3.4 Best Practice: Navigating Funding and Generating Revenue

What We’re Hearing

Raising funds and earning revenue is a consistent issue, as partners are often challenged by the shared responsibility of establishing financial growth and sustainability.

Operators report a lack of consistent operating funding and support to operate at a dynamic level. Owners describe having overstretched financial resources spread across multiple sites. There are also third parties, contributing significant amounts of funds to operations without a formal voice in site management.

Issues arise when there is a lack of revenue generation or fundraising expertise within the operating and supporting third parties. While heritage focused organizations and community groups bring passion and activism, they are often challenged by the realities of running a business. Government owned sites often navigate fundraising limitations to due public perceptions and limited eligibility for grants. Efforts to sustain a site financially can distract from preserving the site.

Best Practices

Development of a viable, sustainable financial strategy is integral to the success of a historic site and should involve balanced contributions among all parties. Contributions can be monetary or in kind and should reflect a respect for each party’s resources and understanding of support vs overdependency. Differences between partners present unique opportunities – the involvement of multiple parties offers more diverse funding sources to tap into.

Best Practices for Owners

  • Government funding must come with oversight and accountability to ensure appropriate management of public money, but the level of oversight should relate to funds and not extend to excessive micromanaging in other areas.
  • Owners and third parties should be compensated for the valuable work they do, but not be reliant on owners for survival. It is your role to support your partners so that they can flourish and develop operational sustainability (not dependency).
  • Be realistic in your expectations of what operators can accomplish with the financial resources you are providing. In many cases, operational funding barely covers the bills and staffing costs. Every site is unique in their ability to fundraise and pursue revenue generation – some may be limited by physical barriers such as lack of event space.
  • If you provide operational funding, try to do so on a multi-year basis as it is challenging to plan beyond one year otherwise.
  • Consider inflation rates in the funding you provide each year!
  • Are you limited or unable to provide operating funding? Perhaps you can offer in-kind support instead - think IT services or strategic planning support.
  • Can you offer other types of grants in addition to or in place of operating funding? For programming? Capital upgrades? Or you could establish an annual contribution to a capital fund for future projects.
  • Best Practices for Operators

  • A lack of diverse revenue streams and overreliance on funding from the site owner creates financial instability. Try to pursue a balance of funding streams through self generated revenue, fundraising, and grants. Greater financial independence can create more flexibility in your partnership.
  • Be responsible, but creative in exploring revenue generating strategies that extend beyond the typical “heritage” model, as in the case of sites taking a social enterprise approach.
  • Understand the funding opportunities available to you and take advantage of them. It is up to you to do the work of keeping yourself up to date with funding avenues.
  • Address funding inefficiencies clearly and directly to the site owner - but understand the funding context: you may be one site in a network of sites with similar needs.
  • If public perceptions of the site as being government owned are impacting fundraising efforts, work to distinguish yourself from the owner through clear signage, promotion, and messaging to potential donors, funders and sponsors.
  • Ensure that you understand how your fundraising efforts will contribute to the bottom line. Does your fundraising reduce the amount that the owner contributes or add additional capacity?
  • Best Practices for Third Parties

  • Be transparent in your role and whether it draws on or contributes to site finances.
  • If you are serving a fundraising role, be sure to integrate your efforts and fundraising strategy with the operator and their plans – work together to communicate a clear, unified message that garners support.
  • Try This – Owners and Operators

    Consider introducing a third party to the partnership to support fundraising. Third party community groups can often access funding not available to governments or government affiliated organizations. Community groups typically represent the interests of the local community and may have more success reaching those with funds to share. Keep in mind that this is not a “quick fix”, as fundraising requires a coordinated effort among all partners. Including third parties is about leveraging financial resources in the community.