9 Places You Can Apply to for Program Funds

In 1827, the town of Lexington, Massachusetts, appointed a three-person committee to start a library. The committee suggested that “it is expedient to raise sixty dollars, by a tax, to purchase books for said library.” The precursor of the Cary Library, one of the nation’s oldest, was thus established.

Of course, libraries today do far more than purchase books, and need much more than $60 to pay for expenses such as public programming, which is vital to libraries’ missions. Numerous sources of funding for library programs supported by the American Library Association (ALA) are available, including federal, state and local government organizations, nonprofits and for-profit companies.

Here are nine places to start.

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1. American Library Association

The ALA Public Programs Office (PPO) offers grants specifically for programming. The PPO staff work with librarians, humanities scholars, artists, documentarians, STEM and financial literacy experts, and others to create nationwide programming opportunities, grants and traveling exhibitions for U.S. libraries. At any given time, multiple PPO-supported projects —including grantmaking initiatives, traveling exhibitions, and reading and discussion programs — are underway in libraries across the United States.

2. State Humanities Councils/National Endowment for the Humanities

State humanities councils, located in all 50 U.S. states along with Washington, D.C., and five U.S. territories, are private, nonprofit partners of the federal National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Many state humanities councils award “mini-grants” or “resource grants” to support free, short-term humanities programs. In most states, programs must involve a humanities scholar to qualify for a grant. Sometimes matching funds or in-kind contributions are required.

Application requirements and deadlines vary by state. Contact your state humanities council for short-term grant guidelines and requirements. The NEH offers a directory of state humanities councils.

3. State And Regional Arts Councils

Similar to humanities councils, state and regional arts councils award grants to nonprofits and libraries, but specifically for arts-related programs. The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and U.S. Regional Arts Organizations provide lists of information about and links to state and six regional nonprofit arts organizations.

4. National Endowment for the Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) offers competitive grants to nonprofit organizations, including eligible libraries, for programs in 15 categories, such as literary arts, media arts, visual arts, music, theater, and arts education. Applications for small projects or one-time events or activities are welcome.

5. U.S. Department of Education 

Some grants from the U.S. Department of Education are available for libraries at elementary and secondary schools, including for instructional and media materials and services.

6. Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) offers several types of grants, including its Grants to States Program, described as “the largest source of federal funding support for libraries in the U.S.” Based on population, the program distributes $160 million each year to 1,500 projects via State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAAs). SLAAs can use the funds to support statewide programs, or distribute the funds through agreements with public, academic, research, school or special libraries. Sometimes states or libraries partner with community organizations to provide services and programs.

7. State Libraries

In addition to federal funding provided through the Institute of Museum and Library Services, state libraries offer separate regional or local grants to public libraries in their state. Contact your state library for more information and requirements.

8. Nonprofit Organizations and Societies

Thousands of local, regional and national nonprofit organizations offer grants earmarked for individual libraries, such as Friends of the Library groups, or that can be used for library programming. Consider university or college administration funding (such as chancellor’s or dean’s grants; college or alumni foundations; and event, department or lecture series funds); historical and literary societies; civic organizations; and family foundations that support literacy and the arts.

9. Local or National Companies

Many for-profit businesses are eager to invest in their communities through donations to worthy causes. Large national companies often have foundations that distribute funds to nonprofits, although the focus of each foundation varies. Large and small businesses might be willing to provide in-kind or matching contributions as well as grants for specific programs. Some libraries have reported success partnering with auto dealers; banks; credit unions; newspapers; restaurants and coffee shops; supermarkets; utility companies; TV and radio stations; or book, department, hardware, technology and educational stores.

Bonus resources