April 20, 2010

What It Takes to Support Action Groups

Everyday Democracy posted a story today by Sally Campbell that is right on target for funders who think big about small grants. Take a look at 6 Elements of Successful Action Groups.

This reminded me of a recent conversation with one of the most thoughtful people in the Grassroots Grantmakers network. We were talking about the next phase of work for his foundation - what happens after you have successfully launched a grassroots grantmaking program and now have relationships with dozens of resident-led groups in your community. He said that figuring out how to make the most of his spot in the center - how he could connect the groups that they had funded and set the stage for a new set of possibilities - was his focus. How smart is that?

If you read Sally's article with this in mind - and remembering that we're thinking about block level groups that aren't staffed, groups of active citizens that are part of a fluid network that doesn't have much connective tissue - my hunch is that the important role that a small grassroots grantmaking oriented funder can play in supporting action groups will jump off the page.

Here's what jumped out for me (see my additions in green) from Sally's 6 elements of successful action groups as I was thinking about what a funder can do to help action ideas turn into real change:

It is important that the leader(s) have connections to partnering organizations (funder has these and opens the doors), knowledge of the issue (ditto), and the ability to take into consideration many different perspectives (ditto). Action groups also need a skilled group-process facilitator (supported via technical assistance funds) who can help the group work together productively.

Administrative support: Whether it's one person dedicated to this task or the responsibility is shared among group members, someone (could be the funder or a resident-leader who is coached/supported by the funder or technical assistance provider) needs to take minutes, send meeting reminders, and stay in touch with the organizers. Make sure there are clear expectations and deadlines for these tasks.

Organizational or institutional oversight: Action groups need administrative support and a good leader, as well as a connection to a larger organizing group. This could be an institution that is already working on the issue or an organizing sub-group that coordinates and takes responsibility for the action phase (Guess who. This one is obvious - right?).

Resources: Keep an eye out for new grants (voile!), networking and partnership opportunities (yes, that's what we mean when we say it's about more than grants), and ways to recruit volunteers. Ask steering group members for their suggestions to get you on the right track.

Credibility: Action groups are more successful when their efforts demonstrate progress and are seen as part of an authentic community effort. Make sure your project connects with a larger community issue, and don't forget to spread the word about what you're doing. (Receiving a grants offers instant credibility, so you're already on the road with this one. Now what about those connections to up the credibility....).

Tell the story: Document and share your progress with your community. Take pictures and videos to help bring life to your story. Share your insights and progress through press coverage, a website, a blog, newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, etc. (Think of what more you can here with the reports that you need for your grants process anyway - and what audiences you can provide via your grantmaking committee, board members, donors, partners, your newsletter and website).

What do you think? What's been your experience with supporting action groups? Post a comment to share your experience.

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