Hey, Mr. (or Ms.) Grantmaker!

photo credit, colors in B&W, via flickr

Grantcraft recently published this guide for grantmakers interested (or, at least, maybe potentially, if the right organization comes along and that one loud Board member of ours won’t shut up and you present a really great proposal, interested) in funding community organizing. And it’s somewhat genius–it’s essentially a guide to hold grantmakers by the hands, walk them through an introduction of what community organizing is and does and can accomplish, and seek to bridge the barriers between traditional foundations and community-based organizations, in order to start the dollars flowing.

It has a TON of examples about why community organizing works (paying attention to implementation, coming up with pragmatic solutions, increasing accountability); about how funders are supporting community organizing today (not just salaries, but also funding infrastructure like training, travel, research, public education, and policy advocacy); and about how community organizing fits in with philanthropy’s overarching goals (building a more robust democracy and solving social problems).

The tools for grantmakers are probably the most helpful: a checklist for site visits (that acknowledges the culture shock that foundation types often experience coming into a grassroots organization for the first time); language to use in talking with a foundation Board about funding organizing (it’s almost comical, really: “civic participation”, “community-driven solutions”, “building civic infrastructure”); and the “lingo of organizers” (so that we’re, literally, speaking the same language).

Something I haven’t seen anywhere else is the discussion about power dynamics between funders and organizers, and an effort to prepare funders for the hard questions that grassroots leaders (who are used, after all, to speaking truth to power!) will ask about their foundations and their operations. This preparation, I believe, could go a long way toward helping foundations to see such interactions not as assaults on their legitimacy but, rather, demonstration of the efficacy of organizing work. The guide also seeks to prepare funders for budgets and Board compositions that look different in grassroots groups than traditional grantees and gives some concrete steps to help in establishing relationships.

And the authors don’t try to sidestep the inevitability of controversy. They use examples of where foundations have grappled with this in the past: when grassroots groups take action against the corporations of foundation Board members, for example! The guide helps foundation staff to explain how public actions fit into the overall change strategy, so that, while they may never like them (that’s part of the idea, really–to make power uncomfortable so that power will yield!), foundation leaders can at least understand the role of actions.

The guide ends with a discussion of evaluation and a rather astounding figure from one foundation that tracked its community organizing investments over 10 years, which estimates $1.3 billion in tangible dividends from $2.6 million in grants! The power of policy change.

My guess is that you could use more money for your community organizing work, right? And you’d like foundations in your area (geographic or issue) to understand and value your community organizing work more? And you’d love to have an honest conversation with funders about your community organizing needs and how they can support them? And you’d like some help with the above, because, quite frankly, while challenging public officials has become second nature, you still hate asking for money?

I think this can help. And, perhaps more importantly, the conversations it will help to engender among grantmakers (wherever they hang out) will help to create the conditions where your entreaties will be more positively received. Think about a sympathetic ear you might have within a foundation today and how you could share this, or a current funder of your service work who might be receptive, or a foundation with which you’re working in a coalition who has demonstrated some interest in building power among your community.

Social change requires organized people or organized money, the adage goes. If we bring community-organizing groups and foundations together, we’ve got both. And we can’t lose.

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