Winter 1992 // Volume 30 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA3

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On the Hunt for "Fiscal Fuel"

As Extension staff, we not only have to develop and deliver quality educational programs to meet the changing needs of the communities we serve, but now we're sent into the woods to hunt for the "fiscal fuel" we need to keep our fires burning.

Ruth E. Stiehl
Professor and Director
Training and Development and Graduate Studies Program
Oregon State University-Corvallis

Barbara A. Bessey
Work Force Training Specialist
Training and Business Development Center
Linn-Benton Community College- Albany

Vicki L. Schmall
Professor and Extension Gerontology Specialist
Extension Service
Oregon State University-Corvallis

...[Extensionists] must all be fiscal entrepre-neurs....The system is still unduly dependent on appropriations...for the fiscal fuel to drive its programs. The continuing budget cuts the system is now facing at all levels aren't aberrations-they're trends of the future. Each and every Extension staff member...must be trained to acquire and administer private and new public resources. Otherwise, issues programming will end up as so many good ideas on bookshelves....1

At first, this idea is a frightening and potentially debilitating thought. As Extension staff, we not only have to develop and deliver quality educational programs to meet the changing needs of the communities we serve, but now we're sent into the woods to hunt for the "fiscal fuel" we need to keep our fires burning. When we tell ourselves it's just an aberration, our leaders are quick to reaffirm the certainty of the trend in a system that depends greatly on public appropriations.

For those of us who have been on the hunt for years, the thought is no less frightening. We know the hunting grounds well, and we know the "sport" is highly competitive. We've met the competition. They're organizations that have traditionally depended on private dollars for their survival and they're experts in bringing home trophies again and again. For the new hunter, much must be learned about getting into the hunting grounds from those who've been there.

This article isn't a trail map to the hunting grounds. Neither is it a guide to writing grant proposals. Trail maps and proposals come later. We want to give the new hunter the combination of factors that will open the lock on the gate to the hunting grounds. The combination is based on our experiences as a hunting party and our success in attracting over $250,000 for educational programs from four funding agencies over a period of seven years.2

Get Permission to Hunt

Getting permission to hunt means getting permission to let go of other work activities. Just because our Extension leaders are encouraging a new enterpre-neurial spirit among the ranks, doesn't necessarily mean they're willing to have other things left undone.

Fundraising is tremendously time-consuming and must be reflected in your job description and plan of work. And once you've been funded, the load doesn't lessen. In addition to developing and implementing the program, the project director is responsible for writing reports, presenting at conferences, evaluating results, and disseminating materials, even after the funding has disappeared.

When you ask to be released from other responsibilities to take on the hunt for fiscal fuel, you must be prepared to explain the short- and long-term benefits of outside funding to your unit's mission. Don't assume the benefits are understood. Write them down and be prepared to use them when objections are raised to removing some plan of work item.

Take Responsibility for the Hunt

Taking responsibility for funding isn't easy when you've never had to do it! What does taking responsibility really mean? Jeffers, in Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,3 says taking responsibility means doing three things: (1) figuring out what you want, (2) learning what you need to do to make it happened, and (3) never blaming, not even yourself, if you don't receive funding. She says "pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness." Total reliance on vanishing Extension appropriations has the potential of bringing you to a state of helplessness. On the other hand, thousands of educational programs receive private and public grants each year. Why shouldn't yours?

Don't Hunt Alone

Hunting alone isn't a safety issue, it's a success issue. To compete successfully for educational program funds, your hunting party should include two indispensable members-a primary subject- matter expert and an instructional systems designer.4

The subject expert must be a recognized authority on the issue or content of the educational program. Not just any expert will do. It's best if he or she has strong regional and national connections to organizations and groups associated with the issue and can provide a vita showing long-term and high-level involvement as an expert in the field. Nothing is more important to attracting funds for an educational program than the reputation and experience of the subject-matter expert.

The instructional designer is your program architect. This person should be skilled in instructional analysis, creative instructional solutions, materials design, instructional evaluation, and project management.5 A good designer will help you write a proposal and design an educational program that not only looks professional, but gets results. A program that works is your best sales tool for future funding. Don't hunt without an outstanding instructional designer.

