CVRD grant-in-aid process a Monty Python-esque farce
If you haven’t witnessed the self-described “gong-show” that is the Regional Services meeting to decide the 2019 Grant-in-Aid recommendations, please do yourself a favour and look it up on the CVRD’s YouTube channel — you are looking for the recording named “Regional Services March 27, 2019 Part 2” and you will want to forward to the Grant-in-Aid deliberation/adjudication process around the 48-minute mark.
If you can understand what the heck is going on in this video, I applaud you. From what I can tell, here is a highlight reel of what went on, and what went wrong:
First, it appears that despite Grant-in-Aid requests consistently and significantly outweighing the available funding each year, and the overwhelming evidence that non-profits are taking on more-and-more burdens under unbearable conditions of overwork/underpay, the CVRD decided that our non-profit sector needed only half the funding allocated to the 2019 Grant-in-Aid program, cutting this budget from $150,000 to $75,000, but only after the call for applications.
This created an immediate and all-consuming sense of self-imposed scarcity that permeates the whole deliberation/adjudication process and disproportionately impacted the applicants who dared to present ambitious projects with larger requests. It is also worth noting that when all was said and done, it appears the CVRD under-spent by $10-15,000, further reducing allocations to our region’s non-profits. Apparently, the CVRD is very good at curtailing spending — but only when it comes to our community’s charities.
Second, it appears that despite a strict set of program guidelines and the existence of some sort of scoring system, only half of the directors sitting on the Regional Services Committee “did their homework” in reading the submitted applications and/or using the scoring sheet. This is where the lack of respect really starts to jump the shark.
In the video, the directors are seen laughing about their lack of preparation and repeatedly urge each other to hurry along so they can go home as soon as possible. Keep in mind that the 22 organizations that submitted these applications are extremely busy doing important work (helping vulnerable children, providing services for persons with disabilities, ensuring food security, assisting women impacted by violence, etc.) and that representatives from these groups took many hours (perhaps days) out of their hectic schedules to prepare comprehensive and compelling applications in support of their programs. For many of the volunteers and underpaid staff members working in our local non-profit sector, these funding applications were done off the sides of desks and by the light of the midnight oil. In my opinion, the lack of respect shown to these applicants naturally extends to the community members whom are served by these services.
Moreover, most of the applicants are small, community-level organizations that do not have provincial/national government funding and cannot access large-scale foundation/business grant programs (as many of these are primarily reserved for provincial or national-level organizations). As such, many of these groups rely on local level support, including municipal grants-in-aid. In the video, cutting this funding is literally a punch line.
The result of the Directors’ lack of preparation is a series of bumbling votes made entirely out of personal allegiances and opinions that had nothing to do with the applications submitted. This is an abhorrent breach of transparency and accountability that is rightfully pointed out by Director Nicholson at the one hour, sixteen minute mark.
The final thing I think that is worth noting is that despite a complete lack of transparency around opportunities to support applications with an in-person presentation to the committee/board (all the policy says on this is that “presentations will be made by applicants at the board’s discretion”), it is clear that certain groups were able to support their application with a presentation immediately prior to the decision process. This seems overtly unfair to the other applicants that were not aware of this opportunity, especially considering the weight that these presentations could (and appeared to) carry in a room where half of the adjudicators did not read the written applications.
In addition, even if many applicants had been aware of the option to support their application in-person, the onerous time commitment of preparing and presenting this face-to-face appeal (often after hours) represents an additional resource investment on top of the time and energy already spent on the demanding written application. Considering that despite a $50,000 request ceiling, even successful applicants only received a few thousand, this additional time requirement makes engaging in the whole Grant-in-Aid process a dismal return on investment for organizations with shoestring budgets. These kind of unrealistic expectations pose additional hurdles for non-profit personnel, a sector disproportionately populated by women who are facing the dual forces of the gender wage gap and the below-market wages of non-profit work.
Here’s how I see it: Every day, foundations, businesses, and municipal governments across Canada successfully adjudicate their grant programs in a fair and respectful manner. Some of these programs have intakes of several thousand applicants each cycle. While there is no similar expectation of this kind of large-scale capacity within our local government, there is also no reason for the CVRD to be as inept as they are with our small-scale process or to be blindsided by this debacle year after year.
Relative to the complex matters and large budgets that our CVRD is charged with, the fair and accountable allocation of a $75,000 Grant-in-Aid program with only 22 applicants should not be rocket science. Yet, every year, this process devolves into a Monty Python-esque farce.
So, despite how you feel about the non-profit sector, this whole thing should make you very concerned about the way the CVRD manages your tax dollars, period.