Funding Dilemma

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 3.20.33 PMI inadvertently created a bit of concern on the forums with a tweet I posted on Monday. As I stared at my inbox, I realized it was time to pull my head out of the sand and admit that the NASA ROSES EPOESS grant that I successfully competed for in 2008 and 2011 (and that I was hoping to apply for again) is not going to be competed again on a useful timescale. It was time to admit, I have to get creative, and that I’m going to be competing against some of the best folks in NASA EPO in trying to get creative as we all struggle to stay funded somehow. Here is what I saw on my screen as my heart staggered a bit in panic. Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 3.28.50 PM   (At this stage it is unclear what the new Science Education call for proposals will be, but it is clear it will be on a time scale that is not useful.) Different aspects of CosmoQuest are all funded in different ways, but our single largest funding source has been our NASA ROSES EPOESS grant:

  • The citizen science projects – Moon Mappers, Asteroid Mappers: Vesta, and Planet Mappers: Mercury – have all been funded through individual missions. These are small grants, strictly to create (and sometimes maintain at a much lower funding level) the citizen science interfaces. An example budget can be found here [Generic Citizen Science (Shared)]. StatusFair (we fluctuate with NASA)
  • CosmoAcademy is self-funded through the tuition of enrolled students. (Currently, 85% goes to instructor, 10% goes to the project director, & 5% goes to Astrosphere. These percentages will change slightly when CosmoAcademy moves to SIUE sometime in the coming months.) StatusGood
  • 365 Days of Astronomy is funded through donations and augmented by any money from me teaching for CosmoAcademy. The monthly budget is $600 for project management and audio & video editing and $29.66 for our ShareFile account. (This covers content on both the podcast and youtube channel.) Status – Month to Month
  • Educators’ Zone & Explore (including Learning Space, development of all current educational materials, and all public outreach activities) are currently funded through our existing NASA ROSES EPOESS grant. (detailed budget coming, but it boils down to about 2 FTE, teacher stipends, printing and travel; total of about $200k a year). Status – In Danger – Must find new funding.
  • CosmoQuest User Experience (e.g. the software) is one of our largest single costs – we have 2 software developers and they spend 80% of their time innovating things behind the scenes, updating our software, and dealing with stupid issues like DOS attacks and changes in APIs we use. This is currently funded through donations (small fraction) and through our NASA ROSES EPOESS grant (largest fraction). Budget: $173k a year for salary and overhead costs like medical insurance and university support on things like accounting and electricity.) Status – In Danger – Must find new funding.
  • The CQ-BAUT Forum requires a lot of sever resources and SIUE staff time is used to maintain the software and communicate with the forum community. The servers are paid for strictly through donations (~$200/month) but staff time comes from our NASA ROSES EPOESS grant. The forums can be maintained on just donations. Status – Fair (Needs steady donations)

So this is where we are. How we got here is complex, and rests on my shoulders. The NASA ROSES EPOESS Grant was last competed in 2011, and I did get an award. For many reasons, I haven’t really competed for any other large grants since then. In 2012, I had some significant health issues (which I maintained radio silence about and are wholly in the past) and had to deal with significant sexual harassment and discrimination issues (that have been blogged about). That year, recognizing I had 3 years of funding, I worked hard building CosmoQuest but didn’t have the energy needed to write any large grants (I wrote and we were awarded several small grants/contracts). In 2013, several of us worked on a project outside of CosmoQuest that we believed would produce revenue to fund all of CosmoQuest. It didn’t, and while I wrote (and was awarded) several small contracts/grants, I invested my time on that non-lucrative project instead of on large-grant writing. This is 2014. This year, when I should have spent my winter months writing grants, I instead spent it trying not to land in the hospital as I fought pneumonia. I missed all the big winter deadlines. I’m now working on grant after grant after grant for the fall deadlines. Unfortunately, there isn’t anyone else at CosmoQuest who can spend significant amounts of their time working on grants and fundraising. If we fail to secure needed funding, it is on me. If we are successful, it is because I have an amazing staff who are building programs worth funding. In order to stretch our funding as long as possible, I’m doing the following things: donating all my speaker fees to CosmoQuest at SIUE, reducing my salary to part-time (and thanking my spouse a lot), applying for every grant that looks reasonable, working to clear the hurdles to start using Patreon at SIUE, and starting to feel out corporate sponsorships. Those of us here at CosmoQuest are going to keep fighting to keep our programs going. I am deeply afraid that we’re going to be running on a month to month budget (except for student salaries, which I’ve protected) starting in January. In order to maintain all SIUE staff at their current funding levels, we need $350k per year. That’s it – we can pay all our salaries and insurance for the about what Hillary Clinton gets for one speaking engagement or what Mark Zuckerburg earns in an afternoon. I don’t know yet where I’m going to find that $350,000 per year for salary, but… There won’t be a relevant rock entrepreneur I won’t look under.

2 Responses to Funding Dilemma

  1. Jean Tate October 25, 2014 at 8:08 am #

    Thanks for the detailed summary, StarStryder.

    A short while ago a CQuestian pointed me to Nicole’s blog post, WHO, HOW, AND WHY? (http://cosmoquest.org/x/blog/2013/10/who-how-and-why/)

    Given the enthusiasm, dedication, and breadth of skills and experience CQuestians have, collectively, might it not be a totally crazy idea to look into becoming a more volunteer-enabled entity? Kinda like seeing how the CQ Forum is moderated entirely by voluntary efforts, so too perhaps other activities/programs/projects could become more volunteer-run, even volunteer-led?

    • StarStryder October 25, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

      Hi Jean,

      We are hoping to grow CQ through volunteerism and we already extensively rely on volunteers, but at the end of the day we’re just looking to employ 4 to 5 people (not all of whom are full time) and pay for the people who bare the responsibility of making sure the data is good, the results are communicated, and the emails are answered.

      For perspective, Neil Tyson’s speakers fee is $75k. We are trying to find the same amount of money that is spent by companies and conferences to pay for less than 5 presentations by Tyson. If everything we do doesn’t provide the same value as 5 talks by Tyson… we probably shouldn’t be here.

      What is missing is a way to get people to open their corporate coffers to us the way they open them to pay these large speakers’ fees. If it means I need to host Cosmos and get on the speaking circuit… Well, I’m more than willing 😉

Leave a Reply