5 Tips for Grant Writing

Grants provide the resources often necessary to fund new programs, community initiatives and digital preservation projects. However, the process of writing a successful grant proposal can be daunting, but also very exciting! To make the process a bit easier, we’ve put together five tips that will help you navigate the grant writing process effectively and increase your chances of securing funding to save your organization’s history.

Defining clear goals and objectives is critical to effective grant writing.

1. Define Clear Goals & Objectives

Before diving into the grant writing process, it is essential to clearly define your project’s goals and objectives. Identify the specific outcomes you aim to achieve, whether it’s preserving a specific collection, digitally preserving historical documents or conducting research on a particular historical topic. Clear goals will demonstrate your project’s focus and help grant reviewers understand the impact of your work.

Put these goals on paper (or in a Google doc)! We often think our goals are defined, but when we challenge ourselves to write them out, we gain clarity. Meet with your team or find a colleague to brainstorm and/or review the goals you’ve written. This will provide direction as you search for grants and begin the formal writing process. 

Researching funding opportunities thoroughly will help you find the right grant for your organization's needs.

2. Thoroughly Research Grant Opportunities

Invest time in researching and identifying grant opportunities that align with your project’s objectives. We’re seeing a growing number of foundations, government agencies and non-profit organizations offering grants in the digital preservation space.

Each grant has its own requirements and preferences. Carefully review the eligibility criteria, funding priorities and submission guidelines to ensure your proposal meets the expectations of the grantor.

If you’re unfamiliar with the organization, take some time to understand their mission and culture. Even if it’s a group you’ve heard about previously, check to see if any major changes have taken place. Tailoring your proposal to fit the specific goals and values of the granting organization will significantly increase your chances of success.

We’ve done some of the heavy lifting for you and compiled a list of available grants that can help save your history here!

Communicating your project's importance through a well crafted narrative will strengthen your grant proposal.

3. Develop a Compelling Narrative

Craft a narrative that clearly communicates the importance of your project, its potential impact and why it aligns with the grantor’s mission. Introduce the historical significance of your topic, highlight how it relates to broader themes or contemporary issues and discuss your work’s long term impact.

Use persuasive language to convey your passion, expertise and commitment to the field of history and digital preservation. Supporting your narrative with relevant data, case studies and/or community or industry testimonials will further strengthen your proposal.

Here’s a quick persuasive writing guide from Grammarly and another from the University of Minnesota. Even if you’re an expert wordsmith, a refresh can be helpful to get in the *write* headspace. 

Creating a detailed budget for your grant proposal will help establish your project's credibility.

4. Create a Detailed Budget

Develop a detailed and realistic budget that clearly outlines how the grant funds will be spent. Identify all the necessary expenses, including personnel, equipment, supplies, travel costs, third party vendors and any other relevant expenses. Be sure to align your budget with the specific guidelines provided by the grantor. Justify each expense, demonstrating how it contributes to the successful completion of your project. A well-constructed budget will enhance the credibility of your proposal and showcase your ability to manage funds effectively.

If you’d like to include specific figures for costs associated with digital preservation imaging, metadata work, collections management software and online curation, feel free to reach out. We are here to help you save history.

Collaborating with others is a great way to gain feedback to make your proposal as strong as possible.

5. Collaborate & Seek Feedback

Grant writing can be an iterative process. Seek input from colleagues, mentors or experts in your field. Be sure to remain open to feedback and thoroughly consider opinions. New perspectives and insights can help you refine and strengthen your proposal and address any potential weaknesses.

Additionally, consider partnering with other organizations that share similar interests and goals. Collaboration can not only enhance the impact of your project, but also show your ability to work well with others which can increase your chances of being awarded funding.

Facebook groups or listservs can be great resources to find organizations to collaborate with or individuals willing to grab a coffee and brainstorm. By all means, build your grant writing network!

Next Steps

Writing a successful grant proposal requires careful planning, meticulous research and effective communication. No small task! Remember, grant writing is a skill that improves with practice. Be persistent, learn from each experience and keep refining your approach. Best of luck in securing the funding needed to make history accessible!

We have that list of digital preservation grant opportunities for you here.

As always, we’re available to provide more information about how we can support your project and any details needed for your budget proposal. Drop us a line anytime.

Contact Us

Simple Contact Form

"*" indicates required fields

Why Metadata Magic Matters

Data about data — it’s so meta. Metadata are terms used to describe an archival asset — names, dates, location, condition or any relevant information about the item. Traditionally, historians use metadata to index and organize their collections. But in digital preservation, with a proper strategy in place, metadata becomes a magical tool that connects every element of your digital collections and creates an interactive experience.

