to support the grants process is to understand it well enough to ask the right questions and provide the right kind of material and assistance.
When museum professionals are able to ask the right questions and provide the right kind of material as well as assistance, the whole grant process will be easier to understand for future grant applications. Also, museums would save a lot of time when figuring out how to apply for the grant. Without knowing how the process is performed, a lot of time is wasted as we continue to correct the errors are made.
I learned that it is important to go over each detail carefully while I was filling out grant paperwork for the Long Island Explorium. Since I have to make a number of copies to send to the state representative and county legislator, it was easy for me to make and discover errors. The good news was I was able to catch them before I sent the paperwork in the mail. If any errors were made in the process, we would not be able to know until a few months after submitting the paperwork; it would take a few months for them to go through the grant paperwork. Understanding the process is beneficial for myself as well as all museum professionals working on grant proposals. Since there are so many museums that apply to grants, each museum need to figure out how they can stand out from other applications.
As I was reviewing information about grants, I came across two blog posts on answers to grant proposals if non-profits were brutally honest. The writer pointed out that non-profits are trained to tell funders what we think they want to hear, and had collected various honest answers to questions posed by grant applications. If non-profits are able to be brutally honest, some of the answers are
- What is innovative about your program design? “Our program is entirely innovative. The design is unproven; the approach is untested; the outcomes are unknown. We also have a tried-and-true service delivery model with outstanding results and a solid evidence base to support it. But you funded that last year and your priority is to fund innovative projects. So we made this one up. Please send money.”
- How will you use the funds if you receive this grant? We honestly really need this grant to pay for rent and utilities and for wages so our staff can do important work and feed their families, but since you won’t allow your funds to be used for those things, we will say that your grant is paying for whatever you will actually fund, then get other funders or donors to give and then tell them that their money is paying for the stuff that they want to fund. We will ultimately waste hundreds of hours every year trying to figure out who is paying for what, hours that could be used to deliver services. Please send unrestricted money.
- What is the mission of your organization? Susan, can we talk? This is a renewal grant. It’s the third year you have supported us. You know what our mission is, along with our programs, outcomes, challenges, etc., because we’ve been in constant communication. Instead of writing an entire proposal again as if you’ve never heard of us, how about I just tell you what’s new since last year? That will save us both a lot of time. What’s new is that Jason got a standing desk that he made out of cardboard boxes and Gorilla tape because you and other funders want overhead to be low. He says hi. Also, demands for our services has doubled. Please send double the amount of money you normally send.
- What needs are you addressing? We are addressing the failure of our government and capitalism to provide for people who are suffering from systemic injustice caused by government and capitalism. Please send money or convince corporations and the rest of society to pay more taxes and take care of people better and put us nonprofit professionals out of business so that some of us can pursue our dreams of acting and/or wedding photography.
I believe a lot of museum professionals from time to time have identified with these honest responses. Museum professionals are constantly attempting to brainstorm innovative ideas for programs to draw visitors in and show foundations providing grants we have something unique worth putting money towards.
Also, we do need to consider paying for rent, utilities, and salaries when trying to fund our museums but the problem can be summed up with this question: is there a grant that will pay for us to be in our building and do the work we do to support ourselves? An honest response previously listed suggests there isn’t. One of the issues we are talking about in this field is the lack of providing living wages for our staff and how we should be working towards better pay. As we work towards addressing and resolving what we need to fix, we should acknowledge how we need to receive more support from the government to help us fix the problems we are facing in the museum field. We are constantly working towards making sure the government provides funding for our organizations through our advocacy efforts, and since we continue to struggle to make sure they run smoothly with sufficient funds we need to continue to advocate for our museums.
We acknowledge the need for grants in our organizations, and without grants we would have a hard time keeping our museums running.
Have you worked on a grant or grants for your organization? What are your experiences with grants?