Fund-Raising for Historical Societies

Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

This is the second and final segment of a two-part series on historical societies prepared by Mr. Magda, Part I of which appeared in the Spring issue (see “Historical Societies As Nonprofit Organizations“).


Historical societies should not underestimate the possibilities or raising money from their local communities. A large and successful local fund-raising pro­gram is solely dependent upon imagin­ation. initiative and hard work. There are many money-raising projects which can bring both substantial revenues and public attention to your historical society. One should keep in mind that the collection of money at the local level can enhance your chances for obtaining larger sums from other pros­pective grantors. Funds already ac­quired from individuals and smaller organizations build an image of com­munity support and commitment which is an impressive credential when approaching other grantors.


Money-Raising Projects and Events

Over the years the American Association for Stale and Local History (AASLH) collected the money-making ideas of its member organizations and published the best of these as part of a short book, 101 Ideas from History News (Nashville, TN, 1975). One such idea for successful fund-raising is the sale of historical paintings. furniture, jewelry and other items at silent auctions. Also profitable are sales of art reproductions of your society’s museum collections. or of historically oriented cookbooks featuring old-time and ethnic recipes. Another interesting idea is the borrowing of money from your membership and from the com­munity through the issuance and sale of loan certificates having minimal interest rates and a long-term repay­ment period. In this way the historical society can avoid the high interest rales and substantial financial obliga­tions of bank loans. Other proven money-raisers are the sale of illustrated notepaper and gift wrap designed from old newspaper advertisements, train schedules or theater billboards. Finally, special events such as carnivals, benefit dinners, historical costume parties and historical film shows or festivals can bring sizable amounts of money.

Of course, these are not the only money-making activities you may uti­lize. Your organization is limited sole­ly by your officers’ creative imagina­tion and practical skills.


Planning, Promotion and Organization

The financial success of any major fund-raising project or special event you may undertake is obviously de­pendent upon good implementation. Unexpected problems can and usually do develop. Intelligent consideration, planning, promotion and organization are vital if your society is to avoid serious problems. Therefore. the his­torical society’s directors, public rela­tions man or planning committee should seek the expert advice and/or assistance of a local successful fund­raising organization or personality be­fore initiating any substantial program.

If you feel confident enough at run­ning your own affairs, especially if you have a dynamic public relations person and a dedicated planning committee, you may only wish to examine the available literature on the “nuts and bolts” of money-raising activities. Two useful sources of information on the practical aspects of implementing fund­raising projects or events are:

Edwin R. Leibert and Bernice E. Sheldon, Handbook of Special Events for Nonprofit Organizations: Tested Ideas for Fund Raising and Public Relations (NY: Association Press, 1972). This book covers many projects and special events with experience reports, case studies and sample material models such as invitations, programs, letters and press releases – a good “how-to-do­-it” guide for staff members and volunteers.

Philip G. Sheridan, Fund Raising for the Small Organization (NY: M. Evans & Co., distributed by J. B. Lippincott, 1968), includes dozens of fund-raising schemes, with detail­ed step-by-step instructions on what to do, the costs involved in time and money, problems to avoid and what potential profits one can ex­pect from the projects.

On the specific topic or public rela­tions for historical societies and its re­lationship with fund-raising, a helpful review is provided by AASLH Technical Leaflet, 3. “Effective Public Rela­tions: Communicating Your Image.” by Robert Wheeler.


Business Community Support

The business community is a vital sector for funding and other aid be­cause of the financial and material resources it controls. However, ac­quiring aid from business organiza­tions is nor easy; it is a difficult and challenging task for any historical society.

When approaching businessmen for aid it is important to use good judg­ment. Business and industrial firms are often under pressure by appeals for financial aid from a variety of com­munity organizations. You must never tax the patience of merchants by too frequent or overly strong appeals. Be diplomatic when making your requests. Another important point you must consider is that businessmen arc un­likely to give substantial contributions to projects or events whose practical value is not apparent. and if they know little about your society. Busi­nessmen need to have a thorough understanding of your organization and its activities so that you can se­cure their confidence. Moreover, they need to know what will be the benefits of investing funds in your organization.

If you lack personal connections with the officials of the business you are con tac ting for aid, a more formal approach is necessary. You should present the business firm or corporation with a brief, concise, well-de­signed proposal explaining the project or event and how it will benefit the community and the business. It is also wise to include a detailed budget out­lining the exact costs involved.

