NEH Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grants

Please see the full solicitation for complete information about the funding opportunity. Below is a summary assembled by the Research & Innovation Office (RIO). Note this summary is based on previous NEH guidelines, which NEH will update on March 16. 

Program Summary

The mission of this Challenge Grants program is to strengthen the institutional base of the humanities by enabling infrastructure development and capacity building. Awards aim to help institutions secure long-term support for their core activities and expand efforts to preserve and create access to outstanding humanities materials. Applications are welcome from colleges and universities, museums, public libraries, research institutions, historical societies and historic sites, scholarly associations, state humanities councils, and other public and nonprofit humanities entities. Programs that involve collaboration among multiple institutions are eligible as well, but one institution must serve as the lead applicant of record that will be legally, programmatically, and fiscally responsible for the award.

Challenge grants may also support long-term humanities projects with funds invested in a restricted, short-term endowment or other investment fund (or spend-down fund) that generate expendable earnings to support and enhance ongoing humanities activities. Eligible activities include the preservation and conservation of humanities materials, and the sustaining of digital infrastructure for the humanities. Fundraising is a critical part of NEH Challenge grant awards: up to 10 percent of total funds (federal matching funds plus certified gifts) may be used for fundraising costs during the period of performance.

Challenge funds (both federal matching funds and required nonfederal gifts) must enhance the humanities in the long term. Challenge grants should not merely replace funds already being expended, but instead should reflect careful strategic planning to strengthen and enrich an institution’s humanities activities. Institutions may use challenge funds to meet both ongoing and one-time humanities-related costs, provided that the long-term benefit of the expenditure can be demonstrated.

Specific activities supported by the Challenge Grant program include:

  1. capital expenditures to support the following activities:
    • the design, purchase, construction, restoration, or renovation of facilities and historic landscapes; and
    • the purchase of equipment and software for humanities facilities, including but not limited to storage systems, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment, and climate control, lighting, security, and fire prevention systems.
  2. investment in a restricted, short-term endowment or other investment fund to support the following activities:
    • the preservation and conservation of collections; and
    • the sustaining of existing digital infrastructure for the humanities.


CU Internal Deadline: 11:59pm MST March 9, 2020

NEH Optional Draft Deadline: April 3, 2020

NEH Application Deadline: May 15, 2020

Internal Application Requirements (all in PDF format)

  • Project Summary (2-3 pages maximum): Please describe: 1) the humanities activities, programs and/or holdings of the institution; 2) the audience to be served; 3) how long-range institutional planning informs the project and how the institution is capable to sustain its humanities activities, programs, and/or holdings; and 4) the impact and evaluation of assessing the project both qualitatively and quantitatively.
  • Matching Commitment Letter: Please provide a letter from the dean or chair including a list of potential donors and detail the strategies to be used for securing matching funds.
  • PI Curriculum Vitae
  • Budget Overview (1 page maximum): A basic budget outlining project costs is sufficient; detailed OCG budgets are not required.

To access the online application, visit:


U.S. nonprofit organizations with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, state and local governmental agencies, and federally recognized Native American tribal governments are eligible to apply, provided that they work wholly or in part with the humanities: they must support research, education, preservation, or public programming in the humanities. Eligible organizations include institutions of higher education. Affiliated institutions (for example, a university museum) with separate 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status are also eligible to apply.

Limited Submission Guidelines

Institutions may apply for only one NEH challenge grant per calendar year.

Award Information and Matching Requirements

Award Amount: $750,000

Matching Requirements: NEH will offer successful applicants federal matching funds. The requested grant amount should be appropriate to the humanities needs and the fundraising capacity of the institution. Recipients must raise—from nonfederal third-party donors—three times the amount of federal funds offered for grants up to and including $500,000, and four times the amount of federal funds offered for grants in excess of $500,000. For example, a $500,000 grant requires a $1.5 million match; a $600,000 grant requires a $2.4 million match.

Review Criteria

  1. The significance of humanities activities: To what extent are the current and planned humanities programs, activities, and/or holdings—particularly those that will be affected by the challenge grant funds—significant to the institution or organization?
  2. The audience served: What is the intended audience, and what is its estimated size? To what extent will the audience benefit from the activities resulting from the award?
  3. The appropriateness of plans: to what extent is there evidence of realistic long-range institutional planning to advance the proposed project? To what extent is the institution, through its mission, personnel, governance, facilities, and resources, capable of sustaining outstanding activities in the humanities? To what extent is there evidence (such as letters of support) of sufficient institutional and community commitment to the long-range plans? To what extent is the work plan appropriate to the humanities- related costs and to the nature of the activities to be supported? To what extent are the planned sources and use of challenge grant funds (federal matching and certified gifts combined) described clearly and in detail?
  4. The impact and evaluation of the project: To what extent will grant funds have an impact on the institution’s work in the humanities? To what extent will the NEH challenge grant funds strengthen and enhance the institution’s humanities activities, programs, and/or holdings over the long term? To what extent will the institution effectively evaluate the impact of the challenge grant project?
  5. The feasibility of fundraising: To what extent do the applicant’s long-term financial stability, fundraising plan, resources, leadership, staff, and history of fundraising success suggest that it will be able to conduct a successful campaign to meet the NEH matching requirement? To what extent does the applicant offer evidence that the fundraising plan is feasible? To what extent will the fundraising strategy broaden the base of institutional support?