And I know that many funders are re-examining commitments and priorities now too. With the economy taking a direct hit on their endowments, the question in the air is "how can we do more - helping challenged communities that are now more challenged than ever - with less?"
Here's how I would answer that question.
Now, more than any time that I can remember, is the time for big thinking on small grants. With our current economy and our current political climate, now is the time to INCREASE investment in grassroots grantmaking.
- At a time when our new President is calling daily for citizen action, service, and personal responsibility to help us weather this storm and return to our communities and our country to a path that leads to prosperity and vitality, he's talking about all that grassroots grantmaking promotes and supports.
- At a time when the foreclosure crisis is teaching us that all neighborhoods are vulnerable, it is more important than ever to nurture the neighbor to neighbor, block-level work that brings people together and fosters a sense of community.
- At a time when we have been reminded that there really is a bottom in the financial well, it's more important than ever to get really serious about making small amounts of money matter.
If you are a funder who is considering cutting your grassroots grantmaking budget or postponing new work in this area until money is flowing again, here is my top 10 list of reasons you should think twice - or even three times - before you go to work with your red pencil.
- Grassroots grantmaking is a smart investment - yes, there's some risk involved (as in all investments), but experience shows that you get impressive returns on your relatively small investments when your investments are in people, not programs.
- If change is the cake you are making, then grassroots grantmaking is your flour and butter. You can't do a good job of place-based work without grassroots grantmaking (because you can't do good place-based work without the people who live there).
- Grassroots grantmaking grows resources. It continuously expands the change-making circle by inviting people on the sidelines (with talent, passion, and commitment - resources you need) to join with a neighbor to move their good ideas into action.
- Grassroots grantmaking trickles up. It introduces a funder to people and perspectives that inform and strengthen the funders' work in all areas.
- Grassroots grantmaking is an antidote to funder-itis. It keeps you real by keeping you closely connected to real people who haven't learned the funder dance.
- Grassroots grantmaking is inherently tangible - it creates change that you can see and feel, in people and in communities. Don't believe it? Just join me on a site visit in a place where grassroots grantmaking is done well. You'll believe it then - I promise.
- Grassroots grantmaking is patriotic. It's about strengthening our democracy by encouraging people on the blocks in the neighborhoods in your community to become more active citizens.
- Grassroots grantmaking is fun. It's fun to see the great ideas, great people, and great energy that grassroots grantmaking helps you discover. It's also fun to see people discover things about themselves and their community. And of course there's the food and the laughter and the amazing warmth.
- Grassroots grantmaking is an opportunity to practice servant leadership. Instead of being the one that has all the smarts, the ideas AND the money, with grassroots grantmaking you get to lead by stepping back. It only works if you begin with residents - what they want, what moves them from the couch to the sidewalk, and what gives them enough hope to keep going.
- Grassroots grantmaking is sustainable. It doesn't require grant budgets with lots of commas and zeros, it doesn't create organizations that crash and burn when the funding tide changes, it doesn't create that thing that funders fear most - dependency. It's more about igniting and tending than budgeting and spending.