When you are working on documents, version control (aka revision control) can be pretty important. I find it’s very helpful, particularly when you’re sending multiple drafts to multiple people, to label revisions so everyone knows they are looking at the latest and greatest version. Otherwise, if you just keep the filename the same and send it out again, it can become quite confusing.
While electronic tools are available to help manage version control for things like software development projects, I have an easy, free filenaming system that accomplishes the same thing and which you might find useful.
When I first create the document, I include all of the important information in the filename that I might need to identify/find it in the future.
1. ID Tag
The first part of the filename includes a designation that I use for easy identification. I might write grants to the same foundation for multiple clients, or generate similar documents for more than one organization, so tagging the file with a consistent identifier helps me to keep them all straight, particularly when things end up on my desktop. I like to use a 2-4 letter ID in all upper case: e.g., RR for the City of Round Rock.
You could also use a second ID tag to differentiate between similar, but different documents that belong to the same client, project, etc.
MC for the City of Mid City
MC CHD for documents pertaining to the Mid City commercial historic district
MC FHHD for documents pertaining to the Mid City Frog Hill Historic District
The second part of the filename describes the document and, in some cases, who it is intended for. For instance:
MC CHD Map of NR historic district.pdf
I also include a date for easy reference. For projects like surveys, which are conducted infrequently, the year is sufficient. For grant applications, I include the month and year so that I can easily see when the grant was submitted. Anything mailed or published should be named with the mailing or publication date. Here are some examples:
MC 2012 Historic Resources Survey Map.pdf
MC Big County Fndn grant app March 2012.docx
MC CHD Letter to property owners 06.01.2012.docx
4. Revision Number
Version control is very important, and this is the system that I have come up with for managing revisions.
I add or update revision numbers only when I make a change AND I am releasing the document for review. If I make multiple rounds of edits (over the course of a week, for example) but have not released the document, all of those changes would be made under the same revision number.
Let’s use an example in which my original document (for the Very Small Town project) is named
VST Landmark report.docx
I have been working on this report for a while, but I use the original filename the whole time. After I send out the first draft for review and it comes back, I need make revisions. I want to keep an electronic copy of the original version, in case I need to refer back to it, but I need to know which is the original and which is the new version.
When I’m ready to make revisions, I “save as” and add “-rev1” to the end of the filename. For example:
VST Landmark report-rev1.docx
This is the name of the file that goes back out to my client the next time. If they send back more comments that require revision, or if I make additional changes after I have released this document, I update the version number to –rev2.
5. Reviewer’s Initials
You may go through quite a few revisions, and it is not anyone else’s job to manage version control – as long as you are maintaining the filenaming conventions, you will be able to reference changes at any point in the process, as needed.
If I ask people to send me feedback, sometimes they will rename the file entirely. If that happens, I keep the file that they returned to me as named by them, but I also create another copy of the file with the correct name and add their initials to the end of the filename, like so:
VST Landmark report-NP.docx
VST Landmark report-rev4-NP.docx
6. The Final Version
Once the document is final and has been published, I go back and add the word “final” to the filename of the last version.
VST Landmark report-rev4-final.docx
(Note: Don’t add the word “final” too early! Otherwise you can end up with multiple “final” versions as changes continue to be made.)
I don’t take out the revision number, because I still need that for my own reference, but I will also save a final version for the client that does not include a revision number. It’s a good idea to add/update the actual publication or mailing date at that time.
VST Landmark Report June 2012.docx
7. Wait a minute! How do you deal with all of those different versions? Doesn’t that turn into a mess?
I manage my files in folders, so (for example) all of the Landmark Report versions would be together. Visually, that’s easier for me to deal with. Eventually, I archive (but don’t delete) all by the final versions of things, to keep my files cleaned up and easy to find.
Why wait for one large, generous gift to start building an endowment that can help fund your organization’s operation? With only a few additional gifts each year, you can build a multi-million dollar endowment fund and become more financially self-sufficient.
Want to see how it can work? Download and use this spreadsheet to model different schedules and contribution amounts to find a combination that works for your organization.
Whether your facility is brand new, in the process of being renovated, or desperately in need of repair, you need a Building Reserves Fund and a Building Systems Replacement/Maintenance Plan.
