Loot For Coots/Dough For Crows/Brass For Bass/Dosh For Moss etc.: Fundraising For Natural Science Collections

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

Money, it doesn’t need an introduction or any commentary on how hard it is to do anything without it. However, I will say that trying to get hold of it for natural science collections is not impossible and definitely worth pursuing. At Leeds, despite not having a fundraiser on staff, we’ve had quite a few >£100,000 natural science collection grant applications succeed (and fail) over the past few years and I would encourage everyone to put ‘try and get some grant money’ into their work plan.

© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Where To Go For Money

Looking for who will fund you is half the battle. There are paid-for databases out there (Grantfinder, Grants Online, Funds Online etc.) and free ones (Get Grants, Government Funding Database etc.). I’m not endorsing any of these but they can be helpful if you want an idea of who might fund your project. Be wary of eligibility though, as part of a local authority, Leeds Museums and Galleries are not allowed to apply for loads of grants. Sob.

In the summer of 2019, Sarah Briggs of the UK Museums Association spoke at NatSCA’s conference in Dublin about the lack of applications the Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund receives from natural science collections. She would like to see more and the board seem keen on projects that look to help the environment.

Well known funders of natural science collections would be: National Lottery Heritage Fund, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund (administered by the Museums Association), The Wolfson Foundation, The John Ellerman Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation but there are plenty more.

The John Ellerman Foundation has a good background story. Ellerman was the son of the richest person in England at the beginning of the 20th century. He could have gone into business but instead decided to concentrate on collecting rodents.

Your local area charities/friends group/learned society might well offer a grant scheme and so it’s worth asking around and making local connections.

Last, but not least, NatSCA offer yearly grants to natural science collections through the Bill Pettit Memorial Fund scheme. You can apply for anything – not just conservation or collections management work.

What To Ask For In A Grant

I try to include money for a post in most of my grant applications. Improving the number and variety of entry-level jobs is good for the sector and it means that your workload isn’t significantly impacted by the new project.

Legacy is also crucial to consider. Make sure the money you ask for won’t just go towards the two or three years of the project but set up your organisation/collection into the future. Most funders ask you to consider this as part of the application.

A Palm Cockatoo skin photographed as part of Leeds’s “Skin Deep” project, funded by the Designation Development Fund in 2013/14
© Leeds Museums and Galleries.

Ten Tips For Writing A Good Grant Application

  • Consider it a job application – read the criteria then prove how you meet the criteria
  • Don’t shoe-horn a project into an application for a fund that’s not quite right – the funder will notice and not fund you
  • Keep going – don’t be put off by rejection, get some feedback and start again, there’s usually plenty of cut-and-paste opportunities from old applications
  • Remember the competition – what makes your application stand out? What makes your project the best?
  • Speak to funders – picking up the telephone to discuss a bid before you start is daunting but crucial. They’re usually really nice people who want to help you put in a good bid.
  • Be clear and succinct about outputs, goals, outcomes, impacts and legacy
  • Most funders list how they assess applications somewhere on their website. Go and find it and read it.
  • Come up with a good name – believe it or not this has been proven to help!
  • Be direct (we) and positive (will) – not ‘might’ or ‘hope to’
  • I include images in applications where I can, although this isn’t always possible.

Further Reading

My experience has mainly been in writing grant applications but there are plenty of other ways to raise money for natural science collections. In early 2019, NatSCA ran a training day on this subject – with a broad range of speakers covering lots of different topics. Sophie Banks kindly wrote it up for NatSCA, you can find her report here
and the day still is on Twitter: #NatSCAfunding.

If you are thinking of applying for a grant for a natural science collection, and you’d like to go over the idea with anyone, do drop me an email: clare.brown@leeds.gov.uk I’d be happy to help if I can.

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