Making New Connections

Imagine stumbling across an image of your favorite local park from the 1950s. You start to wonder more about the history of your neighborhood greenspace that has become so central to your community. You might take a few minutes to Google here and there, but you have to physically visit your local historical society’s archives to dig deeper. Even our passionate history savers can admit that’s not going to happen.

If the image had been digitally preserved and tagged with relevant metadata, that experience would shift dramatically. Within a digital archive you could click on the park’s name and access images, objects and documents about its history. You could then click on a “greenspace” tag to explore information sharing the complete history of parks in your area to better understand the impact they have on their surrounding communities. If you wanted to get really crazy with your deep dive, you could then filter for the 1950s to compare your local greenspace to other parks in the city during that period. And these are only a few examples of journeys you could choose to take from the comfort of your couch.

Endless Opportunities to Discover

Now consider what it would be like if every metadata detail assigned to every item in a collection led to a similar experience — the opportunities for self-discovery are endless. Using metadata to make digital collections accessible is an invaluable process. It creates limitless connections between various item types in collections and allows visitors to explore what they want, when they want and to draw their own conclusions. This turns collections into not just a tool for professional researchers, but also the average curious individual.

When you start to think about all the details you can tag for a single image then multiply that by every item in your collection, that workload can be a tad overwhelming. That’s why HistoryIT starts every client relationship with strategy development. Our team of experts conduct thorough research for each project, which includes interviewing a suite of stakeholders ranging from board members to archivists to volunteers. One of our primary goals here is to identify metadata terms that the target audience commonly uses.

Creating Access to History

Making history accessible means meeting the visitors where they are — physically and mentally. Building a digital museum allows users to explore from any location in the world. Using metadata terms that fit their natural language, as opposed to terms developed for and by professional researchers, allows for the average individual to quickly find the information they’re looking for — no specialized training required. When researching online the average individual expects to have a similar experience as they do with Google, so we develop metadata that fits their vernacular. This not only improves a user’s onsite experience, but it also ensures that your materials populate Google searches, which helps attract new visitors.

In addition to making your history accessible to the general public, a well thought out metadata strategy has internal organizational benefits as well. Including terms frequently used by your colleagues, such as “group photo,” “fundraiser,” or “training,” you can create customized searches for your development, marketing and education teams. This streamlines your internal workflow, giving teams what they need, when they need it.

Next Steps

Your brain may be going a little crazy with all the potential opportunities that metadata provides, but that’s why we’re here to help. Our team of has thousands of hours of experience developing and implementing metadata strategies. We focus on consistency and sticking to the plan to ensure our clients receive a powerful tool that opens up their archives and shares their story. Our metadata specialists have this down to a science, which enables our team to scale quickly for large projects and takes a weight off our partners’ shoulders.

In addition to our talented team, our powerful digital collections software combined with quality metadata strategy makes for a seamless digital interactive experience that not only makes your collections accessible, it gets users excited to dig in. Odyssey is the tool that connects all the metadata and allows visitors to click tags to explore more. It also makes our lives easier with features like bulk updates, which allows for updating or adding terms as we learn how the public interacts with a digital museum once it’s live.

We know we’re history nerds, so there’s a bit of bias here, but we truly believe that metadata is magical. It’s what makes a digital archive truly accessible and allows for the average individual to explore history in order to draw their own conclusions. And that is how you save history.

If you have any questions about how to make the most of your metadata, feel free to reach out!

Contact Us

Simple Contact Form

"*" indicates required fields

The Real Cost of Open-Source Collections Management

If you were to take some time to walk around and ask people if they believed anything is free, the overwhelming majority would answer no. Most of us understand that there really is nothing free in life. Everything comes at a cost, yet there is one idea that persists — open-source software is free

I’ve worked on both sides of the table. I’ve been the client who has implemented a customized open-source solution and I’ve been the vendor who has implemented our own proprietary software solution for clients. I’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way.

Many organizations get off track early in the process of identifying a new software solution because they begin by looking for “free” or “low-cost” software that can be adapted to their current workflows rather than looking for software with a good business process that can transform their legacy workflows. I understand why many organizations start here. Budgets are tight and change is hard, especially for long-term employees. The reality is that a software solution with a good business process will streamline your team’s daily workflow and free up time to finally squash that pesky backlog. While this transition is an uphill journey, once you’ve crested that peak, the benefits will be seen across the organization. 

If you have worked in digital for any organization (especially within the museums and archives industry), you can probably relate to how I describe my job on a daily basis — 10% technology and 90% unlicensed psychotherapy.