The Kresge Foundation, which has spent many years and millions of dollars supporting facilities improvements for arts and cultural organizations, has a great explanation of Building Reserves Funds and why they’re so important.
Planning for your building’s maintenance needs, and ensuring that you have the money you need to fix things when they break or need ordinary maintenance, is the responsible approach to stewardship of our nation’s built heritage. But instead, many organizations — probably most organizations — put off those expenses for another day, hoping that, someday, the gift of an endowment will magically solve those long-term facility funding problems.
A better approach is to begin building a Building Reserves Fund now. No matter how modest it is to start, every dollar saved will help to build a safety net for the future.
To help you get started, I’ve provided this Building Maintenance-Systems Replacement Plan, which includes some of the major building expenses that you might face for the next 20 years. You can adjust this based on the age of your building and its systems, using the following (conservatively estimated) life expectancy of those systems or building components:
Annual maintenance. Every 1 year.
It’s better to start with a more conservative (higher) budget for annual maintenance and then adjust it down as needed, to ensure that you have sufficient funds. Don’t forget to include manufacturer-recommended service intervals for major components like elevators and HVAC systems!
Computer systems, including video/networked security systems. Every 5 years.
Computer technology changes so quickly that you will likely need to swap out all of your computer systems that often!
Paint/glaze exterior windows and doors, as well as any wooden siding, soffits, and eaves, if present. Every 7 years.
This interval is based on recommendations from paint manufacturers, but — as we all know — keeping exterior wood surfaces painted is the key to preventing rot. Be sure to include equipment rental costs if the contractor will need a man lift to reach surfaces above the second floor.
Replace exterior HVAC compressor units. Every 8 years.
Repaint interior surfaces, replace carpet and/or refinish wood floors. Every 10 years.
A fresh coat of paint and an updated color scheme doesn’t must brighten those interior spaces. Remember that your facility is part of your brand, and the way you care for it speaks volumes about your organization. If your spaces are up-to-date, that tells people that your organization is, too!
Replace smoke/fire/security system. Every 10 years.
Replace interior HVAC air handlers, heating components, dust filters and dehumidification units. Every 12 years.
Replace roof. Every 20 years.
Yes, the whole thing! I know it’s a big expense. That’s why you have 20 years to save for it!
To complete the spreadsheet, start with the current cost of these items. You might have this in an Historic Structures Report or you can work with an architect to help you come up with today’s prices.
Once you have a list of current prices, you can calculate what you’ll need at the appropriate intervals, adjusting for inflation. For example, perhaps your security system would cost $10,000 to replace in 2011. You can find a number of Inflation Calculators like this one online and use one of those to figure that by 2021, you’ll need nearly $12,250 to replace it (assuming that the cost of the security system is stable).
After you’ve completed your spreadsheet, you’ll have the information that you need to start deciding you’re going to pay for this. And that’s a topic for another post!
Congratulations! You just established a new, volunteer-led non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of one or more historic resources. So now that you’ve officially done all of your state paperwork and sent in your application for tax-exempt status to the IRS, what’s next?
Here are some ideas for first-year activities that will start you off on the right foot. Since it’s important to have goals for your organization’s growth and success, in each of the following sections, we’ve suggested a goal that you might set for your first year. It’s not important that you use these goals, specifically – just that you set some. (Don’t be afraid to be ambitious!)
1. Build Awareness
It’s important to establish a broad base of community support, particularly one that you can document through membership. This starts by making people aware of what you’re doing.
Begin by building an initial email-newsletter mailing list:
GOAL! See how many people you can sign up for your newsletter in the first three or four months, then try to double that number in the next eight or nine months.
Once you have established your mailing list and communicated with people a few times …
2. Hold a Membership Drive
In your first year or two, this could substitute for an annual appeal or annual fund drive.
I would send this letter out over the board president’s signature. Be sure to include:
If you haven’t already done so, you’ll need to decide what “benefits” to offer your members. This does not have to include giveaway items like tote bags or coffee mugs. In fact, the more creative your member benefits are, the better! Experiences, rather than products, can make excellent member benefits and may be accomplished at little or no cost, as well. Examples include member-only events, such as a hard-hat tour of the building in its current condition (after they sign a waiver of liability); a commemorative tchotchke, the cost of which is sponsored by a local business; or a cocktail party or other celebration when you achieve an important milestone, for which the food/drink/etc. has been donated by a local business or sponsored by a donor.
