May 19, 2015

How to Save a Place: Fundraising Basics

If you’ve been following along with our How to Save a Place toolkit series, your plan to save the historic place that matters to you is likely beginning to take shape. But there’s still one significant element that you probably need more guidance on: fundraising.

It takes money to make things happen. Money enables you to hire craftsmen, build advocacy campaigns, purchase materials and equipment, and much more. Asking for funding doesn’t have to be a daunting challenge, though. No matter your approach, there is one universal truth about fundraising: People give because someone asked them.

This toolkit provides you with some fundamental steps for fundraising. If you can put these basics into practice, then you will increase your chances of turning an ask into financial support for your great preservation work.

Raise money to support what matters.

Fundraising isn't about money -- it’s about your mission. People give because they feel passionate about a cause and because they believe they can make a difference. When you ask for money (whether it’s a fundraising letter or grant application), highlight the work you are doing to make a difference and tell your donor specifically how their funds will help.

People give to people.

People are behind the foundations, corporations, and government agencies that you might appeal to for a grant or donation. Each individual donor and institutional funder is a unique package of interests and expectations. Find out as much as possible about prospective supporters in order to build meaningful and lasting relationships.

Be accountable; be ethical.

It’s important to accurately track and report fundraising revenue and expenses. Be transparent with those who are helping support your work. A big part of transparency is sharing results. Hosting tours and events for donors at your historic site will help you show that their financial support made a tangible difference.

Successful fundraising starts with a plan.

Before you can reach out to individuals and institutions, you need to have a funding goal and a plan for how you’ll reach it. Make a list of people and places you will ask for funding and include details about how much you’ll ask for from each. Decide when you’ll write your letters and/or apply for grants; you’ll likely need funding at different points of your project. Don’t forget, always read the guidelines for any grants you apply for.

Fundraising is about the mission, not the money. Remember that making personal connections with potential donors is key.

Search beyond the traditional sources of assistance.

While Preservation Fund grants from the National Trust are a great place to start, there are many other places to look as well -- private-sector philanthropies, corporations and corporate foundations, family foundations, and community trusts, to name a few. Speak to bank trust officers about any local or individual trusts, bequests, and foundations that might embrace the goals of the preservation project. Try reaching out on social media to connect with a new audience of supporters, or host a special fundraising event. Think outside the box.

Look at national funding resources.

Check out for a comprehensive list of all federal grant opportunities. The National Park Service also administers a range of grants. And there are plenty of others out there, such as The Getty, Tourism Cares, and the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation. Keep looking and you’re sure to find many more.

If your site has recently sustained damage from a fire or other unexpected event, be sure to look into emergency or intervention funds.

Also research state funding resources.

Talk to someone in your state historic preservation office (SHPO). Most states administer historic preservation grant or loan programs. You can also look for community foundations in your state. They manage a lot of donor-advised philanthropic funds, and you may find some who are interested in historic preservation.

Don’t forget local funding resources.

Reach out to your local historic preservation office for ideas on where to find local funding. If your community is a Certified Local Government, it’s eligible to apply for Certified Local Government Grants that help fund a variety of historic preservation projects.

Explore emergency grants.

If your historic site has been damaged in the last few weeks by an unexpected event such as a flood, fire, or high winds, it may also be eligible for a National Trust Emergency/Intervention Fund Grant. Funding can also be used to support advocacy campaigns in response to pending legislation or development pressures. We at the National Trust are always happy to talk through your situation and help you if your project qualifies and we have funding available.

Never give up.

Fundraising doesn’t have to be tricky. Think about it more as a conversation with someone (whether it’s in person or on paper), not a transaction, and you may find that it comes more naturally than you think. Don’t forget, the most important part is simply asking.

Adapted from Preservation Tips and Tools: Fundamentals of Fundraising and Fundraising Basics for Preservation Organizations, a National Trust publication by Martha Vail.

David Weible is a former content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation is inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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