Funding organizations that really get it seem to completely forget it when there is a change at the top. It's almost as if someone hit the organization's ctrl/alt/del keys to reboot the organization. All of the learning, insights and commitment associated with the organization's big thinking about small grants work is cleared out of the memory, and the organization's strategy and culture is reset.
Yes, I know that changes at the top almost always mean a new chapter for the organization, and that new chapters often come with new energy and enthusiasm for a clearer and more compelling vision. I've seen organizations get stale right before my eyes under the overly watchful eye of a leader who really needs to move on. So I'm not at all about resisting change. What I'm resisting is whatever is contributing to positioning grassroots grantmaking in the part of the organization's memory that is cleared away with a new leader "reboot".
So what might these things be? You know, don't you, that I'm itching to be asked what I think about this question. Since you asked....
- The organization's grassroots grantmaking work has been encapsulated. It has been sitting on the side as a nice program and not really touching the other work that the funding organization is doing. The relationships that the person who staffs the grassroots grantmaking work are that person's relationships rather than that organization's relationships. And, my hunch is that that person is one of the most junior people on staff - not someone who is in on conversations about strategy and priorities or who is going to lunch with the new leader on his/her first day at work.
- The organization's grassroots grantmaking work is seen as a grant program rather than an organizational strategy. It's about getting small amounts of money out the door to unknown groups. It's about bootstrapping or seed money rather than resident voice, civic capacity, leadership development or community resilience.
- There is very little physical connection between those in the organization and the on the ground work of grassroots grantmaking, meaning that for those other than the program staff, the work is easy to intellectualize and professionalize. My hunch is that there are few opportunities for staff, board and grantmaking committees to sit around dining room tables or in branch library meeting rooms to talk with the people who are doing the work that these small grants are supporting. I bet that the processes associated with grantmaking - grant applications, grant review, grant reporting - are primarily paper processes rather than people processes.
- There's just one champion for grassroots grantmaking inside the organization. And that one champion is probably a program officer rather than a vice president or a board member.
Why am I writing about this now? The easy answer is that I've just seen it happen again. The real answer is that I don't think we talk about this enough. The community side of the work of grassroots grantmaking can be challenging, but it's not brain surgery. Common sense and the collective experience that's at easy reach through Grassroots Grantmaker's community of practice can help a new funder get up to speed quickly.
The hard part of this work is positioning it inside the funding organization. When it is well positioned, it can do what it is designed to do - expand the lens through which place-based funders see their work and bring the people who live in that place into the picture as creators of community vitality rather than recipients of services. When that piece of the work is done well, that's when you see place-based funding that is more passionate, more strategic and more effective. And that's where the work endures.
Do you agree that we don't give enough attention to building capacity INSIDE a funding organization for grassroots grantmaking? And if so, what do you think is getting in our way? Post a comment to join the discussion.