GOAL! Two possible goals for your membership drive include (a) to convert more of your existing email newsletter recipients to members, and (b) to increase your membership numbers overall.
It’s important to set your goals in writing, think through how you will measure your success, implement your plans accordingly, and debrief afterward to explore what went well and what could be improved in the future.
Even as a young organization, you should have some sort of regular programming that helps to build awareness for the historic resources that you want to preserve. Having a schedule of regular programming also gives your organization more credibility and legitimacy. It’s not too early to begin!
Here’s an example of an easy, inexpensive program for your first year. It should not be too difficult or time-consuming to schedule four or six lectures a year about topics that are relevant to the historic resource. If you have four core board members, each of you could take one quarter of the year and be in charge of one of these lectures — finding a speaker, scheduling a space, publicizing it to members and the public, etc. (Be sure to work together as a group to coordinate the topics.) You should start planning this early so you can publicize them — and also give your speakers lots of notice. (I’d find and ask all of them immediately! Then follow up to make sure they remember about it, two months before the event — two weeks before — and then two days before. You can’t be too careful. People are busy.)
Topics might include:
Recruit volunteers to provide refreshments, ask a local donor or business to sponsor newspaper ads for the events (after you find out how much those ads would cost), and be sure to have membership forms for everyone who attends – don’t by shy, ask everyone to join!
Each event should include a sign-in sheet with a volunteer there to make sure people sign in and provide their contact information, if they’d like to receive your monthly newsletter. The program could start with an introduction by the board member who’s in charge of it, talking about the organization and its mission, and introducing the speaker. At the end, the same person could manage a short Q&A and then ask everyone to become a member.
GOAL! Hold one programming event or activity each quarter.
If you can just manage to accomplish that much programming in your first year, fantastic! Remember: don’t be too ambitious about what you can accomplish with a small volunteer board. Under-promise and over-deliver.
It’s important to do two things in terms of publicity: a) Communicate regularly, and b) Be prepared for big opportunities.
The first part is easy: You need a newsletter that goes out at least quarterly and preferably monthly, so that your organization is in front of people all the time. You do not need to have a ton of news in it, nor does this need to be fancy or expensive. I suggest using something like Constant Contact so that people can sign up online but also manage their own subscriptions through SafeUnsubscribe technology. You can also format the same content as a PDF and print it for those people who prefer a paper copy.
Try to create a committee of three or four volunteers who are good at this sort of thing and who could just be in charge of the newsletter. If you don’t have anybody in mind, go out and recruit them! Ask everyone who is already a volunteer if they know a friend who has those skills and could volunteer a few hours a month to get that done. In many cases, people will volunteer for something that’s straightforward like that, if they know the time commitment isn’t going to escalate.
Second, you need to get someone with professional public relations experience to help you prepare for big milestones. You probably know what big events are likely to happen, at some point:
You may be able to find a volunteer from your local chapter of Public Relations Society of America who can help you develop press releases for things like this ahead of time, at their leisure, and also advise you on how best to position your organization to capitalize on media opportunities, with a media kit, interview-able people (who are well prepared!), and a strategy for using the announcement to build your membership base and position you for fundraising success.
GOAL! Establish a regular schedule of communications, including with your local media, and make a friend who is a PR professional.
Everyone asks me, “How do we get big grants?” I think the best strategy is to first establish that broad base of support (in this case, financial support) from the community, then apply for a few small grants. Demonstrate your ability to complete projects successfully, then ask for more money.
Let’s begin by talking about “community support.” Your membership fees provide a good start, and you can make another appeal for contributions in your newsletter and on your website. Be sure to explain how much money is needed, how it will be used, and what part of it you are hoping to raise from members.
Next, your Board must contribute over and above their membership fees. Many foundations ask specifically how many Board members donate and the amount of total annual Board Giving – because if your own Board isn’t committed enough to give or raise funds for your cause, why should the foundation give? Consider setting a modest but impactful goal for a Board Challenge. For example, you might ask the Board to contribute or bring in 25% of a total project or program budget.
Employer matching gifts can make a big difference, so don’t forget to remind your potential donors about those!
