December 5, 2011

Opening Up New Possibilities with Personal Stories

I've been on the road throughout the fall, connecting with the amazing funders across Grassroots Grantmakers' network in a variety of ways - itching to share what I've been spotting on this blog but only now having the back-home time to sort through ideas and see what how they add up.

What is coming to mind first is my time in Indianapolis earlier this fall with members of Grassroots Grantmakers' EngAGEment Learning Circle - teams from Baltimore, New York, Cleveland, Denver, Ohio's Mahoning Valley, rural Minnesota and Indianapolis who began a two-year exploration of the intersection of grassroots grantmaking and aging last summer as part of our partnership with Grantmakers in Aging’s EngAGEment Initiative.  Over the next two years, we’ll be using the lens of grassroots grantmaking – with its focus on people as active citizens, its asset-based community development orientation, its emphasis on skillfully adapting community building and community organizing practice to elevate the role of community residents, and its artful way of using grants as an invitation instead of a destination – to explore two questions:  1) how to work as grassroots grantmakers with more intentionality about bringing older adults more fully into community in the places where we’re funding, and 2) what insights grassroots grantmaking can bring to the broader field of aging-related funding.

Since this was the first in-person meeting of this learning circle and we were laying groundwork for two years of work together, we put a high premium on getting acquainted and establishing a culture of learning at the Indy meeting. We began our first day together with the map exercise that is part of Lawrence Community Works' NeighborCircle process – using this exercise to share our personal journeys, specifically those experiences that have shaped our perceptions of aging.  I knew that this exercise would be a powerful team-building vehicle, but what I didn’t expect was the thread that ran through all of our stories - the important role that older people - grandparents or surrogate grandparents - had played in our lives. These stories provided a powerful reminder of how much younger people need older people in their lives – even when society suggests that it is older people who are the needy ones.

This experience and others over those two days really resonated with me. When I was very young, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents – fortunate to have four grandparents living in the same town with me.  My memories of time with them are so very special, and I've wondered in my adult years if they knew how much I learned from them - or ever imagined that decades later, I would still be thinking about them with love in my heart. When I was a new mother, thinking about the environment that I wanted for my children, one of the most important things on my list was a multi-generational neighborhood. Knowing that our realities included grandparents who lived far away, I wanted to find older people who could be in my children's day to day lives - and lucked out with a neighborhood that included wonderful elderly neighbors in the houses to the right, to the left, and across the street. And now that I'm of an age where I am a grandmother myself, struggling with ambivalence about my grey hair and AARP card, the realities of “aging” and “older adult” are becoming even more personal on a day to day basis.

The thing about aging is that, unlike other issues that we can work on from a distance, we all have personal stories about this issue.

When I think back to the work that learning circle members did together over our two days in Indy, what strikes me is how important it was for us to connect in with our personal stories on aging.  When we make that connection, it’s almost impossible to draw a box around aging – taking the older people in our community out of a community context and setting them down in a world that is mainly about services instead of real give-get relationships.

I want to encourage big thinkers everywhere to join our learning circle members in thinking about how your personal stories have shaped the way you think about (and work on) issues that are so often de-personalized – aging in particular, but also immigration, poverty, education, the environment, health.  And to think about how you can use your personal stories to open up opportunities for your colleagues, your grantees, and people in the communities where you are working to think in new ways about the work that they are doing – specifically about how that work resonates with their experiences as a family member, a neighbor and a friend.  My experience is that when I share something unexpected – a personal story – others find the freedom to share something that just might change the conversation.

November 13, 2011

Relationships First, Results Later

I was in Atlanta recently with a fantastic group of big thinkers, attending Grassroots Grantmakers most recent On the Ground learning gathering.  We were hosted by the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and Atlanta's Place-Based Funders, and had the privilege of hearing stories of community change and transformation associated with the work of these funders over the past two decades.  Thank you, Atlanta, for rolling out the red carpet and making us feel at home!

As so often happens at On the Grounds, a theme emerged.  As we heard about work in Atlanta from both the funders' point of view and the community residents' point of view, and as those stories triggered conversations about our "back home experiences", we kept coming back to one thing.  I could call it a common denominator rather than a theme, because a commitment to this one thing seemed to make the difference between projects that worked and those that didn't.  It was "relationships first, results later".

I can spot some eyes rolling out there.  What?  I need to blindly invest in relationships without putting those results outcomes on the table, with timelines and clear expectations?  Is this more about the importance of the "soft work", when I have to justify putting this money on the table to people who are all about results?

Yes, you need to invest in relationship, but there's nothing blind about it. It's the first investment you make on the path to results.  

When I think about the twenty year evolution of Grassroots Grantmakers, the network, and grassroots grantmaking, the practice, I think about sparks of "relationships first, results later" insight, based on solid community experience, trying to light a fight in a "results first" world.  I also think about well-intentioned community interventions over those same twenty years - well-orchestrated, professionally-engineered, well-funded initiatives with logic models, benchmarks, and tight timelines that attracted a lot of attention, ramped up expectations, but failed to deliver the community change they promised.  It seems that where grassroots grantmaking shines - in using a relationship-oriented grantmaking approach to invite people - people in relationship with others in their community - into action, is where the big box community change approaches falter.  And where grassroots grantmaking programs often falter - thinking big enough about what groups of active citizens can do - is where the big box approaches get it right.

