The Massachusetts Cultural Council encourages local cultural councils to develop their own local guidelines and priorities, in addition to the four state criteria that councils use for grant evaluation. Local councils that receive allocations great than $20,000 from the MCC are required to develop local guidelines and priorities. Identifying local funding priorities is an important step in attracting the applications for projects that best suit your community. Each town and city in Massachusetts is different, and putting into practice locally developed guidelines and priorities can help councils to support projects that best meet the needs and priorities of their community. Below is a step by step process for councils to follow to create local guidelines and priorities:
Guidelines are a statement of policy by a person or group having authority over an activity. A council's funding guidelines should clearly communicate any local application instructions or restrictions. Local guidelines are a powerful tool in shaping the kinds of applications councils will receive and possibly accept. Even when requests far outstrip available funds, it is important to make sure that local guidelines are not overly restrictive and result in too few quality applications to fund.
Councils may want to think about some of the following questions while crafting local guidelines:
- Fully fund a few proposals or partially fund many? If partially funded, can the projects be successfully completed?
- Require that a revised budget (and project scenario) be submitted if the proposal is funded below a certain level?
- Limit the dollar amount awarded to any one applicant?
- Limit the number of applications that any one applicant can submit?
- Require applications to have cash or in-kind matches to maximize the grant dollars being distributed in the community?
- Set a ceiling on the percentage of a project that can be funded by your council (e.g., a maximum 50 percent of the project's cost)?
- Limit the number of years any one applicant can come back consecutively for funding for the same project or program?
- What aspects of field trips are eligible for funding? Tickets, travel, chaperones, guide fees?
- Allow capital expenditure requests?
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Priorities identify a preferential rating; an order of importance or urgency. A council's priorities should stress the interests and needs discovered through council conversations with the community and the community input process.
Funding priorities are a set of principles that guide a council's decision-making about how to allocate limited funds in order to benefit the community in the best way possible. Priorities are a collective philosophy on the kinds of projects that their community needs and the would like to fund. It is important to make these priorities public in order for applicants to improve applications and to provide transparency while distributing public funds. Clearly articulated priorities can help council members make sound funding decisions.
Some common funding priorities include:
- Proposals from local artists
- Proposals serving youth
- Projects promoting science literacy, including local environmental issues
- Collaborative projects between cultural groups and community organizations
- Art forms or humanities that are underrepresented in the community
- Proposals to serve an underserved population
- Projects serving a range of social/ethnic/economic backgrounds
- New applicants or projects
- Proposals showing a match of cash or in-kind services to the cash requested of your LCC
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Creating Guidelines and Priorities
1. Gather community input.
Community input gives a council the information they need to make good grant decisions. Knowing what cultural activities the community values will help a council set local guidelines and priorities. There are many different ways to conduct community input. Sample community input invitations, surveys, and agendas are available on the community input page.
2. Meet, draft, and vote on your local guidelines and priorities.
Schedule a meeting during the spring or summer to discuss which local guidelines and priorities to implement. Discuss the results of the community input. Draft council funding priorities and vote as a group to approve them. A sample draft of local priorities and guidelines is available online.
3. Publicize your local guidelines and priorities.
Publish local guidelines and priorities to the council public web page through the Online Office no later than September 1. Councils may also choose to distribute hard copies at key locations in their community with instructions for accessing the application online.
4. Review your policies and priorities periodically.
If new issues come up during grant review, it is important to make notes in the minutes to discuss them later when reviewing the elements of the council funding philosophy. A council should not make policy decisions during a grant cycle; it is unfair to applicants if additional criteria are introduced after they have applied, and it could trigger a reconsideration request from an applicant who felt the rules were changed without public notice.
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