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What is the best way to get funding for our Green Office? That is a frequently asked question we receive. Experience shows that funding proposals are written by five actors:
- Sustainability staff
- Student initiatives
- Students writing their theses or doing coursework
- Student assistants hired for the task
- rootAbility acting as consultants
We analysed who was involved in writing 33 funding applications for GOs. Here are the results of our analysis:
12 funding proposals written by staff
The majority of funding proposals to date were written by staff, mainly sustainability / environmental / CSR coordinators. There is one case of a staff member that was commissioned by the Executive Board to write a proposal for a GO. 9 proposals were successful (Rotterdam, Hogeschool Utrecht, Eindhoven, 2x Brussels, Canterbury, Greenwich, Exeter, Groningen). Two are currently being reviewed (Tilburg, Leuven) and one was rejected (Aberdeen).
In most cases, the Executive Board or a sustainability steering committee was the target group of the funding proposal. Only two of the proposals were handed in to an external funding body, the Students’ Green Fund in the UK.
Staff either wrote standalone proposals for the GO, or included the GO in the overall CSR / sustainability / environmental policy of the institution. The latter is a very good move.
rootAbility supported these processes through our open-source materials, advice we gave via Skype or telephone, as well as workshops we were hired to conduct to help design the GOs.
The main advantage of this process is that it is fast.
Staff are used to writing proposals to the institution, knew exactly to whom they had to hand in the proposals to get funding, and why a Green Office was needed from the perspective of the organisation.
Most of these proposals were also relatively short, including only one to five pages, and written in language that decision makers relate to.
The downside of short proposals written by staff is that they oftentimes do not include a throughout institutional analysis, careful planning of what the GO should do and stakeholder engagement. Once the GO starts, the team then needs to develop the actual plan of action, plus engage stakeholders.
Experience shows that this prolongs the actual start-up phase for GOs and can also make the lives of GOs difficult if this planning and engagement process is not done properly.
Also student input to most of these proposals was very low. This can be a problem once the GO starts-up: If you have not engaged students in writing the proposal it might then be difficult to generate ownership.
8 proposals written by student initiatives
Three proposals (Magdeburg, Konstanz, Wageningen) of student initiatives were successful to get funding. Two proposals were submitted and rejected (HU Berlin, Nijmegen). To our knowledge, three initiatives (Lund, Cologne, Vienna) wrote proposals, but have not officially submitted them yet.
We supported these student initiatives through our open-source materials, feedback we gave on funding applications and advice via Skype.
Undebated leadership and ownership of students. They invest their free-time, energy and creativity to write the funding proposal for their GO.
Students can get stuck in the process, if they do not receive support from champions within the institution: They do not know where to submit the proposal, how to write it, in what format or when to submit it. This lack of institutional knowledge is the main reason why some initiatives have not officially submitted their proposals yet, or even dared to write them.
Similar to cases where only staff write funding proposals, the power of students to effectively write and then submit a proposal is limited. It is always the combination of students, staff and faculty working together that produces the best results – based at least on what I have seen so far.
7 funding proposals that involved coursework
Three funding proposals (Hildesheim, Leiden, VU Amsterdam) involved input from students that did coursework on the GO Model, including one Master thesis and coursework of two courses over a couple of months. Students analysed their institution, consulted our open-source materials on the GO model, interviewed different GOs and rootAbility, and finally adapted the GO model to their institution. In Hildesheim, students also designed a first corporate design for the GO.
At four institutions (Neu-Ulm, Bologna, Bochum, Duisburg-Essen), students conducted or are still conducting coursework on the GO, in form of stakeholder analysis or recommendations on establishing a GO.
At some of these courses, we were paid to give lectures or workshops. Otherwise, we supported them by being interviewed, providing open-source materials, or by making the connections with other GOs so that they could be interviewed.
I became a big fan of this process, based on seven reasons:
- Coursework is a great way to mobilize students, and also involve professors, researchers and lecturers in the process.
- Rather than writing a 1-5 page proposal, students take the time to conduct a proper analysis, interview stakeholders, consult our open-source materials, adapt and plan the GO, etc.
- Coursework is very flexible: You can ask students to write the whole proposal or just conduct elements, like analysing existing sustainability efforts or conducting a stakeholder analysis.
