This blog post highlights funding opportunities for historical structures. To be clear, city hall or other municipal-type buildings can be extremely difficult to secure grant funding for. This is because it is expected that those expenses are covered by local government revenues. So, how do we approach such complex structures?
Grant research strategy
When looking for inspiration on how to get a complicated project funded, we always defer to our tried and true grant research philosophy. We teach it in our program, the Grant Writing Unicorn Collective. Essentially, the last thing we want to do is spend precious time and energy preparing a grant application only to discover it’s not a good fit.
Enter: grant research and a funding strategy.
A funding strategy is a road map for knowing what grants you will pursue ahead of time and when. It’s a short list of grants your organization will pursue over the course of a particular project/program or to help cover general operating costs. We recommend putting together a funding strategy before applying to any grants.
When we develop a funding strategy, we whittle down a list of potential funders based upon how well the ask fits within the grantmaker’s funding priorities. We also look to ensure that the chance of winning the grant is at least 20%. Therefore, funding strategy is not just a random list of grants to apply to; it is a list of grants that your organization has a high likelihood of winning due to thorough research.
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Look at other grant-funded examples
Another approach we take to complicated projects is examining how others funded their projects (which is where much of this post’s inspiration comes from). If at all possible, we try not to reinvent the wheel, but to instead tweak as necessary.
This post examines funding opportunities for a historical structure. As we mentioned previously, city hall or other municipal-type buildings can be challenging to secure grant funding for. Occasionally though, you will have a unique case for getting your project funded, and that was the case for a project we helped with years ago.
Instead of moving City Hall to the outskirts of the community with a new building, this particular organization in Washington was working to preserve and upgrade the historic building that originally housed city administration. This small community was known for valuing its historic assets and having a charming downtown which is just about the most lovely thing, wouldn’t you agree? We were jazzed to help.
Back in 2017, we presented a few different funding sources to the client. However, since revisiting the project we’ve broadened it up and found funding for historical structures everywhere in the United States (not just in Washington). Below are several funding opportunities for your historical structure preservation project.
National Endowment for the Humanities: Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions
Preservation Assistance Grants help small and mid-sized institutions—such as libraries, museums, historical societies, archival repositories, cultural organizations, town and county records offices, and colleges and universities—improve their ability to preserve and care for their significant humanities collections. These may include special collections of books and journals, archives and manuscripts, prints and photographs, moving images, sound recordings, architectural and cartographic records, decorative and fine art objects, textiles, archaeological and ethnographic artifacts, furniture, historical objects, and digital materials. The max award is $10,000.
👉 Check out this funded City of Boston Archives Grant Application for ideas of how to use these NEH grant funds.
National Trust for Historic Preservation: National Trust Preservation Funds
Grants from National Trust Preservation Funds (NTPF) are intended to encourage preservation at the local level by providing seed money for preservation projects. These grants help stimulate public discussion, enable local groups to gain the technical expertise needed for particular projects, introduce the public to preservation concepts and techniques, and encourage financial participation by the private sector. The grant covers planning and implementation expenditures. Planning expenditures is a great ask from this grant!
Planning expenditures: Supporting existing staff (nonprofit applicants only) or obtaining professional expertise in areas such as architecture, archaeology, engineering, preservation planning, land-use planning, and law. Eligible planning activities include, but are not limited to:
- Hiring a preservation architect or landscape architect, or funding existing staff with expertise in these areas, to produce a historic structure report or historic landscape master plan.
- Hiring a preservation planner, or funding existing staff with expertise in this area, to produce design guidelines for a historic district.
- Hiring a real estate development consultant, or funding existing staff with expertise in this area, to produce an economic feasibility study for the reuse of a threatened structure.
- Sponsoring a community forum to develop a shared vision for the future of a historic neighborhood.
- Organizational capacity building activities such as hiring fundraising consultants, conducting board training, etc.
Of note: only Organizational Level Forum members or Main Street America members of the National Trust are eligible to apply for funding from the National Trust Preservation Fund.
National Endowment for the Arts: Our Town Grants
The National Endowment for the Arts plans to support a variety of projects across the country in urban, rural, and tribal communities of all sizes. Our Town projects must integrate arts, culture, and design activities into efforts that strengthen communities by advancing local economic, physical, and/or social outcomes. This might be a good option for your historic structure if you can bring new attention to or elevate key community assets and issues, voices of residents, local history, or cultural infrastructure.
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Regional and Local Grants
Many of your best opportunities for historic preservation are available at the regional and local level. For that reason, we also recommend looking into the following for more funding options:
YOUR STATE'S HISTORICAL SOCIETY
i.e. Washington State Historical Society: Heritage Capital Projects Fund
This program is a good option for funding restoration and preservation. The City is an eligible applicant. This grant is a great demonstration of how a funding strategy is crucial to a successful project. Approximately $10 million is available every biennium to reimburse up to 33% of eligible costs. The max award is $750k. Though a seemingly far away deadline, this schedule should work well for the City to secure the remaining 66% of funds needed to renovate the facility and do the necessary leg work to ‘position’ the project for an award. So, we know that the organization needs to secure 66% of project funding elsewhere.
YOUR STATE'S DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE
i.e. Washington State, Dept. of Commerce: Energy Efficiency and Solar Grants
This program funds street lighting or solar power projects. In the event this building wanted to use solar power, this could be a good program, although highly competitive. Max award is $500k for solar.
👉 An updated resource that we are really impressed by can be found here on solar panel grants and loans by Happy DIY Home.
PARTNERSHIPS WITH 501(C)3 NON PROFITS
To access additional funding sources, there would need to be a 501(c)3 non-profit applicant (if you aren’t one already). Instead of forming a new non-profit, we recommend you consider finding a fiscal sponsor, which we talk about in this blog post , as an alternative strategy. When developing your vision for the future of your historical structure, creative ideas like providing a long-term lease to a local non-profit(s) on the ground floor could open up funding for that portion of the building. For example, with a long-term lease and non-profit applicant, you could jointly pursue a Department of Commerce Building for the Arts grant up to $2 million.
👉 Pro Tip: Don’t overlook small maximum grant awards ($5,000 or less)! If you can identify internal staff or a volunteer to submit the grant, it can help show support for the project when pursuing larger funding sources.
Hopefully, this helps get you thinking about creative ways to grant fund historic building improvements. Have any questions? Other ideas? Share them in the comments below.
Grant Writing Resources
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