MSA grants for student groups run dry

Some groups are now seeking alternative funding.

by Kyle Stowe

When Students for Sustainability Treasurer Madeline Verbeten found out the Minnesota Student Association would not be able to provide her student group with the $600 grant it requested last month, she knew it would affect the group’s functionality for the rest of the school year.

“It’s really frustrating,” she said. “It makes it a whole lot harder to manage our organization the way we want to.”

For the second straight year, MSA ran out of funding for operational budget grants for student groups before the end of fall semester, and it’s on pace to run out of money for event grants early next semester — causing headaches for student government and some student groups.

After encountering similar problems last school year, MSA boosted its budget for event grants by $5,000. But that wasn’t enough, and several student groups may have to cut their budgets or look elsewhere for money they need to manage and operate their organizations.

“We have no choice but to cut down on operational budget costs and try to scrape together cash in another way,” College of Science and Engineering International Ambassadors Treasurer Brian Lam said.

Since the operational budget grant funding dried up, MSA has denied grants to 62 student groups.

Any student group that doesn’t receive student services fees funding and is registered with University of Minnesota Student Unions and Activities is eligible to receive grants from MSA.

Student groups can request up to $600 for an operational budget grant, which may be used for expenses like promotional materials, recruitment events, food and apparel. For event grants, groups can ask for up to $900. Event grants may be used for things that support events, such as advertisements, facilities rental and event supplies.

Because its operational budget grant request was denied, Lam said his student group will lack the supplies it needs to function normally.

“We might not be able to meet on the weekly basis and operate as we normally would,” he said. “It’s a big concern.”

Not receiving an operational budget grant is especially difficult because there’s no alternative source of funding like there is for an event grant, he said.

Last year, MSA started distributing grants on a first-come, first-served basis, former MSA Grants Committee Director Mac Cameron said.

He said the Grants Committee used to split its grant budget equally between fall and spring semester. But that changed because grant demand wasn’t as high in spring, which left MSA with excess money.

“We would get to the last month of the school year and have $15,000 that we didn’t yet allocate to student groups,” Cameron said. “It looked terrible.”

Verbeten said the new first-come, first-serve policy is particularly tough on newer, smaller student groups because it limits their ability to promote themselves and operate as a student group if they’re too late in applying.

Students for Sustainability is in its first year, she said, and group members might have to pay operational expenses out of their own pockets if they can’t make enough money from other fundraising efforts.

“It’s going to take a lot of time and effort to come up with $600 on our own,” she said. “Getting the grant would have been really nice.”

MSA Grants Committee Director Connie Dong said demand for MSA grants has risen significantly in the last year and a half because MSA has boosted promotion for the program.

“We wish we could give out more, but we only have so much money to work with,” she said.

Once MSA runs out of event grant funding, Dong said, she will tell student groups to look for funding from other University sources like Student Unions and Activities, which has $290,000 available to student groups looking for event grant funding.

MSA is the only entity on campus that offers operational grant funding to student groups, she said, which makes it difficult to find funding elsewhere.

Lam said he’d like to see MSA put aside some money for student groups that apply for grants in the spring, because not all groups are ready to apply in the fall.

“Not every student group needs money at the beginning of fall semester,” he said. “It’s disappointing they’re not taking that into consideration.”

Dong said MSA makes sure to alert student groups that grants are available at the beginning of the school year so they have time to get their application in before funding gets tight.