- Students are also supervised by their course coordinators or professors during this process. rootAbility can be hired to conduct a workshop or give a lecture for the course.
- The proposal becomes more legitimate, since it is based on actual research results that were compiled over a period of months.
- In business terms, it is a very cost efficient way to put together a funding proposal. No costs for external consultants and great mobilization of the research capacity of the institution.
- It also shows clear student leadership in the process, as well as support and collaboration with faculty and staff.
This process is bad news for the impatient. You need to contact students and course coordinators 2-4 months in advance to have a student write his/her thesis or a whole course doing the analysis for you. Then it takes the whole duration of the course to do the analysis, sometimes 2-6 months.
You might also need to further process the research results into an actual proposal that can be handed in. This depends to what extent the course has a strong academic focus, or actually allows students to produce non-academic outputs, like a funding proposal.
You also need to find course coordinators, professors and students that want to work together with you on this task. This is sometimes a challenge for staff within facility services that do not interact with faculty and students on a regular basis.
4 proposals written by hired student assistants
To our knowledge, three successful proposals were written by hired student assistants at Van Hall Larenstein, Delft and Ghent. One case (Gothenburg) is still in the process.
Environmental / sustainability coordinators hired one or two students for this task. The staff then worked together with the students.
We provide the student assistants with the same support that we give to staff and student initiatives.
- Students and staff working together on the proposal.
- Students have a clear incentive as they are being paid and task to fulfil, which prevents them from postponing the proposal writing. In case that there is a student group lobbying for the GO, it could be a good approach to pay one or two of them to actually write the proposal in collaboration with staff.
- Oftentimes, staff write short funding proposals, because they do not have / take the time to write a more in-depth analysis. In this case, students and staff think together about the proposal, but the student is the one actually writing it down.
I guess the main reason why this tactic is not chosen more frequently, is that staff need to recruit and train students for this task. This might be seen as more cumbersome than to write the proposal yourself.
Student leadership is less, compared to when a group of students writes the proposal. Also stakeholder engagement and consultation might be less compared to a student initiative or whole course working on the proposal.
2 funding proposals written by rootAbility or other consultancies
So far, we were commissioned once with writing a funding application for a Green Office, at the University of Amsterdam in 2013. Our proposal was then rejected. Students then took up the proposal in 2014 again, adapted it together with staff and then resubmitted it. Unfortunately, the university then granted the establishment only of a very small Green Office.
Green Office Utrecht was established in 2013, based on a proposal written by a student-led consultancy. rootAbility was not involved and the Green Office Model was also not clearly articulated back then.
Given the challenges that some staff and student initiatives struggle with to design and lobby for their GO, we are currently expanding our consultancy portfolio again.
Institutions benefit from our expertise and network, since we take more time to assist students, staff and faculty to engage stakeholders, design and plan their GO and write the funding application.
We have an upcoming case with a first technical and vocational college in the Netherlands that commissions us to work together with them to develop their GO.
Institutions need to see the value in not doing everything alone when designing their GO, but receiving support from an external organisation specialized in this task. Then, students and staff need to mobilize the funding to pay for our services. If they cannot do this, we are limited to our support through 1-2 Skype calls, the provision of our open-source materials and workshops that we can be hired for.
And here our summary of good practices, based on the analysis:
- Rather than writing the application yourself, work with a course coordinator to have a team of 4-8 students analyse how the GO Model fits to your institution as part of a course,
- Rather than working alone, form a diverse team of students, staff and faculty to write the application,
- Before writing the application, make sure that you know where to apply for funding, what the deadlines and requirements are,
- Get support from rootAbility through our open-source materials, workshops, advice via Skype and in-depth process facilitation. Rather than repeating mistakes, learn from us how others have done it,
- Rather than rushing the process, take 6-12 months to carefully design and plan your GO, engage stakeholders and write the application. The conversations you will have and the analysis that you do is already part of the change process!
- Rather than just having staff write the application, make sure you create student ownership, by supporting a student group lobbying for your GO, having students develop the GO as part of coursework or pay student assistants to write the funding application.
We have already published a 33 pages report on our website and a 10 slide presentation that you can download to learn more about the five steps of the lobby process. Get in touch if you need more support.
Text by Felix Spira, photo by Reuben Ingber, flickr creative commons