It is best to approach the business community with funding projects which serve both their interests and those of the historical society. Some examples or the kinds or projects (mentioned in 101 Ideas from History News) you can use to instill business interest in your organization’s activi­ties are: You can offer special mem­berships to corporations which include special services, such as collecting and preserving of some of their records and use of your building for corporate meetings or activities. You may work with banks and other businesses which may be interested in financing the production of historic prints chosen by your organization and later distributed by the businesses to their clientele. thereby encouraging more business, in­creasing historical awareness and draw­ing public attention to your organiza­tion. Finally, you can gain the aid or businessmen in a large project such as financing the restoration of a historic commercial area for later occupation and use by the business community. Whatever project you plan to launch with business support, be sure to also inquire about the possibility of obtain­ing material aid, such as old office equipment, from the business or cor­poration.

A valuable source of information on commercial and professional organ­izations in your area is your state or local branch of the Chamber or Com­merce. There you can obtain some valuable advice and some useful litera­ture. For example, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce’s publication, Directory of State, Regional, and Com­mercial Organizations (Harrisburg), lists the names, addresses, telephone numbers and titles of key executives of twelve hundred Pennsylvania organizations.

A special group in the business com­munity is the trust institutions. Your local bank’s trust officers can provide you with information on small com­munity trusts. Many of the larger trust institutions are listed in the Directory of Trust Institutions, which appears annually in the magazine Trusts and Estates. This magazine is published monthly by Communications Channels Incorporated, Atlanta, Georgia. The Directory contains a geographical list or more than four thousand trust in­stitutions in the United States and Canada. Complete addresses, phone numbers, names of key personnel and officers of specific trust departments. and trust assets are included for each institution. The number of trusts covered in each state is quite extensive. For example, the Directory lists over two hundred and fifty trust institu­tions in Pennsylvania. Finally, the Directory provides the names and addresses or state bankers associations, state banking authorities and adminis­trators of charitable and proprietary organizations.


City, County and State Support

Historical societies may receive funding from city or county boards by way of mill levies. grants or other means of allocation. The type of finan­cial support available varies from state to state. Legislation has been passed in some states permit ting municipalities and counties to directly support their historical societies through mill levies. In other states, as in Pennsylvania, which does not allow mill-levy aid, a historical society may be able to receive grants as an educational or cul­tural institution.

Historical societies should check on the possibilities for cooperation and affiliation with a state-based historical organization. A state historical com­mission or society may provide both financial and technical assistance for your programs. For example, the Penn­sylvania Historical and Museum Com­mission in Harrisburg does not offer financial aid, but it does offer counsel­ing and technical services to any qualified historical society in historical or archaeological investigations relating to the Commonwealth, in the care and maintenance of museum pieces and historical papers, and in any activity which the Commission believes will support Pennsylvania’s historical in­terests.



There are thousands of foundations in the United States with assets total­ing tens of billions of dollars. These foundations are clustered in areas which have industrial wealth. They are heavily concentrated in Massachusetts, Ohio. Pennsylvania, California and other large manufacturing states. (The Foundation Center’s List of Organiza­tions Filing as Foundations includes the names of over one thousand foun­dations in Pennsylvania alone.) Cities which are the home bases of many foundations are Chicago. Atlanta, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York.

Although the number and resources of foundations are massive, one should not become overly enthusiastic about the possibility or obtaining large amounts of funding from them. Your fund-raising officer or committee must keep a few facts in mind when making the decision as to how much time and effort should be devoted to founda­tions as compared with seeking private and federal funds. A recent article on foundations stated that foundation gifts comprised less than 10 percent of philanthropic giving, while grants from individuals totaled 71.4 percent, be­quests 14.2 percent, and corporate gifts 4.7 percent. Moreover, when compared with government funding, foundation giving is “miniscule.”

If your historical society decides to request funds from a foundation, be sure to first find out what the foundation’s interests and objectives are. Most foundations have general statements of purpose which outline their major interests and their financial assets for each year. Your fund-raising officer or committee must then try to match your society’s significant strengths and needs with areas which fit the founda­tion’s purposes. You stand a better chance of obtaining for a specific program with limited goals. Founda­tions rarely support regular operation­al budgets: they have greater interest in special projects with limited time periods. Smaller foundations with re­gional connections are more likely to fund historical societies. Community foundations, which are obscure, are usually comprised of several different trusts administered by common management. You can find out about com­munity foundations from the Secretary of State of your state who holds their incorporation records.


