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.

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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