You should also go to local businesses and organizations and make a personal appeal for help. You might make a list of local businesses and divide that up between board members. Go to the business/organization, meet with the owner or manager, and be prepared to leave behind information about the project (a one-page project description with membeship/donation form and return envelope).
Once you have funds coming in from your board/members/local businesses, make relatively small grant requests — mentioning, of course, that your community has already donated X% of the cost. Be sure that you are capable of doing what you propose to do, if you get the grant, and don’t create programming or projects just because money is available. Focus on delivering your mission!
After the successful completion of a fundraising campaign, consider taking out an ad in your local newspaper to thank everyone for their donation and list your business donors by name, if that’s all right with them. This demonstrates that your organization is successful and enjoys strong support.
GOAL! You should always have a fundraising goal, whether it’s to raise the money you need for a special project or for some percentage of your annual operating needs. As with membership, evaluate and debrief afterward so that you will know how to improve in the future.
If you can accomplish these five things in your first year, you will be off to a great start! Just remember to “plan your work and work your plan.”
If you’ve ever done a SWOT analysis for a project or your business, you’ve ended up with a long list of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. So then what? Here is the often-missing next step that can make that information useful.
First, select the five or six items in each category that are most critical — that is, most likely to have the biggest impact on your organization or situation.
Then answer the following questions:
This is a great tool to use during your annual strategic planning process.
Now that you’ve received a grant, you can take some steps right away that will save time and make your life easier later. One of my favorite sayings is, “Begin with the end in mind.”
1. Start a file for the grant.
Whether you prefer an electronic or paper version (or both), you’ll need some way to gather and organize all of the paperwork pertinent to the grant, its management, and whatever reports you are required to submit. Even if it’s duplicative, keep each grant’s information separate. Trust me! It will be easier in the long run.
You should plan to keep, at minimum, copies of the following:
Information about the grant
2. Plan to document the project
Don’t wait until the work is done to think about the final report! Plan ahead to make sure that you have the documentation you need, when the time comes to assemble that report. Even if you are not required to create a final report, you should still plan to send one with a thank-you letter. You can also use this information for publicity and on your website.
First, you’re going to need photographs. In the case of a project that involves construction or changes to the physical environment, plan to capture:
If your project involves activities such as educational programming, photos throughout each activity will help to tell the story, with a mix of group, individual, posed, and candid photos.
Decide who will be responsible for taking pictures, the level of resolution desired, where the photo files will be stored, and how they will be organized. I recommend NOT using the date/time-stamp feature on your camera – the one that puts the date on the front of each photo. In some cases, those can be set (or accidentally reset) to the incorrect date, which just complicates things; in any case, the presence of text on the photo detracts from the image.
Take notes, too. If your project will last more than a few weeks, you will be glad that you’ve captured plenty of information while it was underway. This will also help you report knowledgeably to the Board of Directors and to any funder who requires an interim project report.
Try assigning one person (maybe an intern or enthusiastic volunteer) to “play journalist” and interview the different people involved in the project on a regular basis, then write articles for your organization’s newsletter.
If your project involves technical work, such as materials conservation, find a source who can explain those things to a non-technical audience, and include those explanations in your files in case you need them later.
If the project has generated CAD drawings, illustrations, or other images, ask the architect/designer for copies as .pdf or .jpg files.
Keep copies of all media coverage that you receive, including press clippings and your own press releases. PDF copies of your newsletters and website pages, describing the project and acknowledging donors, should go into the same media file.
3. Document obstacles, problems, delays, etc.
Inevitably, your project will not go smoothly; unexpected problems will arise to affect your schedule and budget. Be sure to identify and document these challenges, including
I know this sounds picky, but two years down the road, when you’re trying to explain to a previous funder or a new potential donor what happened and why you weren’t able to get the work done as expected, you will be glad that you have all of this information on hand. It’s difficult to recall details after time has passed, and when you’re in the thick of it, things can happen quickly – you will be under pressure to resolve the issue and move forward, so it’s especially important to capture this information.
4. Don’t count on your vendors or contractors to do any of this work for you.
They have their own jobs to do. This is your job.
5. Allow plenty of time to prepare the final report.
Ideally, you’ll have several weeks of dedicated time to get this together. Plan for that. The final grant report is your primary deliverable to the funding foundation or agency, so this is not the time to slap something together the day it’s due. The quality of your report may significantly affect your ability to get another grant.
