Image courtesy of Cavan via Adobe Stock
In communities throughout the United States, ideas that can solve issues or enhance the lives of residents don’t always see the light of day. When this is the case, there is usually one thing that stands in the way: a lack of funding.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all or guaranteed recipe for success to secure funding, but there are helpful tips and tricks local community leaders can follow. To give a project the best potential to come to fruition and drive positive changes and outcomes in their communities – there are ways for civic leaders to manage the challenge of funding.
“There are more elements outside of your control than in your control,” said former Florida House District 3 Representative Jayer Williamson. “That’s a tough thing. There are so many different requests for public dollars being sent in across the state, so it’s not like we can fund everything everyone’s asked for because it’s very competitive at the state level.”
Williamson spent six years in the Sunshine State’s legislature and has seen both sides of the coin. As a chairman of two different budget subcommittees, he was a part of the process of deciding who received funding. As a Santa Rosa County commissioner for two years, he was charged with requesting funds for his constituents. With 120 representatives throughout Florida receiving requests from 67 counties, every dollar can spark a battle. Even if all the factors are aligned to get funding, approvals can change in an instant.
Here are five tips from Williamson for local government officials.
“Life is about relationships, whether it’s politics or business,” Williamson said. “People like doing business with people they know or have some type of relationship with on a professional or personal level.”
Williamson said it’s easier for local officials to ask state legislators and representatives for funding if they have a prior relationship with that official. Your first experience with this decision-maker should not consist of showing up to their office asking for millions of dollars.
He suggests not only getting to know state representatives as people but also following along with what they’re doing in the legislature, offering to help when and where one can.
You can also show an interest in charities they support, ask to converse with them on successful projects they got to the finish line, or have a mutual friend make an introduction. By making yourself a known entity, you avoid starting off as someone with a handout.
“That way when you’re sitting in front of them for the first time, you’re not asking for $1 million or $5 million,” he said.
Would you come into a job interview without having looked up the company or role you’re applying for? Would you take a test without studying the subject? The same research should be completed when asking for state funding for a local project. With multiple municipalities requesting state assistance from a finite amount of funding, it’s crucial to confirm the exact dollars you need and lay out all the details.
“You don’t want to be shy with it, but you also don’t want to over ask,” Williamson said. “If $500,000 can be helpful for a project you’re doing locally even though the project might cost $1.5 million or $2 million, don’t expect the legislature to fund every portion of it.”
After all, some state assistance is better than none because you punched above your weight with your request, and it got denied. With budget managers making difficult decisions, you must also confirm that the type of state funding you are asking for can be used for the project you’re working on. If you are asking for an investment in infrastructure, you don’t want to push them to give you an easy “no” by trying to tap into education funding.
State-level representatives need to know the majority of residents are behind an endeavor. If they conduct a Google search, will they see positive articles? Are there ways you can address any negative perceptions of the project before they make a final decision? By documenting local support, the budget overseers know that funding is more likely to be met with positive results.
While the state may be capable of funding a project fully, the chances of receiving funds are more likely when asking a legislature to support the final 25 percent needed to get a project over the finish line. “One thing I didn’t like was when people would ask us to fund a study or a design of a project,” Williamson said. “I think the local government should make that investment so when the state comes through, the project is shovel-ready or very close. The local community has made that commitment and will not delay the project. It’s ready to go.”
A tragic school shooting. A devastating natural disaster. A global pandemic. Williamson saw and dealt with all those situations during his tenure in the state legislature.
With so many issues out of one’s control, priorities and budgets can shift at the drop of a hat. Williamson said it’s important to remain empathetic and flexible when seeking state funding for a project, knowing a new sports and recreation facility, library, or cultural center will take a backseat to beefing up security at schools after a tragedy or rebuilding a community after a natural disaster.
“You have to take everything into consideration and, unfortunately, situations in a state can change in a split second,” he said. “You think you have something that’s dialed up and you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do to get it funded – then all of a sudden there’s a hurricane or tragedy or something that takes precedence.”
If at first, you don’t succeed, try and try again. The old proverb is true with everything from learning to ride a bicycle to requesting funding for a local community project. Being consistent and persistent can make funding come to life.
With a confluence of ever-changing factors (including many not under your purview) that can affect the chances of a project being funded, patience is key. By leveraging relationships and remaining determined to see the project become reality – whether this week or next year – you prove your dedication.
While communities across a state can vary dramatically, understanding “the rules of the game,” according to Williamson can go a long way to ensuring success with the diversity of requests received at the state level. Even if everything appears to be set up for success, it’s crucial to understand that projects may need to be postponed. Obstacles may come along, but they do not mean that funding from the state is a dead end. With these tips and guidelines, there are certainly ways to put your best foot forward on behalf of your project.