CBOs Call For More Funding Opportunities
By Dianne Anderson
ARPA, the American Rescue Plan Act, the funding that brought down hundreds of billions of dollars for nationwide projects and programs, is a gift that keeps on giving.
Now, it is up to community based organizations to learn how to participate and locate various streams of funding, while there is still a way to get in the pipeline.
To help the state bounce back from COVID-19 economic woes, the Community Economic Resilience Fund dollars are flowing down into 13 regions, set to expand the workforce, diversify local impacted economies with sustainable industries, and create high quality jobs for Californians.
Alex Avila was involved with CERF development from its infancy with focus groups in the past two years. The collaborative processes are still in development for how dollars will be disseminated, but the start of Phase 2 is expected to pick up speed.
As CERF projects continue, he said there is much more money ahead.
So far, up to 400 Community Based Organizations and participants attended their regular Zoom monthly sessions where they explain how the process of collaboration works, and how they can access funding.
“There’s always room for folks to participate, the challenge for CBOs coming in now is that they have to play catch up for what the process looks like, the learning curve, but they should be able to participate with projects,” said Avila, co-founder of the Black Brown Economic Empowerment Partnership and of the Inland Empire Multicultural Collective and a participant in IEGO.
Two years ago, the state started its $600 million CERF fund, administered by a team comprised of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz).
Avila said part of the goal is to construct a model to support the next phase, a $25 million project to show that all participants, including CBOs, can work together to hopefully receive the funding expected to come down next spring.
Grassroots organizations are not traditionally in the space of economic development or in learning how to build an inclusive economy, but he said new CBOs are welcome and are coming in the process all the time.
“The first batch that people are talking about now, the $5 million convening grant, that money is pretty much gone, but we will apply for the $25 million coming down the pipeline in the works. The state is taking submissions for that in September or October,” said Avila.
The collaboration helps CBOs get involved with shovel-ready projects, but he said most CBOs already have the resources needed to support the next phase of those projects.
The Inland Empire Community Foundation is the acting Fiscal Agent, and the Inland Empire Labor Institute, and the Inland Economic Growth & Opportunity (IEGO) are Regional Co-conveners.
Avila is also one of the governing officers, involved with how to integrate community members to participate in the CERF process. Initially, he said state language around CERF was limited, not designed to get grassroots in the mix, but more toward institutions.
“My advocacy on the funding side is that this money is coming down the pipelines, and that it’s accessible to artists, Native Americans, and community members that can be part of the process,” he said.
Today, he is satisfied the language embedded for CERF includes CBOs, and that even shovel-ready projects must include the community and the arts, but getting at the money is still a big frustration in the region.
He feels that Black and Brown organizations need to focus on economic justice, and develop a business lens for their programs. It doesn’t help that San Bernardino and Riverside counties usually compete for grant dollars, but he wants more CBOs to the table while funds are available, and that it’s equitable, diverse and business minded.
Getting the word out in a centralized way, and ready access to information is another concern.
“We don’t have a one-stop shop for funding opportunities. We have a lot of fragmented compartments that haven’t been centralized yet,” he said.
For that reason, Academy GO, a resource for Inland Empire nonprofits, is also reaching out to help CBOs learn about funding, how to access grants and learn grantwriting.
John Epps said the program gives participants access to funders and brings decision makers from governmental positions to talk to participants.
“It’s improving access to those sources because if you don’t know the money is there, you are not applying for it,” said Epps, a long time board member.
Good nonprofits have big hearts, but business training is important and there is too little investment in community programs. Funding is only partial or on a reimbursement basis.
Funders are rethinking funding models because nonprofits need startup funds, they need to hire people, equip them and provide training. Yet, for lack of capital, they don’t have time for sales skills or training. It happens more in lower income communities of color, there’s not enough time to volunteer or set up programming.
“Your program is limited by what funding you can find,” he said. “How many of us have a background in project management or planning?”
Epps, who has been on board with Academy GO for many years, is a former instructor at UCR Extension for 19 years, including eight years as an instructor of their nonprofit management certificate program.
In his nonprofit that serves youth, community, and mental health services, he also collaborates with those who invest in community leadership, and teaches nonprofits how to operate when money is tight to keep their programs viable.
In the Black community, those with the resources often help those who have not, but he said it stops the flow of accumulating the reserves that can assist more out into the community.
“I don’t want it to make it sound like victims because a lot of folks out there who are taking very little and doing a great deal. I just think if they had more they could do more,” he said.
Growing programs require more money to facilitate outreach into lower income communities. He feels that funders need to know the power of cultural connections.
“As an African American community, we don’t get together without eating. It shows a lack of cultural awareness and sensitivity,” he said.
Academy GO meetings are free. For those that want to join, there is a nominal fee. He feels it’s important to increase collaborations from the grassroots level up.
“I’ve worked with these organizations, part of it is the way things are set up. They don’t always hear about these kinds of opportunities or have the bandwidth to take advantage,” he said. “For us, it helps to equip them to be looking and to be aware.”
To see how counties and cities are spending their ARPA dollars, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-american-rescue-plan-two-years-later-analyzing-local-governments-efforts-at-equitable-transformative-change/
For CBOs, to get involved with CERF locally, see https://iegocollab.com/cerf/
To learn more about how grants and funding, see Academy GOat https://academygo.com/