If you’ve followed my advice so far, you should have what you need for the final report – but go back over the requirements and make sure you haven’t forgotten something. You might need to scramble to collect information, images, etc. retroactively, and that takes time.
6. Final thoughts
If the foundation or agency requires you to put together your budget in a way that doesn’t reflect reality or make sense, just roll with it. I’ve run into this before, and it’s honestly just easier to give them the information that they want, even if it’s based on your original budget estimate numbers and the actual budget is completely different, or if they have some weird way of calculating what you “actually” spent.
You may have questions about the required format or content. Try to get all of your questions together and send one concise list to the grants officer, rather than multiple emails asking questions as you get to them. Your performance in terms of communication with the grants officer is super important and tells them a lot about you. I’ve had funders give my clients grants just because the funder knew I would make sure everything was completed as promised and that their grant report would be done on time and provide the information they needed. Make it easy for donors to do business with you, and they will be more likely to continue doing just that.
Tell the funder if their gift functioned as seed money that enabled you to get additional funding. This is critical information that they want and need to know. Don’t assume that they are aware of your fundraising efforts or results.
Make sure that the information you’re providing with your grant report is clearly organized and makes sense. If necessary, include an index page that describes each document that you’ve provided as backup. You may want to annotate that to provide further clarification. Try to anticipate the funder’s questions and answer them in advance.
Lastly, say “Thank you.” Write a cover letter for your grant completion report that expresses your appreciation for the gift that you were given and its impact on your organization. However, be aware that many funding organizations do not want a plaque or chunk of crystal or clock. Your sincere thanks and recognition of their gift are most appropriate.
I hope this will help you be better prepared to submit a terrific grant completion report that impresses your donors and positions you for additional funding. (These tips apply to interim reports, too!)
Congratulations! You’re applying for a grant, or you were just awarded one. So when will you receive the money, and what are you required to do before you get it? The answer to that question will depend on what type of grant it is.
Some funders simply write a check. Others require or challenge you to raise matching funds. In some cases, you must spend the money first, before you can receive the grant as reimbursement. In this post, we’ll discuss all three of these scenarios.
Be sure that you understand the structure and requirements of each grant before you apply, and incorporate those requirements into your fundraising strategy and project budget.
The easiest type of grant to receive is one that comes with no requirements. You apply, your application is approved, and the foundation or agency sends you a check.
You will still have reporting requirements – established by the foundation or by common courtesy. In my next post, I’ll discuss grant contracts and managing and reporting on grants.
Depending on the size and length of your fundraising campaign, you might consider being open to a challenge grant. This means that the grantor would promise to give you a gift if you can raise some additional amount of money. If you’ve ever listened to an NPR radio station’s pledge drive, this is a tactic that they use often. The benefit – to the grantor, to you the recipient, and to other donors – is that every dollar raised is leveraged to bring in more money. In addition, a challenge grant can be motivating for many donors who want to help you reach that goal.
Challenge grants can come in different forms. Here are just a few examples:
If you are open to challenge grants, be sure to mention that in your cover letter or grant application. You might also ask several loyal donors to pool their gifts as a challenge grant.
The term “matching grant” means that you are required to raise some amount of money to “match” the amount of the grant. The money you raise in addition to the grant is called “the match.”
Matching grants are similar to challenge grants, with the exception that the timing for your raising the match may vary. For example, a matching grant might require you to have the match in hand before you apply, or within some period of time after you receive the grant. Alternatively, a matching-grant donor might only require that you show proof of the match in your final grant report.
You can use two matching grants to match each other. For example, one of my clients received a $30,000 grant from the Texas Preservation Trust Fund and $25,000 grant from the Houston-Galveston Area Council, both of which required a $1-to-$1 match. The TPTF grant provided the full match for the H-GAC grant. In order to satisfy the TPTF match, we then only had to raise another $5,000.
Reimbursement grants require you to spend some or all of the grant amount before requesting payment. Generally, you have to submit copies of invoices and cancelled checks, and sometimes photographs of the completed work, with your request for reimbursement. This enables the grantor to be sure that you have done what you said you were going to do.
Since the terms of reimbursement grants vary widely, I find that it helps to make a plan and schedule for how and when we can apply for reimbursement, including the documentation required.
