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 and 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:,,,,,,

and absolutely not forgetting

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.

The Bill Pettit Memorial Award

The Bill Pettit Memorial Award – £2000

NatSCA is pleased to invite applications to this year’s Bill Pettit Memorial Award. Up to £2,000 of grant money, is available to NatSCA members this year to support projects including the conservation, access and use of natural science collections.

Charles Arthur William ‘Bill’ Pettit (1937-2009) started his career with the National Institute of Oceanography but moved to the Manchester Museum in 1975 to become Assistant Keeper of Zoology. In his time at Manchester, Bill worked tirelessly for the collections and was instrumental in projects such as FENSCORE as well as numerous publications. It is in recognition of his commitment to natural science collections that we would like to offer this annual award.

Projects will be assessed against NatSCA’s mission to promote collections care, use and access of Natural Science collections. We are looking for projects that can be delivered on time and budget, leaving a tangible legacy. Each project will be considered on its own merits by the NatSCA committee and the committee’s decision, including not awarding any money that year, will be final. 

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Getting Funding for Natural Science Collections

With the current financial year almost at a close, many of our thoughts are firmly on next year’s budget. With this in mind, here is Clare Brown with some advice on obtaining funding for work on your collections:


The 2014 Geology Curators’ Group conference and AGM dealt with how to raise money for natural science collections. The first speaker of the day was Nick Poole, CEO of the Collections Trust. He gave a great talk on where to look for funding, and how to get it once you’ve found it. I’ve converted my notes from his talk below, and the slideshow of his presentation can be found here (the slides are comprehensive and brimming with tips).

Screenshot of Nick Poole's web article on obtaining funding

Nick Poole’s advice on applying for grants

Sources of Funding

Nick Poole mentioned that the National Council for Volunteer Organisations has a good website for looking at who funds what, but after a bit of clicking around I couldn’t turn up anything particularly useful. If I’d had more time, and perhaps a membership number, I might have had a better experience.

A great resource is Funding Central. This website allows you to search 4,000 potential funders using the criteria of your choice.

At present the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) is in a cash-rich situation. However, they are concentrating on funding projects concerned with social utility or financial resilience. It’s quite hard to squeeze collections into those two titles.

At the end of Nick’s slides he has listed several organisations that fund UK museum projects and collections (slides 39 – 45). It’s well worth taking a look at. If you are lucky enough to work in London, Kent, Surrey, Birmingham or Manchester, the Fidelity UK Foundation also funds museum projects.

How do I get Funding?

When considering applying for a grant, only ever apply for money for a project that is consistent with your museum’s aims, otherwise delivering it will be hell.

Be prepared before the funding call goes out. Have a variety of projects ready to go, with need/scope/budget/supporting evidence available.

When writing a grant:

  1. RTFM (read the … manual).
  2. Give yourself time.
  3. Produce a good solid ‘hearts and minds’ story, with hard evidence to back it up.
  4. Many funders have one eye on the press release. Believe it or not, the projects with great names do seem to get funding. Create drama and make it unique and compelling.
  5. Don’t focus on your collections as a problem – focus on the problem to which your collection is the solution.
  6. Be realistic about cost.
  7. Understand how your proposal will be assessed.
  8. Always quote the funders to themselves: “As you yourselves said …”
  9. Don’t be insecure. Use the word ‘successful’. Don’t keep writing ‘if we get the grant’; write ‘when we get the grant’.
  10. Don’t bother with hubris (unless they ask for it). Avoid death by citation and focus on outcomes, not process.
  11. Build your reputation: become well known for delivering great projects.

If at first you don’t succeed, then ask for feedback, adjust your technique, and try again.


Clare Brown, December 2014