A Short Reflection on HSP

It is not really a secret that I am a huge fan of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  During my first grad level public history course at Temple University, I spent time researching the American Academy of Music in their reading room to assist me in writing a paper about a dolman jacket a woman wore to a concert there in the late nineteenth century.  It was one of my first primary source research experiences off campus, and in the dim light of a rainy November evening, I carefully maneuvered old programs from the Academy for advertising related to silk jackets with a sense of wonder.   When I started my History Truck project, I asked for HSP’s support, and their staff members gladly oriented my research on Kensington fires as well as offered me free research passes to complete the work.  Friends and colleagues of mine have interned there and had lovely experiences.  This summer, I was happy to get to know HSP from a similar perspective to these friends, as an intern.  It is not always easy navigating the cultural landscape, but HSP has always been a place I enjoyed to research, whether it was research on music in 1884, breweries in 1962, fires in 1851, or the very workings of grant funding for historical societies in the 21st century.

This internship has not been shaped like some of my classmates; instead of spending most of my time on site doing work, I was afforded the freedom to do a lot of research about grantwriting for historical societies from home and at other libraries.  Still, I did spend a chunk of hours working in random places at HSP under the direction of Jon-Chris Hatalski, and I have to share that it was simply one of the most pleasant projects of summer 2014.  As I did my research and work, I was met with positivism, support, and understanding every step of the way.  I have learned a great amount about the dynamics behind historical grant funding from both a local and larger North American perspective, and I had my first taste in writing a corporate grant proposal.  I sampled old grant applications and looked at current foundation proposal requests to understand how funding actually happens.  Beyond the practical use of this experience and learning, it also is a totally relevant sampling of historical work that needs to be done on arts and culture right now.  In the midst of –what I have called before– a crisis in the arts and humanities or even a culture war, understanding the funding landscape with a historical perspective is critical.  As cultural workers, we cannot deny the men and women behind the curtain writing grants or reviewing them.  We have to know these stories– the funding stories– so that we can successfully sustain a market of cultural production.

So, for all of these things, I am grateful.  It has been a long, active summer.  See ya in September.

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The Regional Foundation Center at the Free Library is Your Friend.

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As I sit here writing the last pieces for my summer internship, I have two entries to enter on the blog.  This is the first– on The Regional Foundation Center at the Free Library of Philadelphia.  

I visited the Foundation Center this week in my final efforts to gather the best materials possible to write a historiography on grant funding for history organizations.  I was skeptical it would help me; I have been relentlessly searching for adequate source material with an increasingly negative outlook.  What a pleasant surprise it was to meet success at the Free Library!

I would love to say that the success I met was accredited to my own agility in research, but it was largely due to the support of the staff of the Foundation Center.  As I scoured grant RFP language for commonalities in their databases, they searched enthusiastically for articles directly related to my research topic.  They discovered some helpful resources.

My two favorite sources are a 1998 summary from a Getty Trust Conservation Institute meeting and a 2004 Funding for the Humanities report by the Foundation Center.  They are worth a first person exploration to any and all concerned with the history of philanthropy for history and humanities.

C is for Corporate Funding.

Today at HSP I have been researching possible corporate sponsors for a project based on family history. Before I left the building, I wanted to jot down a short reflection on searching for a corporate sponsor. So that is what I am doing.

Firstly, it is simply not easy to find a clear cut winner corporate sponsor. The language on company charitable giving pages often share large realms of philanthropic interests and letter of inquiry forms or dates for submission, but they rarely offer specifics on what types of projects or [things/events] best fit the true aims of the company. Other companies do not list any information on charitable giving at all, but common sense infers that these companies do give money somewhere.

Secondly, for this project, and I imagine for many organizations and projects anywhere, locality seems to play well. Companies invest in their surrounding communities for two reasons I imagine– (1)the founders of the company are local and have local interests and (2)many companies are most prominent in the regions where they were founded so investing locally returns in advertising (this is obviously not always the case with large companies like Apple who have worldwide appeal). I think for historic organizations local preference plays well for gathering funding because, as long as the historic organization is somehow dealing with local history, there can be nice ties between longstanding local companies and the organization itself– like the oldest soft pretzel company in America sponsoring an event for a historical society.

Thirdly, when I looked at the connections between other local nonprofits and company giving, I noticed a “board factor.” The company affiliations of board members often are funders of the larger organization, though I am not sure if one is always the precursor to the other. In other words, sometimes companies place employees on local nonprofit boards as outreach efforts– not every board member with a company affiliation is on the board thinking that he or she can turn to his or her parent company for funds. Still, there is a trend in board member company affiliation and funding.

These are just a few things I have noticed… that I suppose are worth remembering as I think about future funding History Truck or other projects I lead for nonprofit entities. I will get a nice trial run at writing a corporate sponsorship/grant proposal this week, and I wonder how it will turn out…