December 13, 2010

Your Question is My Question

I recently had the pleasure of spending a few days in Lawrence, Massachusetts with a group at Lawrence Community Works - exploring the ins and outs of practice around network weaving. I love small group settings with people who are journeying along similar paths, designed to take us away from the day to day obligations in our home space and really connect in a spirit of co-learning. This gathering was one of those.

It was also a place that felt welcoming and comfortable for me, right from the beginning. The "space" itself had something to do with that but it was more than how the rooms were set up or how the time together was organized. It was about mostly about an attitude that was stated this way:
Your question is my question.

With this as a backdrop, I invite you to think with me about the relationships that everyday people in groups have with funding organizations. When money is on the horizon, "your question is my question" is often at play. Whatever question the funder is asking becomes the question that is most intriguing to the grant applicant organization. I've experienced that. I've done that. I've been guilty of becoming a talented contortionist to demonstrate that "your question is my question" in a grant application. Haven't you? Haven't we all?

The big thinking about small grants funders who are part of Grasssroots Grantmakers network are trying to turn the tables on this question. What if the community's question became the funder's question? This is what we mean when we say grassroots grantmakers (the funders who embrace the principles and practices of grassroots grantmaking) work from a "we begin with residents" perspective. It's funders who know how maximize the impact of their money and clout by "leading by stepping back" - finding and investing in the ideas, passion, and energy of community residents.

I love the "we begin with residents" perspective. But here's what I've been thinking about recently and what my time in Lawrence underscored.

What if my question is really your question - whoever you are? What if we can put the craziness that comes when money is in the picture aside and acknowledge that it takes all of us - all of our perspectives and all of our questions - to get to the future that we all want? What if funders could put their question on the table with enough curiosity and humility to let grant applicants know that they are all ears for all answers and not just the answers they are hoping to hear? And what if community members had the open door they need with funders to feel comfortable putting their questions on the table with the confidence to know that "my question is your question"?

What do you think/what has been your experience with creating spaces where "my question is your question" is there for all of us? Help me out here and share your experience.

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