When the time came to put together their club budget for the 2010 – 2011 academic year, the officers of Alliance for Peaceful Action (APA) asked for the maximum funding a club was allowed to request, which amounted to a few thousand dollars.
“I think we are a pretty active club,” senior and APA officer Abe Diekhans-Mears said. “We do stuff. We’re really one of two, if not three organizations on campus that have a progressive ideology. Campus is pretty aware of us.”
They were surprised, then, when official budgets were released: their club had been allotted only a few hundred dollars each term. No explanation was provided for the reasoning behind the decision.
“They just sent me a letter saying, ‘This is your budget,’” senior and APA officer Rosie Worthen said. “They didn’t tell me why. There wasn’t a bunch of communication.”
It was only through casual conversation with friends that Worthen was able to discover why their club had received such a small amount of funding.
“I actually hear through the grapevine why they cut our money – a couple people on the committee told me why,” Worthen said.
According to Worthen’s source, Senate Finance Committee had reduced the requested amount of funding because they thought that APA was essentially the same as a second club on campus due to the two groups having similar leadership.
“They thought two clubs were one club,” Worthen said. “There were different people in each group.”
“We do very different things in each club,” Diekhans-Mears said.
Worthen, who is involved with the leadership of several different clubs, didn’t feel the problem was unique to APA.
“For other clubs I’m in, there were some serious miscommunications,” she said.
Feeding the club funds
At Knox, club funding is allotted through Student Senate, who distributes the money with the help of the Finance Committee. The committee is comprised of seven members, including the Senate treasurer, as well as an advisor from the Office of Student Life (previously Jenn Snider, the role is filled this year by Kathleen Drake). Finance Committee deals both with annual club budgets and with additional funds requests throughout the year.
“Ninety percent of what we do is additional funds requests,” said senior Max Galloway-Carson, who is currently serving his second year on Finance Committee.
Before clubs can start submitting additional funds requests, they need to go through the budgeting process, in which they plan their club’s anticipated events for the following year and then request the necessary funds.
“Every spring, clubs submit their desired budgets for the following school year,” said senior Greg Noth, currently in his fourth term on both Senate and Finance Committee.
Finance Committee looks at a number of factors when allotting funding for club budgets, including whether or not clubs have planned similar events that they could potentially host together. Certain popular events frequently hosted by clubs, such as an ice cream social, have a standard amount of money allocated every time, no matter how much is requested.
“Some repeated events that we have a better feel for…a lot of times you can trust the club. This is their event, they know what they need,” Noth said.
When presented with budgets, Finance Committee would go through them “line by line,” said Noth. Each club would be allocated a certain amount and then, at the end, the committee would assess how much they had gone over or under the available funds.
“It’s not really fair if we have a running total,” Galloway-Carson said. “We’d be more lenient on clubs that came early.”
In order to know whether or not a club’s event was standard, Finance Committee had to rely on personal knowledge of clubs’ levels of activity. It was not a system all were happy with.
“It was a very subjective thing,” Galloway-Carson said. “Political views […] were criteria for deciding certain clubs’ budgets.”
Current Senate treasurer junior Gordon Barratt disagreed.
“I don’t think there was any time when I felt like the committee was using personal bias,” he said. “There were times when I disagreed with the decisions…but there was never anything in the decision making process that I thought was inappropriate. You try to make it as objective as possible as you can from the facts you have.”
The facts available to Finance Committee include the resources of the Student Life Office, which tracks a number of statistics and has information about club’s past budget requests and how much of their allotted funds were actually spent. However, they rarely have accurate numbers about the size of a club or how many people attended their event.
“It’s hard to keep an updated roster of every club…it’s hard to say, ‘My club has this, this and this,’” said Drake.
Galloway-Carson felt a more effective way to distribute funds would be “to get it down to a system: money is given by the best estimate by the number of students serviced in the event.”
Barratt, however, felt this was not an achievable goal.
