Small Museum Grants Again

Apparently, there are a LOT of people out there searching for “how to write a small museum grant.” If you are here as the result of such a search, condolences. You’re about to enter a world of pain. A quick Google search is not going to get you out of this one.

I was once one of those searchers. I’ve now written a number of small grants for my little museum. Here’s what I’ve learned:

1.) THERE IS NO “MANUAL” FOR WRITING SMALL GRANTS. No one way is going to get you the magic key. Large federal grants are another issue, but for the grants you’re applying for, you’re going to have to wing it a little. Also, never be afraid to call up the grant coordinator and ask questions.

2.) IF YOU LOST MONEY LAST YEAR, DON’T EVEN BOTHER. By far and away, no matter what the grant organization’s high-handed rhetoric says, the absolute key to receiving grant money is having solid income/expense sheets. I’m sure your project is super-fantastic, but so are the 15-300 other projects they’ll be reviewing. Many of those applying probably MADE money last year AND can afford a grant writer. If you lost money or even just broke even, you’re wasting your time by filling out the application. No, it’s not fair. It’s reality. For more on why this is, see previous post entitled “So I’m Writing Another Grant…”

3.) THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE GRANT IS THE PROJECT BUDGET. This is an extension of #2, and assumes you made money or, at the very least, broke even last year. Many amateur grant writers spend far too much time filling out the “fluff” of the grant–“how will your project serve the community?” “how has the need for this project been documented?” “what groups will be served by this project in your community?”–and neglect to put together a super-detailed, accurate, and realistic budget for the project.

Look, the “fluff” questions are MADE for b.s. If you read successful small museum grants, you’ll find that winning grants are often “written” shoddily. As long as you can string together a coherent sentence about “community” and something about “children” (see below), that’s fine. What they’re looking for is people who will spend their/their donors’ money responsibly. Spend 90% of the time on the budget/documentation/990s, etc. and 10% slapping together the fluff part.

4.) MAKE SURE YOUR ORGANIZATION/PROJECT FITS THE GRANT (and don’t kid yourself if it doesn’t). My little museum is in a community with a great corporation that always funds local non-profits…who are in the education sector. Yes, we do educational programs, but we’re a cultural institution, not education. You can try to stretch it, but you’re going to lose out to the organizations who are more a match for the grant, no matter how good your budget sheets and your fluff writing. Again, I’m trying to save you time and pain here.

5.) SAY SOMETHING ABOUT HELPING CHILDREN. This is easier for some organizations than others. If your organization interacts with children/families in ANY way, play it up. Everyone likes helping children. Don’t overdo it–sucking up never looks good–but sneak in some references about how much fun children have getting their faces painted at your annual events, or how many school programs your educators have done in the past year.

There’s a little advice from a kind-of grant veteran. More may be forthcoming. Oh, last tip: START EARLY. Don’t put it off–especially the budget!

For a no-nonsense explanation of private grant foundations, see my previous posts.

Good luck, and may God have mercy on your souls.


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