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Community Connectors: Advice from the field

   As state leaders put the final touches on the next round of Community Connector’s funding this month, there is plenty that eligible nonprofits can be doing now to prepare their application. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and some experienced partners shared some advice during a series of regional meetings for prospective applicants before the holidays:

Consider Eligibility and Capacity

First, organizations hoping to support one-to-one mentoring through this grant program should consider their eligibility and internal capacity. Only nonprofits that can provide documentation of their federal tax status may lead an application.

Community Connectors is a one-year grant of as much as $100,000. It requires matching funds or in-kind donations at a rate of $1 match for $3 grant funds. For a $100,000 award, applicants must document $33,333.33 in match. This could include staff administration, facilities, supplies or programming. Part or all of the matching funds may be provided by the program partners.

It’s worth pointing out that this is a reimbursement grant. Awardees will spend money on the program, submit documentation to the state, and then be reimbursed for allowed expenditures. It’s important for applicants, especially for new or very small nonprofits, to consider whether they have the resources on hand to fund some of the programming up front. ODE staff say they can provide reimbursements monthly and within days of invoice, but applicants should probably be prepared to carry the program for at least a month or two as they learn the state’s system and how to avoid reimbursement delays.

Develop Those Partnerships

Among the partners must be a qualifying school, faith-based organization and business. Partner schools may be community schools or STEM schools, but partnerships with schools in traditional school districts must be formalized at the district level. At one of the Community Connectors meetings, Columbus City Schools’ Office of Mentorship offered this advice: talk to your school and district officials (if relevant) as soon as possible, and keep them in the loop as you prepare your application.

It’s good advice for working with any school. District and school officials are not likely to provide their signatures (which are required) at the last minute if the school principal isn’t on board or if there are outstanding questions about the proposed program. This is especially true for programs that would rely on school support, such as meeting space or information about students. Keep in mind that educators spend most of their time addressing immediate student needs. Their schedules are unpredictable and often interrupted. Patient persistence is a valuable tool for working with them, not to mention students and volunteers. Likewise, other prospective partners are busy and need ample time to consider their commitments to the program.

Pick a Point Person

First-time applicants who have not previously done business with the Ohio Department of Education will have a learning curve. Organizations should choose someone to run point on setting up the appropriate accounts and learning the state’s application system. An intent to apply is mandatory this year, simply to encourage organizations to start the process early:

  • Nonprofits must register for an IRN number (it’s how ODE will identify them).
  • Individuals within the organizations must register for SAFE accounts (it’s how they will access the application, financial and reporting systems).
  • Someone needs to get familiar with the application system before it’s time to submit. ODE folks are the first to admit that the online system is less than intuitive – it’s government software, and it’s downright clunky – but it serves its purpose.

EnvisionEdPlus can help organizations prepare their proposals, develop partnerships and navigate the state systems, but we have limited slots remaining. For more information about our services, contact Tricia Moore at tricia@envisionedplus.com as soon as possible.

This post was updated January 9, 2017, to include the link to submit an intent to apply.