Looking to Get Started with an IMLS Application?

This fall I’ll be teaching a project management class in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University (GW) and the final project will be writing a grant application to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The final project gives graduate students a real-life experience and provides museums with a foundation for an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant application.

If you’ve been thinking about applying for IMLS grant to improve the care of your collections, better engage your community, or improve learning through your museum but have been too busy or unsure where to begin, GW graduate students may be able to help. It’s part of our effort to serve the museum field, especially smaller institutions that are often juggling too many responsibilities without sufficient resources.

IMLS’ Museums for America (MFA) is one of the best federal grant programs available because it supports “projects that strengthen the ability of an individual museum to serve its public.”  That’s pretty flexible but projects do need to focus on one of three areas:

  • Learning experiences:  “projects that position museums as unique teaching and inquiry-focused institutions within today’s formal and informal learning ecosystem,” such as educational programs, exhibition development, professional development, visitor studies, and staff training.
  • Community anchors: “projects that empower museums to transform their roles in their communities from being community resources to being community catalysts,” such as community-driven exhibitions, programs, and events; audience development and outreach; and training staff in community engagement.
  • Collections stewardship: “projects that address state-of-the-art collections care and collections information management, curation, preventive conservation, conservation treatments, database creation and enhancement, digitization, and the use of digital tools to facilitate discovery and deepen engagement with museum collections.”

Grants awards range from $5,000-$250,000 and require a 1:1 cost-share match EXCEPT no cost share is required for project grants of less than $25,000.  Small museums really can’t pass up this opportunity.  To learn more about the Museums for America grant program, visit the IMLS website and review the guidelines (called a Notice of Funding Opportunity in federalese).

If MFA is a good match for your museum (doublecheck your eligibility!) and you’d like a GW graduate student or two to help prepare an application, tell me through an online form at:


It’ll take about 7 minutes to complete and your responses will help me match your museum’s goals, capacity, and project scope with the students’ interests and knowledge. The deadline to request assistance from my class is Friday, August 17, 2018. I’ll inform you of your status by September 7.

A few caveats:

  1. The museum has to put some “skin in the game,” in this case be willing to be interviewed for about 30 minutes by phone in September, provide appropriate materials that will inform the grant application (such as a strategic plan, recent newsletters), respond to one to three emails, and review (but not grade) a draft application(s) in November 2018.
  2. Students will draft a significant portion (but not all) of the grant application, such as the institutional profile, abstract, narrative, schedule of completion, and budget, based upon the information provided by the museum. The museum is responsible for other sections, such as the cover sheet, project staff, resumes, and proof of nonprofit status. The grant application deadline is December 15, 2018; the museum is responsible for submitting the grant application to IMLS, at its discretion.
  3. Participation does not imply or guarantee funding by IMLS and participating museums are not obligated to submit the grant applications to IMLS.  The museum is ultimately responsible for the final review and preparation of the grant application. Here’s the fine print: George Washington University, its agents, employees, or students makes no warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, with respect to the services provided.
  4. Please be aware that your project may be assigned to one or more students (which will result in multiple applications) or none (we may receive more requests than we can accommodate this semester).

If you have any questions or need further details, please contact me at mvanbalgooy@gwu.edu.

2 thoughts on “Looking to Get Started with an IMLS Application?

    1. Max van Balgooy Post author

      Hi Dick! For IMLS grants, the nonprofit organization needs to be based in the US and be “a museum that, using a professional staff, is organized on a permanent basis for essentially
      educational or aesthetic purposes; owns or uses tangible objects, either animate or inanimate; cares for these objects; and exhibits these objects to the general public on a regular basis through facilities that it owns or operates.” What’s a museum? ” “Museums include, but are not limited to, aquariums, arboretums, art museums, botanical gardens, children’s/youth museums,
      general museums (those having two or more significant disciplines), historic houses/sites, history museums, natural history/anthropology museums, nature centers, planetariums,
      science/technology centers, specialized museums (limited to a single distinct subject), and zoological parks”—it doesn’t have to have “museum” in its name to qualify. The key is “exhibits objects to the general public for at least 120 days a year” but there are exceptions. The eligibility requirements fill almost two pages, so you’ll want to review pages 7-8 in the NOFO (I provided a link in the blog post). If you’re still unsure, call IMLS—their program officers are very helpful. Max


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