How To Get Money For Your Natural Science Collection

Written By Clare Brown, Curator of Natural Science, Leeds Museums and Galleries.

So you’ve got a lovely collection, with lots of lovely potential, you yourself have loads of lovely ideas for all the lovely things you could do with it but you have no money. It’s a pretty common situation in museums but there are ways to fund your collections and the rewards for doing so are BIG.

©Leeds Museums and Galleries

Where and How to Look

There are various companies you can subscribe to who will produce lists of funders that suit your project. People like https://www.grantfinder.co.uk/ and https://www.fundingcentral.org.uk/default.aspx but others are available. We’ve used these in the past in Leeds but haven’t kept up our subscription as museum funders rarely seem to change from year to year.

The main funders to consider in the natural science collection world are:

https://ellerman.org.uk/,

https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding-finder/designation-development-fund,

https://www.esmeefairbairn.org.uk/,

https://www.wolfson.org.uk/,

https://garfieldweston.org/,

https://www.museumsassociation.org/collections/esmee-fairbairn-collections-fund,

https://www.heritagefund.org.uk/

and absolutely not forgetting https://www.natsca.org/awards-and-bursaries

There are, of course, lots of grants and grant-giving organisations out there. Your local rubbish tip might be obliged to hand out money, or a very specific endowment fund means that caddis fly collections are eligible for millions (I’m speculating). It’s worth asking around and doing some hunting and it’s interesting who funds natural science collections. For example, Sir John Ellerman himself was a world expert on rodents and so the Ellerman Foundation are keen to fund natural science collections.

©Leeds Museums and Galleries

How to Apply

It is absolutely fine, expected even, to contact a potential funder to chat through a proposal. I’ve always been terrified doing this as I want to make a good impression and paint my project in the best possible light. My experience of these phone calls has been overwhelmingly positive though, the person on the other end wants to hear your ideas and will offer good advice. Obviously, if you are encouraged to do so, applying for a grant after one of these calls is far less daunting.

The rest of the application is straightforward. Read the criteria carefully and then meet it. It’s very similar to a job application.

©Leeds Museums and Galleries

Case Studies

Last year Leeds managed to get £17,000 from various funders to restore and display the skeleton of a Long-finned Pilot Whale. We reached out to local grant-givers, who regularly support Leeds Museums and Galleries projects, for smaller amounts and then a large chunk of it came from the National Lottery Heritage fund. I failed to get a grant from the British Ecological Society for this though, it was rejected as it just didn’t meet their criteria.

In 2014 Leeds received a large amount of money from the John Ellerman Foundation. They funded our ‘Geoblitz’ project, awarding £112,000 for three years. This meant we could employ a geologist and massively increase our access to this fabulous collection. The one additional criteria we had to meet was that we had to operate nationally. In the final year of the project we were able to deliver geology collections expertise around the country and raised Leeds’s profile as a result. The John Ellerman Foundation is a great funder and, at the time, did not require any matched funding.

There are plenty of other current case studies around. Ask Glenn Roadley at the Potteries museum about his recent grant and Jack Ashby at the University of Cambridge Zoology Museum who just received Esmee Fairbairn Collection Fund money for a big project on their butterfly collection. There’s lots of grant-receiving expertise out there in the natural science museum community, and I’m sure they’d be willing to share their advice.

©Leeds Museums and Galleries

You can’t win them all

I once went to a seminar on fundraising and the advice was to try and put about 10 applications in a year, with the expectation of getting a 10-20% success rate. It’s true, the more you put in, the more likely you are to be successful.

I’ve had successes and failures but I certainly don’t have the time to submit 10 a year – they take absolutely ages to produce. When I’ve got a good project – that I’m keen to do and fits a funders criteria really closely – then I’ll spend the time on applying. Leeds’s natural science collection has attracted over £300,000 in external funding in the last ten years.

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