For those who weren’t able to attend my April 7, 2021 Lightning Talk 1 – Leadership panel, I have written version of my presentation with links to access the free Grants Directory and Grants Workbook & Templates.
Museums were unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout that resulted. When the traditional income streams of tickets sales, retail, and events dried up, museums found themselves facing catastrophic financial losses over a protracted period of time. In the United States, the relief funding was slow and woefully insufficient. The 2020 CARES Act provided less than 5% of what museums organizations such as the American Alliance of Museums stated museums would need in order to financially survive; and this was back in spring 2020, the early days of the pandemic.
The Grant Funding Inequity Problem
The relief funds available to US-based museums thus far have gone to federal granting agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. These agencies applications go through Grants.gov, a system that requires extensive administrative protocols in order to even receive an account. Once an account is established, there’s the arduous task of creating a federal grant application that satisfies all requirements. For museums who lack a development department or grant writer, and who have limited experience in applying for federal funds, the task of using Grants.gov to access relief funds is daunting to say the least. Pair that with inadequate funds available and it’s easy to see how defeating the current grant funding apparatus is. It’s an inherently inequitable system and it leaves many small to moderately-sized museums behind.
The Reality for Small to Medium-Sized Museums
Seeing the economic devastation and overwhelm many museum colleagues were (and are) experiencing, I partnered with Lucidea to brainstorm how we can help solve this equity issue. There are four main challenges to address:
- Little to no grant expertise available on staff
- Limited federal grant experience
- Not enough time available to learn and navigate a heavily bureaucratic funding system
- No resources available to pay for grant resources or support
If you pair this challenge with the reality that many museums are already working with limited operating budget and reserves, you can see how they’re not only too short to see over the fence, they’re even further behind and “in the hole” within the grant funding apparatus. (See the above image).
Solving Large-Scale Issues
So, how do we begin to solve systemic issues that’ve led to large gaps in the ability to access grant funding? We knew we needed to create a solution that could solve for these multiple points of inequity and improve upon the grant resources currently available. We began with a gap analysis.
What there is and what it’s lacking:
- Grant Databases and Aggregators: They’re not comprehensive, provide little information, often outdated, unable to offer faceted searching, and are usually behind paywalls.
- Proposal Examples: There are proposal examples that can be found for some federal-level applications, but none teach museum professionals how to successfully create grant applications.
- Silos of Resources: There are blog posts, webinars, and workshops; but there’s no all-inclusive museum grant toolkit.
Building a Solution Part 1: Grants Directory
To solve for a portion of these challenges, we built a comprehensive museum grants directory. Users of the directory can:
- Drill-down through funding opportunities and quickly view specifications like: deadline, award range, and project theme.
- View important information in an at-a-glance format in order to make quick and effective decisions.
- Save time by eliminating the need to view each grant website and dig through information provided in a fractured format across multiple locations.
Building a Technical Solution
This directory is a database built using WordPress. WordPress uses a SQL style database to operate which lends flexibility to how we can store and retrieve grant funding data. We utilized custom fields, the Facet tool, and a Results theme tool to construct the directory on the backend. We then used the Divi page builder to support pulling from standard and custom fields to create listings and results. These tools allowed us to offer faceted searching, accommodate non-uniform data, provide a clear outline of “need to know” information, and capture information in an easily updatable format.
Building a Solution Part 2: Grants Workbook & Templates
The Grants Directory is a great resource to quickly find grant funding opportunities, but it doesn’t solve for museums who can’t afford grant writing professionals and have little time or ability to write their own grant applications. To solve for this challenge, we crafted a grant workbook designed to guide the reader through common application elements and teach the reader grant writing strategies. Finally, we offer inspiration with four plug-and-play grant project templates that can be easily adopted for digitization, Collections Management Systems, collections assessments, and disaster preparedness-oriented grants projects.
Our work is far from over. While we’ve been successful in harnessing available tools to effectively offer grant resources, there are additional avenues to pursue to further solve for grant funding inequity among museums. In the near future we plan to grow the directory to include local and regional grants and expand the toolkit to include more “how to” resources. But we can’t do it alone. In order to solve for systemic inequity, we need to look toward the source of the issue. Federal funding agencies need to evolve in order to decrease their contribution to the equity gap and make their funding programs more accessible. For now, it’s our hope that this freely available resource will help museums bridge the equity gap—especially in a year where grant funding can mean the difference between surviving or closing permanently.
Rachael Cristine Woody, Owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC and Lucidea Press Author
firstname.lastname@example.org | (503)922-3402