Request for Proposals: NCPH Seeks to Fund Virtual Projects and Programming
Editors’ Note: This is one of two posts about the National Council on Public History’s finances and plans for programming.
The National Council on Public History (NCPH) is a membership and professional organization, and so we are only as strong as our members; we are only as healthy as the field of public history is. And the field is not healthy. Public historians need help.
COVID-19 has done damage to NCPH’s finances. But thanks to decades of careful planning and fundraising, as well as the generosity of so many of our members and conference attendees, the organization is braced to weather the COVID-19 crisis. However, NCPH doesn’t exist just to keep existing (and employing our staff). We exist to serve our members and our field.
Recently, we shared a survey asking public historians how NCPH might do the most good for our members and the field in this time of crisis. In addition to financial opportunities, many respondents asked us to provide guidance on sustaining connections to the public history community while out of work, seeking employment outside the field, and developing new skills to reach these and other professional goals. Here’s our attempt to address as many of those needs as possible as quickly as possible: we’ve put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for digital programming, projects, and community-building events. Send us your ideas for a small-scale virtual program you’d like to run, a resource you’d like to build, or a talk you’d like to host, and if selected we’ll pay you to make it happen.
A little background on NCPH, COVID-19, and our budget
You might be wondering how NCPH could be in a position to do this when the annual meeting cancellation wreaked so much damage. When NCPH’s board transitioned our in-person annual meeting to a virtual one in mid-March due to concerns over COVID-19, they did so with a great deal of uncertainty about where that would leave the organization financially now and in the coming years. Once the dust from the in-person cancellation had settled, the board crunched the numbers and realized our financial position wasn’t as dire as we feared the worst-case scenario would be, at least in the near-term. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the hotel contracted to host NCPH 2020 eventually recognized our invocation of force majeure, meaning there were no massive financial penalties. Second, many of our registrants generously allowed us to keep all or a portion of their fees to help mitigate the loss of income from the meeting and in recognition of the virtual content we provided.
Once we knew we would financially weather the immediate consequences of the cancellation of the annual meeting, we turned our attention to the catastrophic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the field we exist to support. We want to help the many public historians who experienced a change in employment status. With many public history employers closed for months, layoffs, furloughs, and reduced hours hit (and continue to hit) our community hard. We lack concrete data, but anecdotal evidence suggests these impacts were borne disproportionately by those in the most precarious financial positions to begin with, and by the Black and Indigenous public historians likely to be confronting the emergency of the pandemic most closely on both professional and personal fronts.
Once we prioritized finding a way to help, we turned to the budget. There are a few lines in the 2020 NCPH budget that are relatively sheltered from fluctuations in our membership or annual meeting attendance. Instead, they come from a different pool of money: our endowment. The reason we’ve been fundraising for our endowment in the last few years is that as it grows, so too does the amount we can draw from it each year to fund crucial initiatives identified in our 2017-2022 Long Range Plan related to diversity and inclusion, accessibility, and professional development. That money is earmarked for the annual meeting. For example, it often subsidizes speakers or exhibitors who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and pays for ASL interpretation. But this year, because of the cancellation of our in-person meeting, much of it went unspent. Rather than save it for the future, the board has voted to reallocate it for this request for proposals.
In addition to the available endowment draw noted above, we can also draw on the money we set aside every year for workshops at the annual meeting. This money usually pays facilitators, covers the costs of supplies, or lowers the associated registration costs for attendees. These funds also went unused. In addition, we have money budgeted for supporting our mini-con program, a series of smaller regional events proposed and executed by NCPH members across the country. Due to COVID-19 we’re not anticipating funding any in-person mini-cons this year, so this money is also available.
All this to say: we have a little money, and we want you to help us put it to good use.
It’s not a lot of money—about seven thousand dollars, five thousand from our annual meeting diversity, inclusion, and accessibility budget lines, and about two thousand from our workshop seed money and mini-con budget lines, as described above—but it’s there.
What we don’t have is staff capacity to plan and execute lots of new virtual programming. NCPH has three full-time staff members and one part-time intern, and most of our time is consumed with the usual operations of the organization (made more difficult working from home, as we know many of you have experienced).
What we’re looking for
As you can read in the RFP, we’re seeking proposals for virtual programming, projects, or resources to take place or be made available sometime this calendar year that the proposer will take the lead on planning and executing. Limited NCPH staff-time and resources will be available to assist. We leave the format up to you and welcome creative ideas. You don’t need to be an NCPH member to propose an idea or receive funding. The RFP divides these proposals into two categories. Each comes with different deadlines, levels of funding, and expectations.
- Professional development programs and projects will help public historians build skills and tools and/or will encourage the development of conversations or resources that will live beyond the date of the program. All proposals will be considered, but we’re particularly interested in funding projects that tackle the urgency of the moment, whether that be related to COVID-19, the ongoing struggle for racial justice, or ways the two intersect. These proposals are due August 1 and have a maximum funding cap of $1,000 per project or program, and our hope is that the majority of funding you request will go directly to compensating the public historians who organize, speak at, or facilitate those programs for their time and expertise.
- We’re also seeking proposals for less formal networking and community-building events, like virtual coffee hours or support groups. We’re accepting these proposals on a rolling basis and will evaluate and fund them as we receive them. Because these programs or events are meant to require less pre-prepared content and be more casual, the amount of funding you can request is correspondingly lower—up to $200 per event to cover your time for more limited organizational or facilitation work.
We anticipate having the capacity and money to support approximately five professional development projects and five networking events through the end of the year.
How we’ll evaluate proposals
The NCPH staff and an advisory committee made up of several board members will evaluate proposals and select those to fund. Evaluation for the professional development proposals will begin after the August 1 deadline, and networking event proposals will be on a rolling basis beginning now.
It is the board’s intention to preserve the intent and goals of the five thousand dollars in endowment drawdown funds that are related to diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. For this reason, five thousand of the available seven thousand dollars will be reserved for public historians who have been laid off, furloughed, or otherwise had their employment impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; BIPOC public historians; LGBTQ+ public historians; and disabled public historians. We’ve provided space on the form for you to let us know whether you qualify for this earmarked funding. To qualify, projects and/or programs must be organized by a public historian who meets at least one of these criteria. In addition, at least 60% of the requested money must be paid to public historians who also fit the criteria.
The remaining two thousand dollars will be available to all. You will never be required to tell us anything about your employment situation or identity that you are not comfortable sharing, but if you choose not to answer these questions on the submission form your proposal will only be eligible to be funded from this two-thousand-dollar pool. We hope this will allow us to prioritize proposals in line with the express goals for certain earmarked budget lines while also providing a path for all to participate if you have an idea that will serve our community.
We don’t know what to expect from this RFP. A lot of public historians are stressed beyond belief right now, and we must all prioritize our personal well-being and that of our loved ones and communities over professional pursuits. However, we also think some of you who are under-employed might have the desire and time to do some urgent work for a field in crisis on multiple fronts, and we want to pay you to do it.
~Meghan Hillman is the NCPH Program Manager.
~Stasia Tanzer is the NCPH Membership Coordinator.