Before submitting a Letter of Intent for either type of grant, applicants should carefully review the entire Grants section, including the Frequently Asked Questions below.
These fields of learning allow us to analyze our complex society and make thoughtful decisions based on inquiry, evaluation, and empathy. Humanities fields include (but are not limited to) anthropology, archaeology, area studies, art and architectural history and criticism, cultural studies, economics, ethics, ethnic studies, folklore, gender and sexuality studies, geography, history, history of science and technology, international studies, jurisprudence, languages and linguistics, literature, music history and criticism, philosophy, political science, religion and comparative religion, sociology, theatre history and criticism. Broadly speaking, the humanities are interested in exploring the human experience as it exists in a broader social, historical, or cultural context.
They may be internal staff or someone brought in from outside, depending on the needs of the project. This person helps you deepen and enrich the humanities content in your project. Traditionally, scholars have been academic humanists—university faculty, graduate students, or researchers who have an advanced degree in a humanities field and are employed by an institution of higher learning. Sometimes these scholars are instead public humanists—those who have an advanced degree in a humanities field, but are not affiliated with a college or university. They may work for non-profit organizations like museums, libraries, or cultural centers, or they may work independently. Other humanities scholars come from nontraditional backgrounds. They may not possess an advanced degree, but are defined by their own communities as keepers of knowledge and cultural resources.
- Advise during any phase of the project's development.
- Brainstorm content application and/or program design.
- Provide content to develop or help shape ideas in a humanities project.
- Research or write critical and interpretive materials: essays, exhibition text, curricula, script treatments, catalogues, etc.
- Synthesize or contextualize your project within a broader humanities perspective.
- Train project team and/or audience to do humanities-based work.
- Serve as the moderator or discussant for public programming.
- Lead a project planning process.
These crucial pillars of the public humanities work are also typically those aspects of projects that are neglected in unsuccessful proposals. These are not the only considerations for what makes a competitive grant project, but they are areas where we see applications come up short most often. We strongly recommend taking advantage of all that NJCH has to offer to help you create a competitive proposal – from information sessions to draft review to consultations with program staff. We would love to see every good idea or project be presented in the most compelling and competitive way possible!
We see this particularly with the arts: the primary aspect of the project is the creation or performance of art, while the more humanities aspects of the arts – history, criticism, interpretation, etc. – are of secondary concern. Competitive grant proposals do a good job of articulating why humanities content and practice are central to the project. You might think about asking yourself “would I do this project without the humanities component for which I am seeking funding?” If the answer is yes, then the humanities are not central to your work, and the odds of receiving funding are low.
Similarly, projects that are primarily about celebration or personal response are less likely to be funded due to lack of humanities content. The humanities in general strive towards gathering multiple perspectives, seeking out moments of commonality and where there is difference or tension, and reflecting analytically and critically. Celebratory programs tend to lack the multiple and complex perspectives that we look for, while personal response pieces are usually inward looking.
1. Project lacks significant humanities content.
This is particularly important for non-humanities orgs: arts and social services.
Education is not a humanities discipline.
2. Project does not have a public focus.
We are a public humanities funder. Show us the value of this project to a public audience and/or to informing public discourse.
This is particularly relevant to academic projects. We don’t fund individual research.
3. Project does not involve the community it seeks to serve and/or does not match our audience priorities.
4. Narrative and budget don’t match.
5. Lack of clarity on what you’re going to do (especially with Action Grants).
6. The passion problem.
You've made a great case for why this important to you, not why it is important to your audience.
“Because this might be gone” is a similar problem. Much of history disappears.
Superlatives like first, best, unique, only are indicators. This is rarely true and maybe not a good idea. What if no one has done this before because it’s a terrible idea?
7. Lack of organizational capacity to run the proposed project.
8. Project does not align with broader organizational mission or priorities.
9. The top reason: Most proposals are not funded because we run out of funding before we run out of good proposals to fund.
That is because we believe that the humanities are for everyone, but only a limited slice of the population usually attends humanities programs. That means that many perspectives are missing from our conversations about history, culture, values, and beliefs. Many New Jerseyans do not have an opportunity to experience how the humanities can change their perception of the world and their place in it. These are the underserved and underrepresented audiences that we all want to reach. We have special love for projects that seek out these audiences and find ways to engage them.
Identifying people from your community who you would like to serve but are not serving now, or finding groups whose stories might be missing from your organization's narrative should be step one in developing the project for which you are going to be applying for funding from NJCH. These people are your intended audience, and their needs and interests – not to mention their participation – is a critical piece of your project design. Every community is going to have its own underserved or underrepresented audiences. You will better be able to identify those communities and make a case for them in your grant proposal.
We do know that some communities often lack representation in the humanities. They include:
- People of color
- Young people, especially ages 18-35
- LGBTQ+ people
- People who live far away from cultural centers like libraries and museums
- People with physical disabilities, such as wheelchair users or the blind
- People whose first (or only) language is not English
- Those who are unable to get to programs easily, like nursing home residents, hospital patients, or prisoners
This is not an exhaustive list. But these are some populations to consider while brainstorming what audience(s) you wish to reach with your humanities project.
Also, traditional humanities program formats may also be a barrier—many populations are simply not interested in hearing a lecture or panel discussion. Some may not feel welcome in institutions they believe serve only the economically or intellectually elite. Others may have grown weary of the lack of representation they have experienced for many, many years.
Finding new ways to build bridges between communities, to make everyone feel like they have a place in the stories we tell through the humanities, is some of the most important work that humanities professionals do.
If you know that you’re already reaching underserved audiences and telling the untold stories of your community members, make sure to tell us about it in your proposal. It is particularly important to note how you identified the needs of those communities and how you engaged their representatives in the work you’re doing. Always remember the slogan, "Nothing about us without us." If you think reaching underserved audiences will help you expand your vision and fulfill your mission, but you’re having difficulty identifying these communities or making connections, we are here to help. We know that there are already many strategies that can help you achieve this goal – forming a partnership, trying new program formats, listening to your constituents, and helping overcome barriers. We are here to support you as you learn more about your community, plan for the future, and try new things. Our common goal is for the rich and diverse populations of New Jersey to have access to thoughtful and engaging humanities-based programs throughout the state. Let’s talk about how NJCH’s programs - grants and other programs - can help us fulfill that goal together.
The most impactful public programs are deeply connected to the audiences they seek to serve, involving audience members in every aspect of their creation, from the earliest stages on. The most competitive grant projects choose to work this way, putting their audiences’ needs and interests at the center of program planning, development, and implementation. This requires first identifying an audience that you intend to serve (“the general public” is not specific enough). A shorthand for how to think about this: is your program created WITH an audience or FOR an audience? Have you made assumptions about the medium and the content that your audience would want or need, or have you asked them?