When Historic Fair Hill (HFH) sought out Green Seeds in 2014, it was looking to take its small-scale, mostly volunteer community effort to a more professional level of operation in order to better serve the struggling neighborhood where it maintains an historic Quaker burial ground. The organization proved to be a fascinating fundraising challenge due to its unique combination of programs.

The Historic Fair Hill Burial Ground is where several great slavery abolitionists and early feminist leaders, including Robert Purvis and Lucretia Mott, are interred; yet despite this significance, the property had been neglected for decades as the surrounding neighborhood deteriorated into one of Philadelphia’s most blighted and distressed areas. Historic Fair Hill took ownership of the burial ground in 1993, determined not only to restore its dignity and lift up its historic importance, but also to join with neighborhood allies in revitalizing the economically depressed community. Their idea was to live out the values of the human rights heroes buried in the neighborhood by serving the community through an urban greening and gardening program and through educational enrichment projects, focused on boosting literacy in neighborhood schools – all while educating people about the inspiring 18th century leaders buried on the 5-acre cemetery.

As a unique, hybrid organization that combines historic preservation, educational enrichment, and gardening/greening activities, HFH posed an interesting grant writing challenge, as it did not fit any conventional profile. Furthermore, grant funding for historic preservation was generally dwindling, and local Quaker sources were inherently limited in their size and scope. Still, the organization’s programming was growing beyond its ability to fund the budget.

Green Seeds Associate, Robin Lasersohn, worked with the HFH staff and board to hone the definition of its programs, commit to strengthening neighborhood leadership, and identify measurable outcomes. Then she expanded the grant search to include a wide variety of public, private, and corporate foundations that fund urban farming, literacy projects, and community organizing. After three years, HFH has more than doubled its budget and its grant revenue, allowing it to increase its staff, expand its programming, and deepen the impact of its creative work.

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