You may be the subject expert, or the instructional designer, but you probably aren't both. You may be neither. As the project director, your greatest responsibility is to put together a strong hunting party to face the competition. If you're not the quality expert or designer described, hunt for them before you hunt for funds.6

Establish a Support Camp

A support camp stays behind, willing and prepared to provide what you need to bring home the goods. This camp isn't established in a day, or even a week. It takes time to put together the diverse groups you'll need to rely on. The primary support groups you'll need include:

  • References. You'll need professionals and organizations who know your work, or the work of the subject-matter expert and instructional designer, and will be willing to write support letters or make contacts on behalf of your proposal. The individuals you select should have strong reputations and represent a variety of organizations and constituents.

  • Project Team. The instructional designer can help you put together a team of skilled technicians who can produce a quality product once it's funded. Consider using Extension staff as well as external subcontractors.

  • Reviewers. Any instructional design project should be evaluated for content accuracy and program design at specified points in its development. The reviewers should include subject- matter experts from the region where the program will be disseminated, and anticipated users of the program. The reviewers are asked to suggest modifications in content, treatment, and program design.7

Gather the Small Ones First

Successful programs that meet a community need through a small grant can sometimes be expanded into projects of regional, national, and even international significance through additional proposals. The key to ending big is to do quality work on the small projects. Our community educational program on aging started with a $13,000 grant and eventually attracted more than $250,000 from four different funding agencies because of the quality of the original model.8

Issue Must Have Political Priority

Projects that get funded are the ones matching political agendas. Foundations and agencies dedicate funds for specific causes. Your challenge is to discover how your program fits priorities. Don't expect to find funding for a program that focuses on an issue that's now fading. The trick is to target new issues of importance as they emerge, and establish a linkage between these issues and what you want to do in your program.

Hunt with a Sample

Here's where a first-rate instructional designer is indispensable. Funding agencies are impressed by the professionalism you bring to an instructional project, because, in all honesty, much of what they see is pretty bad. One sample product illustrating the quality of your work will do more to validate your team's skill than a 20-page vita. If you don't have a sample product, your designer should be able to provide one. Even though the content of the sample may come from another project, it will serve your purpose if it's good. And if the sample is really good, beg to show it.

Look in a Lot of Places

Once you've been funded by a given agency or foundation, it's tempting to go back again to the same source to fuel another project. You know their system and have established contacts. It seems easier. But, be aware of the changed priorities; even though an agency funded you before and liked what you did, a new project may not fit the next funding round. If it does fit what they're looking for, they may have considered the first grant as seed money and expect you to hunt elsewhere for continued funding. To continue being successful, establish and maintain contacts with many funding sources. A history of funding from a variety of sources is also a good measure of your hunting skill.

Don't Expect Results Tomorrow

Once you write a proposal and rewrite it several times to match the agenda of different funding agencies, months and sometimes years pass-not always, but sometimes. If you really believe in the value of what you're proposing, you'll also need the patience to keep your party together, continue perfecting your skills, and keep hunting.


1. Richard J. Sauer, "Extension Needs Fiscal Entrepreneurs," Journal of Extension, XXIX (Spring 1991), 3.

2. When Dependency Increases is a series of seven multimedia workshops for families on issues of aging, distributed nationally by the Oregon State University Extension Service, Milam Hall, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon. The authors received funding for the series from the Meyer Charitable Trust, Health Association of America, American Council of Life Insurance, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Extension Service.

3. Susan Jeffers, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1987), p. 52.

4. J. Terpstra, "Developing a Design Team Approach," Performance and Instruction, XXVIII (October 1989), 33-34.

5. Ruth E. Stiehl and others, "Keys to Success in the Non- Profit Arena, Performance Technology '91" (Washington, D.C.: National Society for Performance and Instruction, 1991).

6. To locate an instructional design specialist in your area, contact the Educational Technology or Training and Development program in the College of Education at your university. The National Society for Performance and Instruction publishes a directory to ISD consultants. Contact NSPI, 1300 L Street, N.W., Suite 1250, Washington, D.C. 20005.

7. Stiehl, "Keys to Success."

8. The total cost of When Dependency Increases exceeded $500,000, including contributed funds from the OSU Extension Service.