Wondering what strategies were particularly effective for CERTs Seed Grant recipients in 2016? Below are the top ten things that come out of their project reflections. Now we can all benefit from them!
1. Grow community support for your project early.
Taking the time to get strong support insured that projects proceeded regardless of funding sources, staffing, and other challenges. Many grantees relied on their strong community relationships to remove barriers necessary to get their projects done. Getting this support also helped them understand the broad range of local interests and needs.
2. Partner up.
Nearly all of the Seed Grant projects included some kind of partnership, giving them access to a wide array of expertise, audiences, funding, volunteers, and other resources. Key stakeholders included local government staff, utilities, energy professionals, schools, local nonprofits, clubs, social service organizations, and youth.
3. Don’t be afraid to be innovative.
Many grantees tackled projects that had never been done before, at least locally. This can at first seem daunting, but in many cases project leaders found that people across the state and beyond were dealing with similar challenges, and their projects were able to act as a model. For example, one project developed a unique third-party financing model for their nonprofit’s solar array, while another brought low-income residents together with industry stakeholders to come to a greater understanding of needs and possible solutions.
4. Keep it simple and stay focused.
It seems that the more straightforward grantees were in their project goals and process, the higher their chance for success. This sense that the projects did not get bogged down by unnecessary complications arose time and again. In many cases, having a specific project with a clear and tangible goal pumped fresh energy into groups, making them feel more ambitious about taking on future projects and challenges.
5. Understand your audience.
Because of the community-focus of most Seed Grant projects, many of them require reaching out to community members to educate and involve them. It was clear that projects who had great success spent time understanding their audience, and then went about engaging them in multiple ways: email, snail mail, phone, events, websites, newspaper, radio. Those who did particularly broad outreach noticed a real community-wide educational benefit, in addition to project participation. And those who put on events said (you’ll be shocked) that it was always better attended when there was food!
6. Go where people already are.
Several Seed Grant projects were completely focused on putting on educational events. Especially when they were starting something brand new, many projects had greater success when they partnered with existing educational events and local programming to tap into their audiences, like county fairs, farmers markets, community ed, and more. Others focused on reaching out to established groups, for example, their local chamber of commerce and nearby participants in the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program.
7. Training people grows capacity and interest.
In a handful of projects, it was obvious that there was not much local expertise to accomplish the renewable energy and energy efficiency work that needed to be done. Adding a training component to these projects increased the number of people qualified to do this work in the area, while also increasing clean energy awareness in the community.
8. Tap into people’s spirit of volunteerism.
People want to do good things in their community, so let them! Several projects tapped into local volunteers—both adults and youth—to get a whole lot done in a short amount of time. This was also a great way to educate people about clean energy and keep budgets under control.
9. Don’t be afraid to let young people lead.
There were an impressive number of Seed Grant projects in the last year that benefitted greatly from empowering students to take the lead. Students came up with project ideas, contacted contractors, collected and analyzed data, implemented projects, and made community presentations. These real-life experiences are invaluable to them, and got them personally invested. You probably knew this, but these projects proved that youth can be major catalysts for building clean energy in our communities.
10. Make it visible.
From solar arrays to hands-on energy efficiency experiences, projects that influenced the most people (and will continue to do so) are the ones that intentionally made their efforts super visible. In one project, a solar array placed near a park entrance prompts visitor interest, which is then reinforced with an engaging live data display available to visitors in the nature center. In another project, city success stories about energy efficiency and clean energy efforts are all over city facilities.
Feeling super smart now? Go apply for your own CERTs Seed Grant!
CERTs awards seed grants to community groups for energy efficiency and clean energy projects across Minnesota. We’ve awarded over $1 million in Seed Grants since 2006. Click here to see more Seed Grant blog posts or click here to see more past funded projects.