Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
One of the selling points of Swarthmore College is that funding for clubs, events, and speakers is plentiful. This should not be a surprise: Swarthmore College is part of a tiny and exclusive club: schools with endowments of more than one billion U.S. dollars—the College has $1.245 billion. Furthermore, every year, each student pays a $320 activity fee and there are a collection of grants and funds which can provide money for students. However, while there is an impressive amount of funding available, it can be hard to procure. Nearly every office of the College has a small pool of funds which could be made available to students, and there is no standard procedure on how to try to obtain this money. This article should provide a basic primer.
STUDENT BUDGET COMMITTEE [SBC]
The Student Budget Committee is responsible for distributing the student activity fee each year, and offers the most formal distribution process at the College.
Near the end of Spring semester every year, SBC meets and considers budget requests for every group with a funded charter. This article will not examine the Spring Budgeting process. The mission of SBC is quite simple. It is, explained Giannina Esquivel ’08, the Student Budget Manager, “to ensure that all of the students who pay into the Student Activities Fund are able to get their money’s worth through the student group activities offered throughout the year.”
Throughout this entire process, the SBC manager can be exceedingly helpful. The SBC manager is a paid position held by a student—it is her job to help you. Talking with the manager during the planning stages of your proposal can save time later.
All proposals before SBC should have a simple, evocative header: “Capture-the-Flag” or “Spring Photography Exhibit.” On the following line, specify which organization is requesting the money. If the request is for funding from the FUN FUNd, there cannot be a sponsoring organization.
After this header, write a detail your request. Make sure to include the number of students you expect to participate, what steps you have taken to find the cheapest supplies, any initial planning or work you have completed on the project, and specifics on why you need each part of the funding. Following this description, include a table with specific items, per-unit prices, number of units, and a total cost.
Don’t skimp on writing the proposal. When you meet with the Committee, the members will be voting on whether or not your proposal meets their standards. If you don’t know exactly what supplies you need, it probably isn’t time to make a request before SBC, as vague requests are not accepted: “Supplies” is generally not acceptable, while “Wheeled 32-Gallon Trash Cans @ $12.99 each” is. Essentially, members of SBC explained, “we want [the applicant] to write the invoice for us ahead of time.”
That said, some leeway is granted for spending. SBC will not strictly hold you to purchasing specific items. Once you are given a budget, you will have some flexibility in how to use it—if the store has a special deal on 40-gallon trash cans, SBC wouldn’t force you to purchase the worse item.
Esquivel warned that “SBC is unlikely to fund proposals for activities in which not all students can participate or benefit from, proposals that would incur possible liability to SBC and/or Swarthmore College, and proposals that do not specify how the requested money will be spent.”
In general, it isn’t a bad idea to ask for a bit more money than you think you will need. It provides some padding in case SBC cuts some funding—and additional costs like shipping and taxes can be hard to predict. That said, be careful using this strategy. If your group fails to use all funds budgeted, it might come back to bite you during Spring Budgeting as “if a group has a large amount of unspent funds, there is a chance that the same amount will not be granted to them for the following year.”
According to Esquivel, there are two key points to a great budget proposal: Completeness and clarity.
The Student Budget Committee meets every Sunday afternoon from 5-7pm to consider student request for money. Applicants bring ten or more copies of their proposal, it is distributed to the SBC members and observers, read-aloud and discussed. This is not a time for group leaders to be silent: while Committee members will do most of the talking, you should champion your proposal.
Earlier, I mentioned that detailed budgets are important. If you do end up with vague proposals, the committee will generally ask you to clarify exactly what you want to spend the money on. Thus, it is generally a good idea for the mastermind behind the budget request to attend the meeting—they can better explain it.
Following the debate, SBC members suggest funding levels. Members then vote on the funding, starting at the smallest funding. Voting continues until a proposal is rejected.
For example, for the Capture-the-Flag proposal linked above, one member might suggest spending $500, another $1000, and a third $1500. The committee would first vote on $500, and if that measure passes they would vote on $1000. If $1000 was rejected, Psi Phi would be given $500.
There are only eight voting members on the Committee. Since several more people sit in on every meeting (to take notes, oversee procedure, etc.), it can look like your request failed—but five supporters means your request passed!
While any member of an organization can write a proposal and bring it before SBC (as long as the rest of the leadership of the organization agrees), once the money is granted, it must be overseen by the organization’s treasurer.
In the end, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that SBC wants to fund things. The Committee is made up of other students—it wants to get groups doing things, not act as a stumbling block. At the same time, however, the group deals with money. A lot of money. It is important that you read the fine print, but if you do, SBC is ready to do its part.