How do societies get by? Well – they apply for funding, and the requests for Round Two of the budget applications totalled £29,907. However, the total amount granted was only £9,470. Why? Interestingly, only seven of the applications received all of the funds they requested. There seems to be a great deal of confusion over what the Union can actually fund, and how to apply for it. For example, the Union can only fund one third of the costs anticipated for an activity.
Twenty-five applications received part of their request (as the activity was either not all eligible for funding or was requested at more than one third of costs). Five requests were deemed not eligible for funding as the funds applied for were in reference to an activity that is not able to be funded by the Guild of Societies, and three requests were not for funding as the income exceeded predicted expenditure.
I wonder if the application procedure isn’t properly understood. The Asian Society is one of the only societies that received the full allocation of £192.00 that they requested, and the Jazz Society also managed to receive £320.00. Meanwhile, the Pole Dancing Society received the most amount of money at £1,488 for the cost of two poles and instructor training. SAWSA, SKIP, Slash Hip-Hop and Y Gym Gym also received their full request.
The next two highest-receiving societies are the Debating Society at £1,307 (requested £4,662) for one-third of the costs of all their IV competitions and the third-highest was the Malaysian Society which received £1,200 (requested £3,580). In total the three highest-receiving societies received £3,995 of the £9,470 granted – over a third.
All societies, I think, should be encouraged to submit requests. The Sports and Exercise Medicine Society applied for £496.00 but only received £30.00 to pay for a speaker. The Brass Band Society requested £850.00 but received £175.00 towards their music purchases and the recent trip to Lancaster for a competition. Holly Clacey, the Brass Band President, commented that “we think that the main reason that we received far less money than we applied for is because we managed to raise a great deal more money than we had predicted during our first term, so had less of a shortfall for our predicted costs going into the second term. Our money was raised as the result of a lot of hard work from our committee and from our members, enabling us to be less reliant on the Union’s budget. However, I’m not sure that I agree that this should mean we get less money from the Union; it is perhaps not a good incentive for societies to work harder to raise their own funds if doing so only results in drastically less money from the Union. It seems as though instead of being rewarded for our innovation and offering us more money to continue and expand this, the Union is happier for us to become more self-funded, which is surprising given how few societies applied for money in this budget. As I say, this is not a problem for our society as we have raised enough funds for this reduced support not to affect us negatively or to restrict our activity. The £175.00 that we did receive is in fact more than we were expecting, and we are aware that should we decide to explore any additional bigger scale projects we can apply for funding specifically for that, but I would be interested to know how much of the Union’s money has been left unspent that we could have put to good use.”
One society which didn’t apply at all this term is the Film Society. Head of Production, Amy Harding, commented that “for the London Film Festival, which we really needed the most help for, they only gave us a third towards our travel costs – which was the cheapest part of the trip. It was less than 10% of what it cost overall and so we were still left with a huge strain on our finances. In our experience all of our most expensive goals for the society fall outside of the funding criteria.” Perhaps the way the funding is structured is prejudicial? Michael Hearty, the President of the City of Cardiff Concert Band Society, commented that “it seems to me to be a rather odd method of funding. We received a one-off profit last term and as such were awarded nothing despite the fact that the profit goes nowhere near far enough in paying for things we have no choice but to pay for, such as rehearsal space. We expected more of course. It seems that we are told that we ought to make a profit in order to be dealt favourably with as a society, and then when we do we are penalised for it. The application process itself is not very clear; a rather reductionist spreadsheet that does not leave much room for explanation.” Meanwhile, OPSOC decided not to apply for funds because last time, as OPSOC Treasurer Andrew Moss explains, “we were told we had too much money in our account so would receive nothing. At this stage of the year we have more money than we did before in preparation for our annual ball so figured if we applied we would have our request denied again.”
Megan David, the Co-President of the People and Planet Society, also expressed dissatisfaction: “the budget application doesn’t seem very fair […] especially when the AU get so much money! It also seems a bit confusing because each society has two bank accounts which I didn’t realise until last week and we are overdrawn in our own account (not the budget one) because of petrol price when we hired the minibus for the training event we all went to.”
What is interesting to me is that only 40 societies applied for any funding at all (out of the 142 societies). Is it because they just assume it’s impossible to receive? After all, the recent “Guild of Societies – Grab Some Guild Fee – Dragons’ Den Style” on February 6 surely shows how societies really do want the cash. The £4,000 available at the Dragon’s Den was made up of the one-off Guild Fee charged to society members when they signed up at the beginning of the year, and was split between societies with each candidate able to win up to £500. Yet only seven societies (out of 142) bothered to enter. Societies Officer, Harry Newman, commented that the event was a good thing and meant that he didn’t have to “just look at a spreadsheet” in Issue 969 of gair rhydd (p. 6), so would this be a better way of dishing out the funding? However, is it a fair way to spend the Guild Fee that all society members have to pay? Thomas Tyrrell (Secretary, Real Ale and Cider Society) commented that “I think it is unfair that our members pay society guild fees like anyone else, but because we are a free society that is judged to be unhealthy, we are not entitled to even minimal funding, even towards non-alcoholic items like festival hire, or home brew equipment.”
Harry Newman, Societies Officer, comments that “as you can see from the figures, in this round of funding alone we have allocated nearly £9,500 to societies. I am very proud that we can finance student-led events and activities and show such support to societies. The variety of what our groups get up to is fascinating and hopefully with our backing they will be able to become ever more ambitious. While it is regrettable that some people feel that the system punishes financial success, we cannot fund profit making activity. The Union’s money would just sit in the society bank account long after the event ready to be spent on whatever. We need to keep an element of control over what the Union’s money is spent on and ensure that societies who need financial support, get it. The process of allocating funding actually has very little human judgement as to whether the activity is ‘worthy’ of funding. It is very much a straightforward system. Firstly, we check if the activity is in line with the society’s aims and objectives and ensure it does not fall into any category which we cannot pay for. Secondly, we look to create a situation whereby the society pays a third, the member taking part pays a third and the Union pays a third. We can be a little more generous with equipment. Thirdly, we divide the money allocated; by the number of members benefitting. We like to see activity which benefits the majority of the membership and a reasonable cost per head. Unfortunately we cannot fund: food, drink, alcohol, social clothing, international travel, socials, and for legal reasons, charitable fundraising.”
Overall, it seems to me that many society members just don’t know how to fill in the forms. Ollie Wannell, (CUDS Treasurer), sums up the situation with his story: “I went to see Harry personally to go through each of the events we were asking the union to fund and explain why we think it was important that the union does fund these events. He was most helpful and we got a much better budget allocation this semester. I definitely think that after talking to Harry, I understand the process a lot more and got a lot out of it. Perhaps, therefore, it would be wise give this personal communication to all society treasurers at the beginning of their time rather than just those who ask for a one on one meeting.”
Nevertheless, the work that societies do at Cardiff University is amazing – long may it thrive.
Do you have a comment on this article? If so, please email firstname.lastname@example.org