Open-Source vs. Proprietary Software

Cost of Ownership

It is easy to get distracted by the upfront cost of many proprietary solutions, but in the long run, it will generally save you money. The low initial cost of implementing an open-source solution could present some savings, but the long-term costs will generally outweigh that perceived advantage. 

One of the biggest benefits of proprietary softwares is that they come packaged with setup and migration services, training and ongoing tech support. Your time is valuable and that support can save you hours of struggling to piece things together, not to mention a few headaches along the way. 

If you are seriously considering an open-source solution, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do the decision makers understand that “no upfront costs” for a software license doesn’t mean you won’t need funding for other costs associated with open-source?
  • Have you considered the cost of any new hardware that may be needed to run the software?
  • Do you have the internal expertise to set up and configure the software?
  • Do you have the internal expertise to extract your data from your current system, transform it to meet the requirements of your new system and then migrate it to the new system?
  • Do you have internal expertise to train users on the new software and to handle their support requests?
  • If any immediate problem occurs, do you have the internal expertise to solve these? If not, you will need to pay a premium for expedited support.
  • Do you have the internal expertise to maintain your software — updates, patches, testing and deployment?
  • Do you have the internal expertise to make sure that all systems are secure?
  • Thinking about security, are you “Eating from a Dirty Fork”? Even though this article was written in 2017, it sheds light onto the security gaps in open-source software.
  • Most importantly, even if you do have the internal expertise, do you have time to manage all of the above in addition to your daily tasks and that hefty backlog? 


Open-source solutions can offer deep functionality, but will sacrifice usability. You need to consider the usability for your internal and external users. Is the interface user-friendly enough that you won’t end up frustrating your colleagues? If you are trying to share your digital collections with a wider audience, do you really want the interface to be akin to Windows XP? 

I’ve seen many organizations adopt an open-source solution, invest significantly in feature customization and end up with an outdated interface that frustrates team members and the public. If you want to continue to only serve researchers who reluctantly accept whatever is provided, that legacy library interface will do just fine.


I’m not here to say that open-source software doesn’t have benefits, but I think it’s important for everyone to understand the inner workings of an open-source community. One of the biggest benefits of open-source is the development community, a resource for software engineers. 

If you aren’t happy with the current functionality and have some decent development chops, you can take the old source code, create a new project and build a solution that works for you. But what happens when that single product has been forked into multiple projects? This is when you start to see community infighting that will spiral into a single product becoming multiple products. When this happens, the developer community also splinters, and resources become spread too thin. The worst-case scenario is that the original open-source solution you adopted is abandoned. 

Customization vs Configuration

Let’s quickly define customization and configuration in the context of software development.

  • Customization: To write new code in the software that meets specific requirements that core functionality doesn’t address.
  • Configuration: Use the built-in functionality of the application to meet specific requirements without additional custom code.

When we implement Odyssey preservation software, we rely on configuration as much as possible. We can customize when a requirement can’t be met, but we will never customize the core application. Customizations made to the core application will cause the custom code to break during software upgrades. But as I said before, my job is 10% technology and 90% unlicensed psychotherapy, so let me share a bit of insight.

Don’t be fooled, if your supervisors, colleagues or the general public believe that your chosen solution can be infinitely customized to meet their perceived needs — you will never find peace. If allowed, the end users will want to continually customize the software as a bandaid to avoid the intimidating, but invaluable task of transforming legacy analog workflows to more efficient digital ones. 

Our mission at HistoryIT is to #savehistory. One of the core components of that mission is to be sure our clients start with strategy. That strategy needs to inform every single part of your project — from planning, imaging, metadata creation and software. Ultimately, the decision is yours to make, but we want to be sure our clients have enough details to make an informed decision. 

Like I said, I’ve been on both sides of the table and so have many of my teammates here at HistoryIT. We’ve integrated decades of experience and built a true digital preservation platform that’s an affordable, flexible and extensible solution that can transform your organization and support the care of your digital collections for the long term.

Next Steps

If you’re looking to explore alternatives to open-source, feel free to reach out with any questions you have. We’re here to be a resource in your preservation journey.

About the Author

Donny Lowe joined the HistoryIT team as our Chief Technology Officer after serving 5-plus years as the Director of Digital Strategy at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. In addition to overseeing the museum’s digital preservation efforts, Lowe managed all Hall of Fame branded online portals. Before that, he spent 10 years in television production for Nexstar Media Group and Sinclair Broadcast Group.

During his time at HistoryIT, Lowe has overseen the development and management of Odyssey Preservation Software.

Contact Us

Simple Contact Form

"*" indicates required fields

Sorry no search results for "{{searchterm}}"