Maryland Heritage Areas Authority Makes a Big Change to Broaden Access to Funding for Applicants

By Ennis Barbery Smith, MHAA Assistant Administrator

At its July 2020 meeting, the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) made a substantial change to matching fund requirements, eliminating the longstanding 75% cash match requirement for all MHAA grants. Instead, MHAA will accept any combination of cash and in-kind match to fulfill the one-to-one matching requirement going forward. This change means that organizations are permitted to match MHAA grants with primarily volunteer time and donated services and materials, if that form of match makes sense for the proposed project.  

Importantly, MHAA staff and the local heritage areas hope that this change will foster a more diverse pool of grant applicants and generally more equitable grant making to organizations that are rich in community support but have limited access to cash. While the next MHAA grant round will not open until January 2021, potential applicants should be aware of this change now in order to begin planning their heritage tourism and education projects. 

“This requirement change could potentially be a game changer for many of our small organizations, who previously were unable to apply for funding through our Heritage Area. We are excited to see new heritage related projects come to the table with this change.”

– Kim Folk, Director for the Mountain Maryland Gateway to the West Heritage Area

On many occasions over the years, potential grant applicants contacted MHAA with excellent projects but with limited access to additional non-state funds to serve as a required match. For example, an applicant seeking $10,000 to create a new exhibit in a small museum or to install updated signage on a local trail might have lined up experts in their field of study who were willing to donate their time. They may have gained the support of local businesses who committed to donate materials and services to the project. The value of these donated volunteer hours, materials, and services (in-kind match) might add up to over $10,000 in support. Yet, under the old policy, if the applicant could not demonstrate that they would spend the requested grant funds plus another $7,500 in already-secured cash on the project, they would be ineligible to receive the grant. Under the new matching funds policy, this applicant would have more than enough in-kind match to apply for and receive an MHAA grant.  

Why make this change now?  

MHAA made the decision to change the matching requirements, adding flexibility in the types of matching funds accepted, over the course of several meetings. The change follows feedback from constituents and public input in PreserveMaryland II, the statewide preservation plan, which recommends that the state’s financial incentive programs “evaluate barriers to access… and improve equity in outcomes.” While MHAA is planning a working group to discuss broader equity initiatives, MHAA members, program staff, and the local heritage areas agreed that this change to match requirements is a way to reduce barriers to access immediately, while other efforts are ongoing.  

“The Maryland Heritage Area Program has been striving to broaden access to its granting program.  To lower the barrier of a large cash match will literally ‘open the gates’ to under-served communities and organizations in this rural region [southern Maryland].”

– Lucille Walker, Co-Chair of the Maryland Coalition of Heritage Areas and Executive Director of the Southern Maryland Heritage Area

Why does the program have a matching fund requirement in the first place?  

Since its establishment in 1996, one of MHAA’s key program requirements is that grantees also contribute funds to their projects, equivalent to the amount of the grant (one-to-one match).  

The idea behind this policy is that matching grants for heritage tourism and education projects will create more economic activity and, ultimately, jobs in Heritage Areas because they leverage more investment in Maryland’s cultural and natural resources. This economic impact study helps illustrate the effects of MHAA’s grant program on Maryland’s economy. An updated, more comprehensive study is being finalized now and should be available by early 2021.

A map of Maryland’s 13 Certified Heritage Areas
Projects must be located within one of the Heritage Areas to be eligible for MHAA grant funding. Click the image above to zoom in or visit Medusa to conduct a more detailed search. Be sure to turn on the Maryland Heritage Areas layer in Medusa to see the boundaries.

How does my non-profit or government organization apply 
for an MHAA grant? 

MHAA will be offering workshops for the next round of potential grant applicants in December 2020 and January 2021, and full applications will be due in early spring of 2021 for Fiscal Year 2022 funding. For more information about the MHAA grant program, please visit https://mht.maryland.gov/heritageareas.shtml, reach out to your local heritage area, and sign up for the Maryland Department of Planning’s electronic mailing list here: https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/MDMDP/subscriber/new?qsp=CODE_MHT New subscribers should be sure to indicate that they are interested in “historic preservation” in order to receive emails regarding this grant program and similar opportunities.  

Questions about the program and grant eligibility can be directed to MHAA Administrator Jen Ruffner (jen.ruffner@maryland.gov) and Assistant Administrators, Andrew Arvizu (andrew.arvizu@maryland.gov) and Ennis Smith (ennis.smith@maryland.gov). 

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