Buncombe considers changes to nonprofit grant process

Rachael Nygaard
LOOKING AT CHANGE: Rachael Nygaard, Buncombe County's director of strategic partnerships, presents proposed revisions to the county's Strategic Partnership Grants process. Screenshot courtesy of Buncombe County

“Congratulations on giving me enough information to make my head explode tonight,” remarked Buncombe County Commissioner Joe Belcher after a presentation at the board’s Oct. 15 meeting. His board colleague Amanda Edwards and Rachael Nygaard, the county’s director of strategic partnerships, had just delivered a proposal to revise the way Buncombe doles out Strategic Partnership Grants to area nonprofits and community organizations.

Introducing a higher level of detail, Edwards and Nygaard noted, was a key part of the proposed guidelines. Commissioners currently have no standardized rationale for awarding the grants, which totaled nearly $600,000 for the current fiscal year, the two said, also charging that the county has been inconsistent in enforcing application deadlines. Therefore, said Nygaard, the board has often fluctuated in its approach to funding decisions; during a May 21 pre-meeting discussion, Belcher called the process “such a train wreck.”

Strategic Partnership Grant infographic
FOLLOW THE MONEY: Buncombe County awarded nearly $600,000 in Strategic Partnership Grants for the current fiscal year. Design by Scott Southwick, graphic and data courtesy of Buncombe County

Edwards offered numerous changes to address these issues, the most significant of which would be the establishment of a volunteer committee to review applications. This group, she said, would consist of nine community members with experience in the county’s strategic focus areas — environmental stewardship, educated and capable community, vibrant economy and resident well-being — and would provide funding recommendations for final approval by the commissioners.

Commissioner Al Whitesides applauded that idea, saying the current grant system “was just too darn political” and that community expertise would help the county make better decisions. “I had to jump through hoops before coming on the board with this process,” he said, referencing his past work with area nonprofits. “Whoever would holler the loudest would get it, and a lot of organizations were lost in the shuffle.”

Board Chair Brownie Newman, however, was less enthusiastic about the committee proposal. As an elected body, he argued, the commission already represented the desires and priorities of county residents regarding strategic grant awards.

Other changes suggested by Edwards included a strict adherence to application deadlines, limiting funding to three years for a single project and capping awards at 30% or less of an organization’s total budget. She also proposed a list of criteria by which to evaluate applications, such as alignment with the county’s strategic goals, community need, demographics of the client population and organizational financial health.

“We had several applicants speak to us about not understanding the process for applications and feeling like they had to come speak to us to really advocate for funding for themselves. It didn’t feel that it was very equitable,” Edwards explained. “I wanted to work with Rachael [Nygaard] and the staff to really create a very transparent, open, equitable [process] for every organization in Buncombe County to have the opportunity to apply for funds.”

Board members took no action on the proposal but plan to vote on its approval during their next meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Should the changes be approved, grant applications would open in December, with a submission deadline sometime in February. Grant review would conclude by May, with funding awarded for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.