Did You Know? Funding plans for districts

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As part of a six-month series on district operations, the Did You Know? monthly feature in eResource will highlight chapters of the NACD District Outlook Task Force report: “Blueprint for Locally-Led Conservation – A Strategy for District Success and Sustainability” (available here on our website). This month’s chapter tackles funding.

Conservation districts are up against more competition for funding than ever before. Traditional funding sources have either disappeared, or now come with higher expectations and more requirements. Unfortunately, complacency on the part of district boards and/or staff has led to the weakening of some conservation districts around the country. These districts will be left behind – or worse yet, out of business – if they do not change their operations to meet the changing political and financial environment.

Operational funding needed to support sufficient levels of service is often inadequate and unreliable for most conservation districts. To cope, successful districts have prepared strategic plans, business plans, and adopted best-practice policies and procedures. They have also developed and implemented funding plans that not only speak to their vision and mission statements, but also focus on the current and emerging conservation needs of their specific community.

What should a funding plan include?

Recommendations for Districts:

  • District funding meets resource needs of community: (1) Obtains input from community leaders, landowners and conservation partners in defining their community, recognizing resource needs, identifying demographics and identifying funding sources in the plan. (2) Supports the Vision, Mission and locally-led needs of the conservation district. (3) Meets the resource needs of the community, identifies funding sources, stipulates how funds will be managed and utilized and provides for regular assessment and evaluation. (4) Addresses conservation needs and concerns of rural, suburban and urban landowners. (5) Recognizes that long-term traditional sources of funding may not always be available.
  • Funding plan provides policies and procedures to establish transparency and credibility: (1) Recognizes the role of the board and staff in managing public funds. (2) Identified in the district’s Business Plan and Annual Plan of Operation. (3) Includes a Financial Management Manual outlining policies and procedures to guide the board and staff. (4) Establishes a realistic budget. (5) Recognizes current skills of board and staff and provides a source of funding for training needs. (6) Includes a dollar value on donated labor, shared services, materials, equipment and services as in-kind Income. (7) Provides for a system of checks and balances through regular evaluation and reporting processes that provide for qualitative and quantitative measurement and assessment of programs and activities. (8) Identifies how funds will be managed and invested. (9) Provides for an annual audit performed by a Certified Public Accountant.
  • Funding plan includes capacity building for conservation district: (1) Provides for capacity building of district to meet current and emerging resource needs. (2) The board and staff has identified and evaluated staffing, office, equipment, training and program needs. (3) Funding addresses operational and programmatic needs of the district. (4) Identifies funding sources [i.e. county and state funding, public grants, corporate grants and donations, foundation grants, 319 funding, fees for urban soil erosion and sediment control services, watershed planning, mapping services, conservation education programs, demonstration projects, equipment rentals, technical or administrative services, interest income, rental income, fundraising activities, et al]. (5) Provides for sharing of staff services, office space, equipment, vehicles, grant funding, program components, et al with other conservation districts/conservation partners/communities and other organizations.
  • Funding plan includes communication and marketing component: (1) Provides for identification of funding sources and expenses in district’s Business Plan, Annual Plan of Operation, Annual Report and website. (2) Indicates how the conservation district managed its public funds to deliver services with integrity, credibility and transparency. (3) Includes a marketing component to indicate how funds were used to address resource needs and how the services provided by the conservation district benefits the entire community. (4) Publically recognizes sources of public and private funding.

Recommendations for State Associations:

  • Expand their representation as the unified voice for conservation districts within the state.
  • Pursue dedicated funding sources to promote and sustain conservation district operations and programs.
  • Provide and support funding of conservation districts.
  • Set standards and provide training to district boards and staff to ensure statewide transparency and credibility.
  • Encourage state conservation agencies to hold conservation districts accountable for their operations, financial management and use of resources.
Disclaimer: Did You Know? recommendations and observations may not apply to all states. NACD’s DO/MS Committee requests your understanding. We also invite you to find out what your state and local laws and policies say about any particular item.

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