You might also be able to work with your vendors to move the reimbursement process along. For example, I have a client who had to raise $8,000 to pay for a Master Plan for their building restoration project. We received a $4,000 matching grant from the National Trust and a $1,700 reimbursement grant from the County Historical Commission. The National Trust doesn’t require you to have the match in hand right away, so we received that money immediately. By working with the architect to invoice us for $1,700 after the completion of an early milestone in the planning process, we can then submit our request for reimbursement to the CHC while the rest of the project is ongoing. That enables the client to have all of the grant funds in hand by the time the process is complete and they receive the architect’s final invoice.
Next time: Grant contracts, management, and reporting!
I recommend to all of my clients that they set up an endowment fund that will eventually contribute to (or fund entirely) the cost of organizational operations. Here are some thoughts on endowments for your consideration.
Don’t Wait for the Big Gift
I always tell my clients that they should think of endowments as organizational retirement plans. While it would be nice to get one big gift in order to fund an endowment, for many small organizations, that’s a bit like hoping to win the lottery.
Instead, your organization should follow the same sound fiscal principles that apply to saving for retirement and try to add some portion of its income each year to their endowment fund. Holding a special fundraising event every year, for example, could provide annual income to the endowment, and also helps to publicize the endowment to potential donors. Another option might be to direct a small percentage (for example, 5%) of all fundraising activities to the endowment fund. There are a lot of ways to approach this; the important thing, I believe, is to have a saving plan and stick to it.
Defining the Purpose
The Board of Directors needs to decide what activities the endowment will fund — general operating? Special programs? They might establish one large general endowment fund, or create multiple smaller funds in order to appeal to different donor interests: for example, separate endowments to fund educational programming, facilities maintenance, etc.
Starting the Endowment
Start the fund first so that it’s available for people to give to, rather than waiting for the gift and then establishing the fund. This allows your organization to accept small gifts and to work with donors to make planned gifts or bequests. This should be part of a comprehensive donor development strategy; if that’s not yet in place, establishing the endowment would be a good way to start working in that direction.
The Board will probably want to specify what kind of gifts the organization will accept and how those can be liquidated. (For example, it may not make sense for the organization to accept a gift of real estate.) This also lets the donor know what to expect.
The organization also needs to develop a policy for how money will come out of the endowment fund — for what purpose, who can withdraw it, how often can it be withdrawn, etc. That information probably should become part of the organization’s bylaws.
The money is going to have to be saved somewhere and managed appropriately. The organization should figure out first what level of risk it is comfortable with; it shouldn’t place its money with a financial manager who’s risk-averse if it’s not, and vice versa. The Board will also need to decide how much of the capital gains to reinvest each year or what percentage of the principal can be withdrawn, in order to keep building the fund over time.
Here are a few links that I’ve collected … some of this information is repetitive, but there are some good nuggets in there.
A book about endowment building from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
An article that examines whether the organization is ready to have an endowment.
A recent article that I thought was good general information for thinking about development.
When I was in graduate school, working toward my Master of Science in Historic Preservation, I started to meet and get to know people who were passionate about preserving our historic built environment. Some of them worked at state agencies or in city governments or non-profit organizations, and others were volunteers or just interested individuals. I also started getting phone calls and emails from regular Joes who were concerned about a specific historic building in their town or neighborhood and didn’t have a clue how to go about trying to save it. Then I looked at all of the preservation programs that are in place, and I realized that most of those programs focus on the buildings/resources … but not the people.
Because my professional background includes a decade in training and education, I know that helping people to become more effective in whatever it is that they do can generate a significant return on investment. I’ve also personally experienced the power of strategic planning – the real stuff, not just a workshop where a consultant helps you identify a laundry list of goals and then leaves you with a binder and no tools for reaching those goals. I’ve used those planning tools to reach my own personal and business goals, and I figured that I could help other people do the same thing.
That’s why I’ve focused my consulting practice on the people who own, manage, or advocate for historic resources – not the resources themselves. And to that end, I limit the firm’s work to three specific areas:
I believe that the best opportunity for my firm to make a positive change in the field of historic preservation is to find ways to help as many people as possible become more effective in these areas. To that end, I’m interested in you – whoever you are – and how McDoux can help you become more knowledgeable and capable. If you’re reading this, then you probably want to preserve something. So let’s work together to make that happen!
