As the academic year approaches its end, so, too, does funding for student activities. The Student Activities Funding Committee (SAFC)—responsible for allocating funds to student organizations throughout the year—spent the last of its $700,000 budget on April 1.
Harry Sherman ’21, treasurer of Bowdoin Student Government, said that it is normal for the SAFC to use up the last of its budget by this time of year since general allocation—funds allocated on a weekly basis to student organizations that do not have operating budgets—is frontloaded. This year, 65 percent of the general allocation funds for the year, or $114,154.39, were spent in the fall. This is only about $146 more than what was spent by that point last year.
Spending is largely guided by precedent. SAFC receives fewer requests for funding in the spring than in the fall, and because more is requested in advance, funds usually dry up in early April, leaving some student groups disappointed.
“Yeah, you should be broke at this point,” said Sherman.
Funding requests denied between February and March of this year include tickets to the Maine GOP Dinner for the College Republicans, a university event for TEDxBowdoin, trading contest awards for the Finance Society and snacks for a career planning session for the African American Society.
The SAFC derives a significant portion of its annual budget from the $500 Student Activities Fee included in tuition. The committee allocates most of this money to various student organizations in the form of operating budgets. The rest is distributed throughout the year.
Many groups simply request a year’s worth of money at the beginning of the fall semester. Other groups plan far ahead when bringing speakers, contributing further to the high fall expenditures.
Compared to other NESCAC schools, Bowdoin’s SAFC commands a relatively large amount of money. The College Council at Williams uses $500,000, and the Association of Amherst Students uses $631,800. Middlebury’s Finance Committee, however, has a budget of about $1,000,000.
Operating budgets for this year accounted for 74.9 percent of the SAFC’s total allocation. Student organizations with operating budgets tend to have stable expenditures. Many club sports teams, for example, utilize operating budgets. BSG, the Entertainment Board and the Orient are among the non-athletic entities that have operating budgets.
This left $176,026.67 to allocate to student organizations on a weekly basis. While this may seem like a lot of money, it is not enough to fill every request. In the fall, 71.35 percent of requests were fully funded, and 18.37 percent were partially funded. The spring also saw somewhat selective funding.
“We look at everything on a case by case basis. How many students are going to benefit from that cost? If it’s a small group of students, is this expenditure really worth it? Will it be an enriching experience for the small group of people?” said Sherman.
The SAFC also tries to guide student organizations to different pots of money available from other committees and academic departments. According to Sherman, groups can use a combination of SAFC funding and money from other sources or sponsorships to their activities and events.
Sometimes, looking elsewhere for support is necessary. For example, SAFC has a $3,000 funding cap for speakers. If the costs of bringing a given speaker to campus exceed this limit, the SAFC may give what it can and then direct the group to a relevant department or fund to cover the remaining expenses and fees. The SAFC will often delay requests if the requestor has not yet sought departmental support.
Even when the volume of requests increases, SAFC tries to be as accessible as possible.
“If you want to be able to program spontaneously, it shouldn’t be hard given the current structure,” said Sherman. “We meet every week, and you hear from us within 24 hours of your meeting.”
With limited funds, however, the SAFC is sometimes forced to choose between groups with similar funding requests, such as student publications. Sherman explained that in one recent situation, the SAFC did not feel it was necessary to grant the requested amount for a particular publication.
“It just didn’t feel worth it to give them the, you know, thousands and thousands of dollars that are necessary for printing, when something very similar already exists,” said Sherman.
According to Sherman, collaboration of similar clubs is among the best solutions for this problem. It would save money by eliminating redundant costs.
“I view it as an opportunity for growth, because I know certain club members are really frustrated that four people are attending the events that they spend money on,” said Sherman.
The SAFC is currently working to allocate next year’s operating budgets. Sherman emphasized the great budgetary potential Bowdoin gives to the SAFC.
“There’s plenty of money to do so much. I’m definitely appreciative of that. I think all of Bowdoin should be appreciative of that,” he said. “We’re really fortunate to be able to allow clubs with really niche interests to have opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”