Informational Aids and Services

There are many informational aids and services available concerning foun­dations. The Foundation Center, with main offices in New York and Wash­ington, DC, sponsors regional deposi­tories of current information on foun­dations. Their publication, the Foun­dation Directory, is one of the best sources about the general policies of foundations. Included in the Directory is information on more than fifty-five thousand foundations having $500,000 in assets or making grants of $25,000. The Foundation Center also publishes a List of Organizations Filing as Foundations. The List contains the names of over thirty thousand founda­tions compiled from tax returns sup­plied by the Internal Revenue Service. This list is organized geographically by state. Foundation Center Information Quarterly gives the most recent data on foundation grants and guidelines. The journal, Foundation News, pub­lished by the Council of Foundations, contains articles updating information on foundation programs.

If you wish to examine the yearly reports of prospective foundations, you should consult the Foundation Center pamphlet, Foundation Annual Reports on Film: Cumulative, Alpha­betical, and Numerical listings of Foundation Annual Reports on Film. The pamphlet provides you with a list of the current reports and ad­dresses of foundations so that you may write your target foundation for a copy of its report.

A good guide that categorizes by fields of activity the types of projects that foundations have funded is The Foundation Grants Index. The Index is of special interest to historical so­cieties because it provides quick in­formation on foundations interested in supporting historical or historically related projects. The thirty subject fields that are covered in the cumula­tive annual Grants Index are also available on microfiche cards. Up-to-date cards on individual subjects can be purchased from the Foundation Center or you can review them a the regional depositories.

The Foundation Center continues to publish new general guidebooks and pamphlets on foundations and propos­al writing. Be sure to periodically check their latest publications. The staff of the center also provides, for a fee, a variety of research services upon request of interested clients.

A service branch of the J. R. Taft Corporation in Washington, DC, the Taft Information System publishes research guides on foundations and provides numerous services for non­profit organizations. The Foundation Reporter is a paperback book which covers general information (names and types of foundations, grant policies, types of grants made, assets, etc.) on hundreds of major founda­tions. The Reporter is also indexed by fields of interest. Another source book is the Taft Corporate Founda­tion Directory containing individual profiles of 276 company-sponsored foundations throughout the United States, plus numerous foreign coun­tries. The Directory features the fol­lowing information on each founda­tion: addresses, grants made, grant ranges, officers, fields of interest and special procedures for proposals. Taft News Monitor of Philanthropy is a monthly bulletin covering founda­tions and some news on federal grants. The Taft Corporation also publishes books on nonprofit organization man­agement, accounting, public relations and proposal writing. In addition, Taft offers nonprofit organizations these services: fund-raising consultation, pro­gram development, case statement preparation, nonprofit management training and graphic design.

Another valuable source of in for­mation on foundations is the Founda­tion Research Service (FRS). This or­ganization provides a four-volume set of data sheets on the largest founda­tions in the United States, with a two­-volume index divided into four sec­tions. including an alphabetical !isling, two geographic listings one for the location of the foundation, the other for the location of the grant recipient – and a subject listing of sixty-eight categories. This material is updated annually. For those seeking in forma­tion not listed in the data sheets, the FRS research staff offers, upon re­quest, customized profiles for each foundation.

There is one remaining source or general information on foundations the Internal Revenue Service. Each year foundations file forms 990 PF and 990 AR with the Internal Revenue Service. Form 990 AR covers data on foundation assets, managers and grants paid and/or pending. On 990 PF you will find information on the financial matters of the foundation, such as ex­penditures and compensation of offi­cers. These forms are filmed by the IRS and made available on aperture cards. These cards or photocopies of the 990 forms may be ordered from the IRS Center. P.O. Box 187, Corn­wells Heights. PA. You may order aperture cards both for individual foundations or by state.


Federal Funding

There a re hundreds of federal do­mestic assistance programs adminis­tered by dozens of federal departments and agencies. Because the proj­ects and activities of historical soci­eties are often similar to the functions of museums, libraries, and cultural, educational, and even media institu­tions, historical society programs can­not be neatly defined within a single category. Therefore, a historical organ­ization’s new pet project may be eligi­ble for funding or material and techni­cal aid from what initially seems to be an unlikely federal agency. A good policy for a historical society seeking funding is to stay informed about the latest federal funding and aid pro­grams.

