Portrait of Jim Blake, Community Co-lead of CFICE's Student Pathways Working Group.What’s the difference for a community organization between receiving community project funding versus community-campus engagement project funding? What makes community-campus engagements challenging with respect to funding? What opportunities does community-campus engagement funding provide to community organizations?

In this podcast, we sit down with Jim Blake, the Community Co-lead of CFICE’s Student Pathways working group. Jim shares his experience with community-campus funding, including the challenges that come with funding laden with academic language, managing the expectations from a variety of different funding sources, and how sometimes funder’s expectations don’t line up with what’s feasible in a small community organization. Listen to our podcast or read the transcript below for more!

Community-Campus Engagement Funding: A Community Perspective Podcast Transcript

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Chelsea: Hello, and thank you for joining us. This is a Community First: Impacts of Community Engagement (CFICE) podcast. My name is Chelsea and I am really excited to introduce this series on Campus-Community Engagement Funding, where we sit down with people from community organizations, students, and administrators, to get their perspectives on the ins and outs of CCE funding.

We’re here with Jim Blake to get his perspective on Campus-Community Engagement funding. Jim is the Community Co-lead of the Student Pathways working group, and has been with the CFICE project since the end of 2017. Thanks for joining us, Jim.

The first question I’m hoping to ask you is what do you wish you’d known about funding before participating on a CCE grant project like CFICE.

Jim: I guess I’ve spent the last 25 years finding funding in the community so that we can do community-based research in relationship with the university. So our organization is an independent organization which manages the relationship between the community that has questions it wants answered, and the university and the professors and students who want to do research in the community. So the structure of the funding that came through CFICE is all organized, as many things are through SSHRC, in a very academic way, with academic language. You know, we’re going to take this person’s time, and it’s going to get back-filled by this, or whatever. That kind of stuff just does not happen in a small not-for-profit organization. Basically, you’ve got people, and if you’re going to use more of their resources, then you need funding to be able to make that happen. So, after lots of conversations, and a very understanding co-lead at the university, and working with the folks in CFICE, we figured it out and made it happen. I must say it was quite…convoluted and confusing. But that’s just from a community perspective. And the way that universities do their funding is very different from the way that community organizations do their funding. We get some funding from Trent University to be able to do our work, and the rest of the money comes from the community. And, with the university basically we have a memorandum of understanding, they’ll provide a certain amount of money, and we in turn will do x y and z, engage so many students, have so many community projects, those kinds of things. Once we get that MOU done, it’s a very simple process, to be able to do that.

Chelsea: In your experience, what do you find is similar and what do you find is different between community project funding on its own and then the campus-community partnership funding for community partners. Like you said, there was a lot of academic language and those sorts of things, is that a main difference?

Jim: I look at all funding in the same way. Some funding comes with expectations, and other funding is just…somebody makes a donation, so they don’t have the same expectations and you aren’t writing reports and delivering outcomes and those kinds of things. There’s a whole spectrum of things that need to be done and need to be delivered. I think as long as the funder has an understanding of the capacity of the organization that it’s funding, and it’s not too convoluted, then I don’t really see that much difference.

One of the wonderful things about the funding through this program is that it has allowed us to have master’s students embedded in the community, so embedded RAships in the community for a number of years. That has made a world of difference in the kind of research we are able to do in our community.

Chelsea: What’s a funding challenge that you’ve experienced in a CCE partnership, and how did you overcome it?

Jim: The funding challenge was that funding would come to our organization, the idea being that they would buy hours of our staff, and then those hours would be back-fllled by someone else. But when you have a small community, you only have two staff, you can’t bring in somebody to back-fill four hours. It just doesn’t work. It probably works in a university or academia, where those hours are allocated to someone else. You know professors work that way, and so their teaching load is lowered and their research load is increased and somebody else takes a…it just does not work in a small organization. There is very little opportunity for back-filling. My thinking is the whole idea of community engagement, is that if you really want to engage not-for-profit organizations, you’ve got to look at how they actually operate: How they fund their programs; what is it you want to accomplish; and what’s the best way to do that. And we’ve been able to figure that out after having conversations. It’s actually all great. One of the wonderful things about the funding through this program is that it has allowed us to have master’s students embedded in the community, so embedded RAships in the community for a number of years. That has made a world of difference in the kind of research we are able to do in our community. So having that kind of funding, and then through that, we’ve been able to get matching funding from community organizations to be able to do that. So that flexibility to make that happen and get access to that incredible resource on an ongoing basis is extraordinary.

…in terms of [having] the funding be as effective as possible, if the idea is to have organizations community-engaged and [doing] community-engaged research, you’re going to make the funding model as simple as possible so the organization can spend its time doing its work, instead of reporting on the money.

Chelsea: Is there anything else you’d like to add about funding from a community organization’s perspective, in your experience?

Jim: Our organization, our role is to be that broker in the community. It’s not an easily fund-able program. Research organizations aren’t necessarily, it’s not that easy to go to the community and say, ‘will you donate money to a research organization?’ So, it’s a constant challenge finding all the little pieces of funding to be able to put all that together in one package and make that work. So sometimes we’re maybe dealing with 10 different funding streams and having to report out on all of those things. So my thoughts in terms of to have the funding be as effective as possible, if the idea is to have organizations community-engaged and community-engaged research, you’re going to make the funding model as simple as possible so the organization can spend its time doing its work, instead of reporting on the money.

Chelsea: Thanks for sharing your perspective, Jim. Definitely a lot to think about. This has been a Community First: Impacts of Community Engagement Podcast, where we talk about Campus-Community Engagement funding. We have two more instalments in this series coming up, where we hear from students who have worked with the CFICE project for a long time, and one of the administrators of the CFICE project, who’s had a big role in the funding of this multi-year project.

Talk to you then.

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