Just this morning, I spoke to someone in a local leadership role about budgets and grant opportunities. It was clear that this was a concern, not only for the delineation of money but also time.
I am curious to know how many advanced learners or graduate students are exposed to budgeting and writing grants. Certainly, neither was part of my own graduate work for a master’s degree in environmental education.
My own background in nursing never provided any content about “how” to budget money for a unit, project, patient, or even hospital. I also held an advanced degree in that field, but it was not nursing administration. My own course content focused on patient care, diagnosis and treatment in the primary care of children from birth to age twenty one.
Once I was a stay at home mom and began volunteering, I noticed the importance of obtaining money for projects. Usually, if there isn’t financial backing, a project cannot go forward. In the early days of our after-school garden club, my husband and I funded all the materials.This largely continued throughout its thirteen year tenure. However, I tried to obtain some grant monies. Essentially, it seemed expected. I wrote my first grant for the National Gardening Association, which scored high but lacked enough contact hours in the garden with the students to be a winner. I was competing against educators in Florida and California – places that could be in the garden all year with students. We did spend time in the garden in the winter on occasion but spending our entire meeting outdoors when it was less than ten degrees was not possible! It is Wisconsin after all!
My biggest mistake? I realize now that it was not having any knowledge of grant writing and going for a national grant right out of the gate! This was optimistic but foolish at best. I was funded for this garden club/community garden twice more in the next decade. But, both were local grants of a few hundred dollars. Still, I was grateful.
At the next school garden I managed, I had a budget. The PTO/PTA ran jeans day fundraiser twice a year for garden money. It was more money than I ever had for garden management and club lessons…about $600.00 a year! Wow! Obviously, having money to spend forced me to budget my expenses. It was still a small scale setting so a simple in and out sheet was kept to turn in for monetary reimbursement.
When I left that position, in which I was paid as a co-curricular coach, I took a job as the education and outreach program manager at a local land trust. One of my first tasks was to report on how grant money my predecessor had obtained was spent. There were no records. It was more than difficult. I learned the importance of record keeping but then, again, I already knew what my predecessor did not.
Shortly after that, I found I was responsible for writing grants to fund some of the education and outreach projects the Conservancy wanted to host! What?! I had no experience with something of this scale. And, proposing a budget was part of all applications. This was all new to me! I muddled through and asked for clarification/help when I needed it. There was some (a good deal) assumption I knew how to write grants and form budgets. Nope. Never a class on that in grad school. I had been honest about this lack of training when I interviewed for the job. No one seemed as concerned as I.
Despite being successful with several grant applications that were on much larger scale than I was used to, some practical experience with budgets and grants would have been very useful. I’ve often thought of writing my alma mater and suggesting this. A class on land trusts and how they work would be a great offering as well. I was lucky (and proud) to obtain the funding for what I did.
So, this morning when I asked a local leader about whether she sought grant monies for a proposed project, I shocked not only her but myself. There is money for almost anything out there. You just have to look for it. And then, you have to know what you are doing when you apply for it. They don’t give it to just anyone, you know!