Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

How to Pursue Grant Funding for Your Historic Preservation Group

How to Get Grant Funding | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

If you are involved with a historic preservation group or campaign, you have probably thought about applying for a grant. Historic preservation groups around Wisconsin have used grant funding to accomplish projects such as these:

  • Rehabilitate buildings
  • Buy easements
  • Archive collections
  • Educate the public

Some preservation groups form as a 501c3 nonprofit organization immediately so they can qualify for grants. However, you should be aware that grants tend to be awarded to groups that demonstrate strong grassroots support. Most successful grant applicants have already spent several years on dedicated, diversified, person-to-person fundraising.

Identifying the Elements of Successful Grant Applications

The following elements will figure into your organization's chances of receiving a grant:

  • The scope of your project
  • The clarity of your project's design
  • Your track record with grants and fundraising
  • Your partnerships and community support

Panels that evaluate grant applicants look at how well each applicant group has done on its own to secure support and funding. If you are just getting started with your preservation efforts, you might consider partnering with an existing group that has a proven track record.

Applying for Grants

When your organization is ready to pursue grant funding, use the following guidelines:

Assume grants will follow other fundraising efforts, not lead them. In general, grantors prefer to see that your organization can raise money from different sources before they will contribute. When grants are awarded, it can take some time for the funds to be released. Grant application deadlines are often annual or semiannual.

Start small. Grantors like to support projects and organizations that have demonstrated success. If you have never received grant funds before, start small, especially if you are not looking for brick-and-mortar support. You can build on small successes by applying for increasingly large grants. This is especially important for new organizations.

Do your homework. Don't rely solely on the descriptions found online or in a grant source book to understand a grant's criteria. Review the previous five years of grant activity to get a feel for the kinds of projects your potential grantor prefers. You may be able to research this information online. If not, the grantor should provide you with a list of previously funded projects directly. Keep a file on each grant source to keep track of all insights and research.

Develop a relationship with a grantor. Work with your board, your more engaged members, and your friends to engage contacts within a granting organization. This effort will increase your chances of success not because you know people, but because you have developed a network of reviewers and advisors who can amend draft ideas and steer you away from mistakes.

Be clear on the basics. Note the average size of grants from a given source, how the grantor seeks proposals, and if a letter of inquiry is required prior to a full proposal. Also note deadlines.

Create a detailed budget. Every grant application requires a detailed project budget. Follow these tips on creating a grant application budget.

Prepare for rejection. Grant applications get rejected all the time. If your application is rejected, be sure you understand why. Reach out to the grants coordinator and request insight if this is not included in your rejection notice.

Be persistent. Persistence is required for all fundraising efforts. Reapply for grants regularly, but learn from your unsuccessful efforts and make the necessary changes that are within your control.

Finding Grant Funding Sources

In general, non-preservation-specific sources provide more grant funding than programs associated specifically with historic resources. This is a testament to historic preservation's integral relationship with many public concerns, such as:

  • Community development
  • Sustainability and environmental conservation
  • Arts
  • Transportation
  • Rural economic development
  • Archeological sites

The federal government supports historic preservation in a big way. The largest source of private grant funding in Wisconsin is the Jeffris Family Foundation. The foundation, formed in 1979, targets projects in small Midwestern communities and acts as a catalyst for more preservation work.

Learn More

Find more how-to articles about historic preservation advocacy.