NEH Public Humanities Projects grants: Which level of funding is right for your project?

May 26, 2021

When preparing to apply for a Public Humanities Projects grant it is important to consider which level of funding is most appropriate to your project’s stage of development – Planning or Implementation. During the review process there are very different expectations of how detailed an application at each funding level must be.

Planning: For this lower funding level be aware that although it supports and is named “Planning,” that does not mean that we fund projects in their most nascent stages of development. These grants are for projects in the Exhibition and Historic Places category (Humanities Discussions are funded only at Implementation) that need further research and formation before arrangements are finalized and you start to construct exhibitions, train docents, and launch public programs; however, NEH still must have a good sense of what the project intends to accomplish. It is therefore critical that you have already completed some significant steps before you apply. Planning proposals must convey the analytical ideas you plan for your final exhibition or historic site interpretation to communicate to audiences. These concepts will be further developed during your planning grant period, but enough research and consultation with scholars must be completed for you to provide a clear understanding of the direction in which your analysis is headed. You must also explain the possible methods of interpretation to be employed in your historic place or exhibition. This necessitates that you have identified possibilities for how you will use available resources, ideas about how various types of interactives could illustrate key concepts, and what interpretive tools might work best in certain spaces of a historic site, for example. The planning period can be used to test, experiment with, and work through these techniques, as well as hone the intellectual content and themes with your advising scholars.

You are ready to apply for a Planning level award if you:

  • are planning an exhibition or historic site interpretation (Humanities Discussions are not funded at this level);
  • have conducted preliminary research, including introductory discussions with scholars, and are able to articulate major analytical ideas about your subject that you seek to explore more deeply;
  • have a group of scholars from outside your organization who are committed to collaborating with you on development of the project; and
  • can articulate a vision of possible interpretive techniques and potential project elements that you would like to investigate or test with audiences. For example, ideas about the use or display of certain objects, specific concepts for an interactive activity, or ideas about the utilization of a particular space.

Implementation: Applications at this level require a high degree of detail. NEH’s expectation is that plans for your project have been finalized and you are nearly ready to go live before audiences. Depending on the length of your requested period of performance and workplan, some research and planning may still be involved, but your application must provide thoroughly researched and articulated analysis. In addition, these applications require a detailed walkthrough in which you must demonstrate how interpretive content is revealed through your project. This does not mean to state what interpretive messages will be conveyed at which points in the project. Rather, this necessitates sufficient preparation to enable you to describe the process of discovery visitors will go through as they experience your project. For example: What will visitors  see and how will they be guided to examine those images or objects? What will they do and how will those activities build their understanding of critical concepts? For discussion programs, what will be the focus of each event? What questions will be asked of panelist, speakers, and the audience? 

You are ready to apply for an Implementation level award if you:

  • have conducted significant research and collaboration with scholars outside your organization that resulted in well-developed and very clearly articulated analysis of your subject;
  • have designed and planned the interpretive elements of your project, such as interactive activities, panel discussions, or living history presentations, and can fully describe how audiences would engage with them;
  • have blueprints or drafts for various project elements, such as exhibition elevation designs, floor plans, docent or facilitator training, label text, site signage, tour scripts, or discussion agendas; and
  • are ready to begin putting these plans into action to “go live” before a public audience.

Be sure to carefully review the full Notice of Funding Opportunity. (PDF)

Still unsure about which level is right for your project? Contact the NEH Division of Public Programs and arrange to speak with a program officer who can help you determine where your project fits and provide more information on the application process.

Already identified the correct funding level for your project? Contact the NEH Division of Public Programs to speak with a program officer about the review process, opportunities for feedback on drafts, and get other advice that can help you develop a more competitive application.

To help strengthen your proposal check out these other recommended resources available on the grant program landing page: