Environmental EducationOne of the key ingredients of the formula for building successful collaborations is funding. Funding can be a powerful force to drive the operation of any project.  It can work in a number of different ways.   I have seen collaborations attract funding and I have seen funding stimulate collaborations.  Having funding seems to help motivate people to collaborate and ease many of the challenges that keep projects from getting started .

The South Carolina Outdoor Education Program, the EE Capacity Project, and the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance were different examples of projects that we have worked on where funding fueled successful collaborations that increased the impact of the funds to benefit the programs and the people they served more effectively .

It may be interesting to a lot of people to understand that most available funding does not get used because there are not enough qualified applicants.  In fact, one of the most difficult challenges for funders and impact investors is finding organizations to give money to that have the capacity to use it wisely.

Collaborations can make you more attractive to those supplying the funds by showing you have access to the resources of multiple organizations.  It also shows that there will be people there to pick things up if one organization or person drops the ball. Collaborations also allow funds to be used more effectively and efficiently by distributing the workload among others with various expertise who have a wide range of established relationships and experiences.

It was funding that motivated the environmental education affiliates to form the South Carolina Environmental Education Alliance.  The states of the southeast agreed to work together in order to apply for a large, competitive grant.  By collaborating, we became much more attractive because we were able to share resources and expand the impact of the money to projects across the entire region in the form of mini-grants. This could not have been done as effectively by any one organization in a fixed, geographic area. We all also had established relations in our respective regions and knew first hand about the projects and people.  We were able to reach out to people in our respective states to submit proposals for their projects.  Committees were formed to review those projects and select the ones that were most qualified by using a rubric that fit the priorities of the grant.   The individual states were then able to distribute the funds and stay in contact with the people implementing the projects in order to do all the reporting necessary. In South Carolina, we were to secure funds for a bike share program in Greenville, an educational community garden in Columbia, and field trips to wildlife refuges on the coast.  Funds were distributed to other projects like these across the region in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.  We could never have done this if we applied individually and the projects probably would never have had access to funds if it were not for the collaborations.

The South Carolina Outdoor Education Program was formed when the Butler Conservation Fund agreed to fund middle and high school students to participate in a kayaking program on the Black River in Andrews, SC.  We immediately formed a collaboration with Coastal Expeditions, the Coastal Conservation League, and Grow Purpose Inc.   I had the relationships with the schools from my earlier work in EE.  Coastal Expeditions had the kayaks, equipment, and guides with the experience of taking thousands of clients on the water daily.  The Coastal Conservation League had the respected 501c3 that was well run with experienced staff.  By working together, we were able to take thousands of diverse students on an educational, outdoor experience in the pristine South Carolina wilderness.  Each of us concentrated on our area of expertise and were able to make things happen in a short time.

The EE Capacity Project was another successful collaboration.  This was a federally funded project to expand the field of environmental education and increase diversity.  By working together with groups like the South Carolina Heritage Corridor and the Palmetto Project, we were able to leverage resources and approach EE from an economic and health perspective.  This allowed us to form a consortium of over 35 different organizations and reach a diverse audience that stretched across the state.  We could not have done this without everyone working together.


Funding may have been a large part of the formula that helped make these projects successful, but it certainly was not the only part!  I will go into to some of the other  key ingredients of the formula that helped bring it all together in following posts.


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