Sustainability Centres Webinar: Finding Centre Funding

Sustainability Centres Webinar: Finding Centre Funding

Struggling to fund your research centre? This webinar brings together leaders to share top funding tips. 
NBS June 7, 2016
Struggling to fund your research centre? You’re not alone. On July 8, 2016, leaders from more than 30 business sustainability research centres met to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of securing centre funding.

Four panellists with broad experience in attracting centre funds kicked off the conversation:

Top Funding Tips

Go big with your request.

It can take as much energy to ask for $5K as it does to ask for $50K.

Start strong.

It’s easier to raise funds for a new activity than to maintain existing activities, so fundraise hard at the beginning.

Make the case.

Be clear on your value proposition to companies. Most companies are interested in reputational benefits, peer-to-peer learning, accessing students, and shaping research and teaching.

Have a clear model for action.

Your centre has a “theory of change,” a model for how you seek to achieve your goals. Take time to think through that theory of change. It should be the backbone of all you do.

Choose the right partners.

If you run a corporate council, consider diversifying across sectors to minimize competition, and targeting companies with deep sustainability expertise and enough resources to fund your work. Consider approaching donors that aren’t already tapped by your advancement team (e.g. people who aren’t alumni).

Manage your resources.

Some funding opportunities have intensive application processes and low success rates. Always consider the trade-offs between resources needed to apply, success rate, and alignment with your work.

Scope research collaboratively.

You may have to broaden your research questions to appeal to business. Work closely with your partners to scope topics of mutual interest

Review of Your Funding Options

Most centres have a mixed funding model, including public grants, private donors, and host institution support. Each source has its own pros and cons. Panelists described these funding options:

Private Funds

There are many ways to engage alumni and corporate donors as centre sponsors:

Public Grants

A growing number of sustainability-related grants are available. Some are international, while others are national or even more local. Databases such as ResearchProfessional or ResearchConnect can be used to search for grants that align with your activities.

Find additional sources by querying “research funding database" in Google or your preferred search engine. Broaden your search to include topics related to sustainability like (e.g. circular economy). You’ll find more opportunities this way.

University Support

The Golden Question: How to Work Effectively with Private Donors

In the webinar question-and-answer period, panelists and participants discussed best practices for working with private donors. They emphasized that collaborating with business on research projects can have real benefits, opening the door to novel research questions and interesting data.

However, it’s important to structure donor involvement in a way that protects academic freedom. Donor input can be valuable in some areas, but problematic in others. The webinar discussion produced these recommendations for appropriately involving donors.

1. Treat each case on its own. Each donor engagement will have different grey areas and should be considered individually.

2. Communicate early and often with donors. Be clear in discussing both parties’ expectations, and record these expectations in a contract.

3. Enable dialogue, but keep decision-making power. Allow donors to voice their opinions on teaching, research, hiring, or other issues, but don’t give them decision-making power.

4. Develop guidelines. Establish evaluation guidelines in advance, including questions like: 

Additional Materials

Members of the Sustainability Centres Community also have access to watch the video and download the slides from the webinar. Please use the password provided in an email or contact Terri Thibert to obtain it.
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