“There’s no one good way to say we know that exactly this number of people are going to come to an event,” he said. “If we ask a club how many people they think are going to come to an event – which we often do – they know the higher number they say the more money we’re likely to give them for it. We have to use a number of different tools. And it’s not all about the number of people who are affected.”
He pointed to the fact that Senate recently gave a large amount of money to Model United Nations for travel purposes. Despite affecting a relatively small number of people, they “are going to conferences, they’re representing the Knox Student body at Harvard, in Montreal, in St. Louis…they’re really going out and showing people what Knox is. It’s an event that’s going to be really good life experience for these people.”
Rather than attempting to make budget allocation and additional funds requests more formulaic, Barratt has decided to focus on making Finance Committee policies and procedures less complex and more readily available.
“My goal would be to open up a dialogue with clubs – make sure they understand finance procedures a bit better; know that they can come to me if they have any questions,” he said. “I would like to change the process a little bit and make it more student-friendly and understanding.”
Last year, due to confusion over the budgeting process, several student organizations ended up receiving no funding, another thing Barratt aims to change.
“We’re going…to try to reverse some of the decisions that were made last year with regards to punishing clubs; with messing up some of their paperwork and not getting a budget,” he said.
Several other clubs experienced problems along the lines of APA. Although Model UN did have an additional funds request approved earlier this year, their original budget was cut without explanation.
“I remember receiving a letter saying something along the lines of, ‘a lot of clubs received less than they asked for,” said junior Elise Hyser, the treasurer of Model UN. Beyond that, no reason was provided for why their budget request had not been completely filled.
However, Hyser feels the funding process is already going more smoothly through things such as a mandatory budget meeting, held earlier this term, that is now required of all clubs.
“I feel like the information on how to process an additional funds request is reasonably accessible to me,” she said. “I feel very comfortable … asking questions of these people.”
Finance Committee faces an additional challenge this year in spending all its allotted funds. Last year, over ten thousand dollars remained available to clubs – money that did not roll over and is hence lost to students.
Many people on Finance Committee appeared to be unaware that unspent dollars would not simply roll over into next year’s Senate fund.
“We thought it was going to be like the Green Free, that we could do better things this year,” Galloway-Carson said.
Although Barratt knew the funds wouldn’t roll over, he acknowledged that some others may have been unaware.
“Yeah, apparently some people didn’t know. I knew,” he said. “I didn’t realize that people didn’t know.”
Noth didn’t view the problem of leftover funds as entirely negative.
“If there’s nothing to spend it on, then trying just to find stuff is being wasteful,” he said. “It’s not necessarily a travesty if we don’t hit zero dollars by the end of the year because it means that we didn’t think that there was enough to spend it on.”
Diekhans-Mears, who also served as a senator, viewed the problem as stemming from another source.
“I can attest to the stinginess of Student Senate,” he said. “I remember being in Senate last year and we’d have the finance report and there’d be questions of why people weren’t getting all the money that they wanted.” He described student’s frustrations with being assured Finance Committee was being fiscally responsible and then seeing a large amount of leftover money at the end of the year.
Barratt intends to make an effort to spend all of Senate’s money by dividing the available funds by the number of Finance Committee meetings held throughout the year. Drake’s goal is similar. She hopes to divide the money into three parts, one for each term.
Barratt acknowledged that some funds have been misappropriated.
“There were times when we gave clubs money for an event we thought was going to be awesome and they didn’t advertise it nearly enough and not as many people [showed] up,” he said. “But you can’t know when that’s going to happen. You expect them follow through.”
Despite this, he hopes increased communication with clubs and an effort to make sure all the money is spent on clubs will improve the workings of Finance Committee. It was a view reflected in the viewpoints of club presidents.
“I’m optimistic this year because they’ve said they’re going to be more open,” said Worthen.
“It’s a new year,” Diekhans-Mears said.
Max Galloway-Carson writes for The Knox Student.