The trouble with funding

Ok, so this is not going to be a terribly academic post, and will be more of a kind of disillusioned rant than anything else, but as someone who has made a living writing/editing/developing grants for over five years, I’ve got to say it – the granting system is broken. Not just a little broken; horribly so. Horribly and terribly and utterly broken. 

While working the the academic research world, one of the big problems that research groups would come across is that while there is funding available for actually performing the research, and paying your trainees, and your salary, and sometimes infrastructure, there is no money available for overhead. None. A research lab is essentially a small business, and while the Principal Investigator of said lab may be brilliant at the topic of research, here’s what they are often NOT brilliant at… human resources management, finance administration, ordering office supplies. And when it really comes down to it, is it really an effective use of our tax dollars to have this person who is meant to be doing research take care of all of these administrative tasks? Let me answer that question for you. NO. NO IT IS MOST CERTAINLY NOT. But is it possible for them to get funding to have someone else do those tasks?? Well, dear reader, it appears that that is not possible either. Nor is it possible for them to get funding for things like basic office supplies that are used for anything other than actually performing research. Here’s an example – you are a researcher and you need to file some papers with your university’s HR department to hire a new staff member. Technically, the paper that you used to print off these forms cannot be paid for with any of your research grants. But surely the university must pay these costs, no? Well… no. TECHNICALLY they are supposed to take care of them… but unless you want to sneak over to the HR office itself and steal reams of paper every time you want to print something, this is just not going to happen. 


Recently, I shifted my job environment a bit, and am now working in the non-profit sector for the first time. It’s not that I thought that granting would be without its problems in this sector… or that magically, it would be easy to actually find funding for all of the things that you need to actually run your organization. But the problem with non-profit grants does not appear to be that there is one specific thing that I cannot find funding for… it’s that there is ONLY ONE THING that granting agencies want to fund at all. Pardon? You might be thinking… Could you repeat that please.

That’s right, folks. When it comes to grants for non-profits, it would appear 95% of funders ONLY WANT TO FUND NEW PROJECTS. Brand new ones. And only for the first one or two years. So while there is money to start new initiatives, there is very rarely money to keep these initiatives going. So basically, if you run your non-profit solely with the eye to getting grant funds, you would create a new program every year or so, and then once it was up and running, you would cut the program entirely and leave all of the folks who had come to rely on it with nothing until you started up a new, possibly similar program for the next funding cycle. BUT without an innovative, new, EXCITING angle on this program, you might not get funded at all. What the heck gives?

I get that it’s nice to have new shiny things to show off to your friends, but isn’t there also some amount of pride that can be attached to saying that you helped some really amazing program that helped oodles of people to stay running for 5, 10, or even 20 long years?? What even lasts for 20 years anymore?? Where’s the magic in longevity??

As this post is already getting a little on the long side, and doesn’t even include any photos (?!?!), I’m going to leave my musings on possible solutions for a future post… for now I just really needed to get some of this ranting feeling off my chest. Also, there are endlessly more things that I could rant about related to the ridiculousness of funding, but I will leave that for a future rant as well. END RANT.

On that note, does anyone reading this work with grants? Have you noticed similar patterns in your field? Thoughts on ways to fix the broken funding system.

Thanks for reading!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s