Think about what you’re hoping to accomplish. Whether it’s something big or something small, I’m sure that at least a portion of what you want to do can be completed by the end of next year. Are you willing to set a goal for yourself for December 31, 2011? Maybe you want to transition to a career in historic preservation and you know you’ll need to get more education in the field … by the end of next year, you could be completing your first semester of graduate school! Or perhaps you’re concerned about your downtown and you’d like to see a Main Street program there. In 16 months, you could have organized others with the same objective and completed the application to your state’s Main Street Program. In 16 months, you can complete an historic resources survey of your neighborhood – maybe even your town, if it’s small enough. Maybe you just want to commit to volunteering an average of three hours a week to your local historical society, and you’re having trouble finding time in your busy schedule. Or you want to complete a National Register nomination or a local landmark designation for your house. Or raise $10,000 for a Civil War battlefield educational program. Or organize a community photo day to help your local library create a local history collection.
No matter what you want to do, the next 16 months are going to go by whether you’re taking action or not. Why not set that goal, make a plan, and get started! McDoux Preservation has more than 350 friends on Facebook today. Imagine how much we could all accomplish if each of us just did one thing for historic preservation ….
If you have a goal, I commit to help you figure out how to make a plan to achieve it … provide support to help you along the way … and hopefully connect you with other people who are trying to do similar things. So let me know: What’s your goal? How can I help? Please feel free to post to Facebook, here in the blog comments, or contact me directly at Steph at McDoux.com.
I’m working on a National Register historic district nomination and looking for correlations between changing lot sizes and neighborhood demographics. I got the current lot sizes from the tax appraisal district, and I’m using Sanborn maps to show how the lots were subdivided over time; then I’ll see if my city directory and U. S. Census data reveals any corresponding patterns in terms of changes in owners vs. renters, families vs. individuals, Caucasians vs. African Americans, etc. The data management aspect of this work can be challenging, but it’s also SO interesting. I don’t know what I’m going to discover for this district, but whatever the story turns out to be, I just really enjoy this process.
This is a good time to talk about tax appraisal information, which is generally available online here in Texas. (And, one would hope, everywhere else in the U. S.) I mentioned in a previous post that you can find legal descriptions in the tax appraisal records, but you can find a lot of other valuable information as well. Because it’s often available online, current appraisal district data is easy to get.
Depending on the county, the central appraisal district may provide a search function for deed records that goes back several decades — as far back as they’ve digitized the records, at least. I always check, because if they have this information online, it saves a lot of time when you’re researching chain of title. Williamson County, Texas, is an example of a CAD with a terrific website for looking up property history (http://www.wcad.org/). After a while in this line of work, you really come to appreciate a good county clerk’s office and CAD.
Towns and cities are usually platted — laid out by a surveyor — using blocks, which are subdivided into lots. Therefore, a legal description might be as simple as “City of Springfield, Block 24, Lot 2” or, as parcels are subdivided and re-platted over the years, you could end up with a legal description that looks like “City of Springfield, Block 24, Lots 2-4, 10 ft of Lot 5, plus vacant alley.” Additions to the town plat are often named for the person who owned the property, such as “Morris Addition.” For newer developments, the legal description might include the name of the subdivision or the person or organization who was responsible for it, such as “Crown Pointe West Section 4, Lot 27” or “Anderson Replat, Lot 7A.”
Whatever the legal description is, be sure you note it in its entirety.
One thing to be careful of, though … you can’t always trust the construction dates shown on the tax appraisal database. Maybe it’s right, maybe it’s wrong, but you really need to take that date with a grain of salt! Often these dates were estimated. They could provide a good start, but if a building was significantly remodeled — for example, a Queen Anne home changed to a Craftsman-style farmhouse in a recent survey that I did — the appraiser might have incorrectly dated the building based on its current appearance. This is particularly true for older buildings; the dates for newer construction are usually correct.
If you’re working on a district nomination, it’s pretty easy to copy and paste the property information (current owner, current owner’s address, current street address of the property, legal description, etc.) into an Excel spreadsheet. Eventually you’ll have a lot more information to include, so it pays to become familiar with Excel or some other spreadsheet program that allows you to sort your data.
Legal descriptions can offer a great deal of useful information about patterns of community development over time. They’re an important piece of the research puzzle!