I recent spoke to Renee Reiling, Regional Grants Officer at Rotary HQ in Evanston. I was curious about the RI requirements for District grants. For those of you who don’t know, when Rotarians give to the Annual Program Fund (APF) of the Rotary Foundation, after three years one-half of the funds return to their district in the form of District Designated Funds or DDF. This ongoing flow of money back to Rotary districts is known as the SHARE program. Districts can then elect up to 50% of the DDF to be used for district grants, and the other half is used for global grants. (Yes….this is a description of that unintelligible flow chart about the SHARE program that you’ve seen in training a million times and still don’t understand.)
The District grant program is huge. Last year 503 districts elected for district grants in a total amount of $28.5 million. The average block grant (districts receive the funds in one check and then administer the money at the local level) was $56,667. Each district gives TRF a summary of the projects they want to fund when they apply for their block grant.
Nowadays one of the problems that Rotary has is that while Foundation giving to the Annual Program Fund seems to be holding up, the demand to use our funds for humanitarian projects seems to be falling. This is, to my mind, a terrible state of affairs. It makes you wonder why Rotarians are contributing to APF in the first place. Perhaps Rotarians give to the APF because; 1) They do as they are told, 2) They don’t know they are giving because the contribution is buried in their dues invoice, 3) They love Rotary’s humanitarian projects but don’t understand that the majority of their donation is for projects that originate in their own district, 4) They give to APF because they want to apply for a grant, and or 5) A combination of (3) and (4) above.
Since district grants are NOT administered by Rotary International, but instead are administered by each Rotary district according to rules set by each district foundation team, it leads to a blizzard of different approaches to what clubs must do to apply for and receive a district grant. Today lets at least clear up what the Rotary Foundation says are the requirements for district grants. Here’s a slide on the subject from a PowerPoint that Renee just emailed to me. (It’s a pretty good slide deck so if you don’t recognize this slide get in touch with your Regional Foundation rep.)
The slide speaks for itself (which unfortunately for all concerned never stopped me before.) Note that District’s DO NOT have to require that district grants fall into one of the six areas of focus required for global grants. They DO NOT have to require that clubs in the District partner with each other in order to be eligible. They DO NOT have to require that district grants be sustainable, or measurable. This is all massively different from TRF’s approach to global grants. And finally, districts can conjure up whatever kind of scholarships they want for whatever grade levels they choose.
When Rotary districts add these restrictions regarding partnerships, area of focus, sustainability, and measurability to their grant eligibility requirements, I suspect that they are trying to be good stewards of their SHARE funds, and as a Major Donor to TRF I appreciate the thought. After all, one of the best things about being a donor to TRF is the high quality rating the Foundation gets from Charity Navigator. No one wants to fund thoughtless and ineffective projects. In addition to these self-imposed criteria, districts also impose cash matching criteria and TRF giving criteria to the list of hurdles clubs must meet to be eligible for a grant.
But district leaders should know that in making it more difficult to apply for and receive a district grant, they are reducing the incentives for Rotary clubs to give to the Annual Program Fund. They are adding to the problem of Rotary clubs not applying for district grants. They are adding to the frustration of Rotary clubs that want to fund a local humanitarian project but can’t get their grant approved by the district grant committee, and they are adding to the complexity of local district grant committees who have to decide if a backpack project is, in fact, sustainable, measurable, etc, etc.
This frustration can be compounded because many clubs (often for good reasons) have had difficulties being approved for global grants over the years. I’ve had many discussions with Rotary club leaders who can cite grievances with the district grant committee that go back to when our district was a pilot for the Future Visions program. Needless to say, this has a direct impact on the demand to use SHARE funds for district grants as well as global grants. And it has a negative impact, whether it is deserved or not, on the enthusiasm for Rotarians in those clubs to give to the Annual Program Fund.
This is pure economics folks. Rotary districts need to balance simplicity, fairness, good stewardship of district grant funds, and excellent education about the the good works of the Rotary Foundation, with crystal clear information about how the SHARE program works in each district. District leaders need to structure their district grant criteria so that clubs have a solid economic incentive, in addition to a philanthropic incentive, to give to TRF. If the choice is to make it harder, or easier, to be eligible for a district grant, I would suggest we come down on the side of making it easier. If we do, don’t be surprised to see a measurable and significant increase in giving to TRF’s Annual Program Fund.
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