For local utility management, board members, and elected officials, infrastructure funding, especially in the form of grants, can elicit the feeling of a child awaiting what is under the tree on Christmas morning. What will I get? How much will I get? How soon will I get to use it? Just like parents do leading up to this magical season, clearly communicating around expectations makes all the difference in how these funding ‘gifts’ are received and understood by utility leadership.
The first step is to define expectations. Much of this involves communicating the details about funding programs and how they can leverage them for critical infrastructure needs. The discussion begins by simply outlining whether a PER is required to be submitted with a PQ for a DWSRF project which gets funding from EPA. Some of you may understand that acronym-filled sentence but many local leaders would not. Drop the acronyms and simplify the explanations as you define the elements of funding programs. Doing so will elicit a level of comfort from these leaders in pursuing the funds. In the end, this will result in a conversation where expectations about the funding opportunities will be clearly defined and understood by everyone.
It does not stop there. These communications need to temper expectations. Going back to the Christmas present example, parents usually have some warning about not getting hopes up for that one BIG gift or the one that cannot be found. Anywhere. The same is true with communicating about funding. Even with the unprecedented amount of money currently being pumped into infrastructure funding programs, the hard truth is our infrastructure needs far exceed the amount of external funding available. Any funding communication plan needs to include a discussion about using these external funds for key projects that align closely with the funding program’s priorities while also making sure that local funds are sufficient to pay for most infrastructure projects. The expectation that these external funds, particularly grant funds, will always be there to fund projects will only lead to disappointment, just like the child who did not get that one present.
Finally, clear funding communication is needed to manage expectations. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch and the same sentiment can be applied to funding. Even when an application is successful, there are often additional requirements that come along with the funds. Talking clearly and frankly about those types of requirements BEFORE the application is submitted will prevent local leaders from being surprised when they get the award and additional constraints are placed on implementing the project, constraints they do not have to deal with when they use local funds.
Moving to Action
We are in exciting times for infrastructure funding, and these funds have the potential to allow us to make great strides in the much-needed renewal of these critical assets. Communicating clearly and effectively to local leaders about key aspects of the funding will appropriately set expectations such that it really will be a merry ‘Christmas’ when the funds are awarded.
Angie Mettlen is a Vice President & Director of Strategic Funding & Regulatory Affairs for WK Dickson. She has over 31 years in the water industry and has become a recognized leader in state and federal infrastructure funding and regulatory programs. Angie has been instrumental in securing over $1 billion in funding for clients over the past decade alone and developing strategies, such as utilizing peracetic acid for wastewater treatment, to meet the ever-changing regulatory environment.
Angie values giving back to this industry and her community. She is a past chair and current secretary of the SC Section of the American Water Works Associations (AWWA) and serves on the Clemson University Board of Visitors.
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