[Preservation Tips & Tools] Fundamentals of Fundraising

Posted on: May 20th, 2014 by Emily Potter 1 Comment

One critical component of nearly any preservation project is funding. It enables you to hire craftsmen, build advocacy campaigns, purchase materials and equipment, and so much more. However, money won’t just fall into your lap -- so how do you get it?

All research and polling around charitable or philanthropic behavior suggest one inescapable truth: People give because someone asked them. While that’s a strong place to start, there’s a little more to it, so this toolkit provides you with some fundamental steps for fundraising.

If you can put these basics into practice, then you will increase your chances of turning an ask into financial support for your great preservation work.

Raise money to support what matters.

Fundraising isn't about money -- it’s about your mission. People give because they feel passionate about a cause and because they believe they can make a difference. When writing to ask for money (whether it’s a fundraising letter or grant application), highlight the work you are doing to make a difference and tell your donor how they will be a part of it.

People give to people.

People are behind the foundations, corporations, and government agencies that you might appeal to for a grant or donation. Each individual donor and institutional funder is a unique package of interests and expectations. Find out as much as possible about prospective supporters to help you build meaningful and lasting relationships.

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Always keep accurate records of who has given to support your project, how much, and how the money was used. You'll need it for official reporting, but it will also help you thank donors appropriately and help you plan for future fundraising. 

Be accountable; be ethical.

It’s important to accurately track and report fundraising revenue and expenses. Be transparent to the community and to those who are helping to support your work. Part of this includes sharing results; for example, giving tours and hosting events at a restored site shows your donors that their financial support made a tangible difference.

Successful fundraising starts with a plan.

Before you can reach out to individuals and institutions, you need to have a plan and a goal. Make a list of people and places you will ask for funding and how much. Decide when you’ll write your letters and/or apply for grants; you’ll likely need funding at different points along the way in your project. Don’t forget, always read the guidelines for any grants you apply for.

Be creative and search beyond the traditional sources of assistance.

While Preservation Fund grants from the National Trust are a great place to start, there are many other places to look as well -- private-sector philanthropies, corporations and corporate foundations, family foundations, and community trusts, to name a few. Speak to bank trust officers about any local or individual trusts, bequests, and foundations that might embrace the goals of the preservation project. Try reaching out on social media to connect with a new audience of supporters, or host a special fundraising event. Overall, think outside the box.

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Giving tours of your project is a great and tangible way to show your donors and other funders how their support made a difference.

Look at national funding resources.

Check out Grants.gov for a comprehensive list of all federal grant opportunities. The National Park Service also administers a range of grants. And there are plenty of others out there, such as The Getty, Tourism Cares, and the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation. Keep looking and you’re sure to find many more.

Also research state funding resources.

Talk to someone in your state historic preservation office (SHPO). Most states administer historic preservation grant or loan programs.

Don’t forget local funding resources.

Reach out to your local historic preservation office for ideas on where to find local funding. If your community is a Certified Local Government, it’s eligible to apply for Certified Local Government Grants that help fund a variety of historic preservation projects. You can also look for community foundations in your state. They manage a lot of donor-advised philanthropic funds, and you may find some who are interested in historic preservation.

Never give up.

Fundraising doesn’t have to be tricky. Think about it more as a conversation with someone (whether it’s in person or written down), not a transaction, and you may find that it comes more naturally than you think. Don’t forget, the most important part is simply asking.

Adapted from Fundraising Basics for Preservation Organizations, a National Trust publication by Martha Vail. The complete book is available from Amazon.com (while supplies last).

Have you launched a fundraising campaign to support a preservation project? What worked or what didn't? Let us know in the comments!


The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Emily Potter

Emily Potter is a copywriter at the National Trust. She enjoys writing about places of all kinds, the stories that make them special, and the people who love them enough to save them.

Preservation Tips & Tools, Tools

One Response

  1. Peter Donalek

    May 25, 2014

    How many multi-unit apartment buildings, built before 1930, have architecturally or culturally significant characteristics?

    How many multi-unit apartment buildings, built before 1930, are on the National Register of Historic Places or listed on state or local government historic registers?

    How many multi-unit apartment buildings with architectural and cultural characteristics, built before 1930 are in condominium form of ownership?

    How many multi-unit apartment buildings, built before 1930 and listed on the National Register, have been lost to demolition or disfigured by so called modernization?