The best single source on federal programs is the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance, compiled and published twice a year with updates by the Office of Management and Budget for the Executive Office of the President. The Catalog is a compre­hensive listing and description of 868 domestic assistance programs and ac­tivities administered by over forty-nine federal departments and agencies. It can be purchased from the Superin­tendent of Documents, U.S. Govern­ment Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, or a magnetic tape copy can be purchased from the National Technical Information Service, Springfield, VA 22151. The Catalog provides detailed explanations of the types of programs available, eligibility requirements, pro­gram uses and restrictions, agency procedures and guidelines on applica­tions and awards, and federal regulations.


Specific Federal Programs

Since the number of potential federal programs is so large, this article can only touch upon the more impor­tant federal programs which specif­ically cover historical societies.

Perhaps the most significant of the federal programs is the National En­dowment for the Humanities’ Muse­ums and Historical Organizations Pro­gram. This program supports three kinds of projects: Exhibitions, Inter­pretive Programs and Personnel De­velopment.

Exhibitions – Three categories are funded: permanent, temporary and circulating exhibitions. Grants for planning and implementation of ex­hibitions are also available.

Interpretive Programs – The endow­ment provides funds for projects other than exhibitions which make the humanities accessible to the general public. Activities such as public lec­tures, seminars, symposia, film and slide programs, and printed materials are supported. Small planning and con­sultant grams may accompany inter­pretive programs.

Personnel Development – This pro­gram supports seminars, workshops and other types of training for professionals and volunteers who are in­volved in their institution’s program development.

Other major programs of the Na­tional Endowment for the Humanities include: State-based, Media and Pro­gram Development.

State-Based – The endowment pro­vides funding to private citizen, state­-based committees in the fifty states. These committees regrant the funds to institutions, groups and organizations which bring the humanities to bear on a public policy issue of concern in their slates. The NEH affiliate in Penn­sylvania is the Public Committee for the Humanities, at 401 North Broad Street, 818, Philadelphia 19108.

Media – This program funds high-quality film, radio and television pro­ductions utilizing knowledge from the humanities fields for regional and national broadcast. Projects which convey an appreciation for the historical and cultural roots of society are eligible.

Pro­gram Development – The development of experimental approaches to public humanities projects is funded by this program

For additional information write the Museums and Historical Organizations Program, division of Public Programs (Mail Stop 402), National Endowment for the Humanities, 806 15th Street N.W., Washington, DC 20506. (See AASLH Technical Leaflet, 62, “Securing Grant Support,” by William T. Alderson for a good discussion of grantmanship.)

The National Publications and Records Commission is the source of another significant program, the Na­tional Historical Sources Grants. This program supports the collecting, repro­ducing and publishing, in book or microfilm editions, sources of national significance to the history of the United States. The projects must be in­novative and go beyond the normal operations of the historical society. For additional information contact the Executive Director, National Publications and Records Commission, Nation­al Archives and Records Service, Washington. DC 20408.

The National Endowment for the Arts will support historical society projects provided they are arts-related. The NEA requires that such projects be innovative. have artistic and cul­tural significance, emphasize American creativity and professional excellence, and encourage and develop public ap­preciation and enjoyment of the arts. For additional information, write the National Endowment for the Arts, Museum Programs Office, Washington, DC 20506. The NEA, like the NEH, also has stale-based affiliates. The NEA affiliate in Pennsylvania is the Council on the Arts, 503 North Front Street, Harrisburg 17101.

The Department of Health, Educa­tion and Welfare and the Smithsonian Institution have programs which may cover the museum and educational activities of historical societies. For more information contact the Depart­ment of Health, Education and Wel­fare, 330 Independence Avenue S.W., Washing1on. DC 20201, and the Office of Museum Programs – National Muse­um Act, Smithsonian Institution, Wash­ington, DC 20560.


Historic Preservation

There are many significant govern­ment programs which support historic preservation activities. It is impossible, however, to review all of these pro­grams here. An abundant amount of literature has been published on these government programs.


Mr. Magda’s booklet is a slightly ex­panded version of the articles which have appeared in Heritage. It includes an appendix on private foundations and a list of literature on government programs supporting historic preserva­tion.