Boris Tsang/Sun Photography Editor

Assembly members vote at a student assembly meeting on January 23rd, 2020.

November 19, 2020

Clubs Face Funding Challenges After Reduced SAFC Budget Allocations

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In an era of Zoom meetings, more than 1,000 student organizations at Cornell have had to adjust their event planning to meet regulations — but with fewer financial resources to go around.

According to the Student Activities Funding Commission, the funding commission responsible for allocating budgets to more than 500 undergraduate student organizations, fewer budgets were submitted in fall 2020 than in the previous year. For those that did, SAFC allocated, on average, about $300 less per organization.

The decrease in budget allocations can largely be attributed to COVID-19 regulations, as several student organizations cited canceled social events and tightened travel restrictions as reasons for their reduction in funding needs.

“At the end of a normal semester, we’d have a formal to celebrate the new pledge class and send off the seniors. We would have funding for different service projects, fellowships and speed meetings that brothers could request funding for,” said Denise Castle ’22, treasurer of the community service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega. “Because APO has moved entirely online, we no longer have a need for those [funds].”

Richard Green ’21, president of the Black Ivy Pre-Law Society, described a similar situation.

“We’ve been very careful to not have any in-person events this semester,” Green said. “A lot of what we typically do that requires funding, such as networking opportunities and meeting with law schools, is done in-person, so we’re in less of a need this semester.” 

While COVID-19 regulations could also cause an increase in club expenses — for example, some performance groups purchased plexiglass dividers to let them hold in-person rehearsal — many groups, such as the co-ed a cappella group The Chordials, have opted instead to remain cautious and avoid in-person rehearsals altogether. As a result, the group has needed much less funding this semester, according to Heather Martin ’22, the Chordials’ business manager.

In addition to the reduced need for funding, several on-campus organizations and funding commissions took voluntary budget cuts from the Student Assembly to reduce the student activity fee, which funds SAFC.

APO, among other organizations, have also cut or reduced dues that would typically be charged to members of the club, taking into consideration the fact that the pandemic has put many families in greater financial need.

Along with remaining aware of the difficulties that students and their families may face this semester, student leaders of on-campus organizations also have to accommodate any abrupt changes brought by the pandemic. But more broadly, club leaders lamented the difficulty of remaining connected as an organization when meetings are entirely online.

“Black Ivy is historically very close-knit, but it’s hard to be social when everyone has Zoom fatigue,” Green said. 

SAFC only accounts for a portion of many clubs’ funding. Before the pandemic, organizations often used everything from bake sales, performance ticket sales, gifts from alumni, corporate sponsorships and crowdfunding to support their activities. These fundraisers, however, have often been restricted due to COVID-19 guidelines.

“In the past, we’ve sold food at fundraisers, but we’re now restricted because you can’t have food at any events,” Green said. 

SAFC is not the only funding commission affected. Sawyer Huang ’22, president of CUTonight, an organization that provides funding for student organizations to hold social events on weekend nights, explained that it typically funds more than 50 organizations and 60 events per semester, with some events drawing in upwards of 600 students. 

“Due to events being forced to be virtual or capped to 10 students, we’ve received a lot fewer applications for events this semester,” Huang said. According to Huang, CUTonight also took a voluntary decrease in funding from the SA to offset this reduction in funding requests.

In order for club funding allocation to operate as smoothly as possible, SAFC recommended that all new treasurers undergo some form of online training in which they familiarize themselves with SAFC guidelines and learn how their organization typically constructs its budget. 

Office hours held by SAFC this fall saw an increase in attendance from previous years, which the commission attributed to the increase in accessibility.

“We are always happy to help and we want every club to have the opportunity to get funded for what they need,” wrote the SAFC executive board in a group email to The Sun.