I heard a story in Atlanta that I've heard dozens of times: Enthusiastic investor with a specific idea, money on the table, and a neighborhood in mind. The problem is that the investor's understanding of the neighborhood came from data, driving around and a few conversations. The idea may be a good idea - one that worked somewhere else and maybe even was designed by community residents somewhere else. So the assumption is that it can be picked up and planted here with the same results.

The other side to this story is the local funder, pulled in as partner because of their community knowledge and proven track record. They know that they are skating on thin ice because their relationships are thin in this particular neighborhood, but give it everything they've got to make this work, hoping that they can make up some relationship building ground in the drive to the results finish line. And you can guess what happens.

I also heard another story that I've heard before - but want to hear again and again.  I heard about the Zeist Foundation's deep and long-term commitment to the Edgewood neighborhood and was impressed by their patient money investments in both things (clinics, housing) and relationships and the understanding of the connection.  I also heard about the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta's history of adeptly using small grants as a mechanism to build and continually expand their relationships with people beyond the usual suspects in their 23 county region – and using these relationships as the basis for some significant results-generating work with a range of results-oriented partners.  I was moved by the stories that the residents from the Adamsville neighborhood told of their work – how it changed each of them and their community; it was obvious that the value that the residents placed on their relationships with each other was indeed the secret sauce in the results that they achieved.

When you see it, it seems so obvious.  So why do we keep trying to do it the other way?  I’d love some help with this question:  If we can embrace a vision of communities where people are initiators rather than by-standers, where everyone is connected to at least someone, where mutual aid supplants at least some of the services that are now delivered by paid professionals, and people understand how to use their collective voice to make change, how can we miss the importance of investing in relationships as an essential step in achieving the results we want?

Comments, anyone?

October 24, 2011

"What If" Spices Up The Gifford Foundation's Work in Syracuse

Travels took me to upstate New York last week, presenting at the New York State Funders Conference in Ithaca at the invitation of the Grantmakers Forum of New York, and then trekking over to Syracuse to spend a day with the amazing big thinkers at the Rosamond Gifford Foundation.  Sheena Solomon, the Gifford Foundation's Director of Neighborhood Initiatives, was my partner for the NYS Funders Conference, bringing my presentation on grassroots grantmaking to life with her remarks on how grassroots grantmaking is showing up in Syracuse and what she has learned about the difference between a small grants as a funding transaction and small grants as a vehicle for powerful resident engagement.

Of all the great things I could share about the Gifford Foundation's work in Syracuse, it's "What If" that's on my mind.  Gifford introduced their "What If" mini-grant program earlier this year after working very deeply in two Syracuse neighborhoods for over six years.  Resident-led groups from all Syracuse neighborhoods can tap into What if mini-grants of $5,000 or less.

Here's what I love about The Gifford Foundation's What If mini-grant program:
  • Rolling application deadlines, a simple application, and a solid pre-application workshop, all contributing to a program that is more about inviting community groups in than using the grant application period to screen applicants out.
  • A clear statement about who the Gifford Foundation had in mind for What If mini-grants - groups, associations, and neighbors with not one mention of non-profit organizations.
  • Just as much clarity about the type of capacity building projects that What If mini-grants are designed to fund, with almost no funder jargon sprinkled in. Check out what they have to say and you'll see what I mean.
  • The link that has already been established, even in the first year of the mini-grant program, with the Community Foundation for Central York's Leadership Classroom to connect some big thinking What If grantees with additional capacity building opportunities.
  • The What If Film Series - a fun way to use documentaries that share stories of  people coming to together to make a difference in their communities to spark ideas and inspire action.
  • And of course I love this.....that the networking that Sheena did with Grassroots Grantmakers planted the seed and provided the fertilizer for the What If mini-grant program.
 Way to go, Gifford Foundation. Keep asking "what if" and spicing it up in Syracuse!

October 17, 2011

The Spice in Your Civic Engagement Salsa

Have some salsa, without the spices. That's like supporting civic engagement without small grants.

I'm talking specifically about grassroots grantmaking today, and by that I mean the work that funders do to support everyday people coming together for mutual aid or collective action. Truth is, every time I talk about big thinking on small grants, I'm talking about grassroots grantmaking, and here's why.

Many if not most funders say that they care about resident engagement. Many of these funders do really good jobs of engaging residents without grassroots grantmaking - using everything that comes with the grassroots grantmaking package except small grants. And that's fine. So much more fine than funders or other powerful institutional players who speed past residents because engagement is too messy, too time consuming, too this or too that.

But what I would like to tell these funders who are doing really good jobs of engaging residents without grassroots grantmaking is that their work can come alive in new ways, their investments can do so much more to tip the scale towards community vitality and resilience, if they bring small grants into the picture - in a big thinking way, of course.

The big thinking way of small grants means that we're talking about a lot more than a funding transaction. But we are indeed talking about a funding transaction – a deal that a funder makes with a group that says we believe in your idea, you have something to offer to this picture, and we have confidence that you can deliver. It's also about something that comes with a plan, a timeline, an end-point that signals "take stock (were you able to do what you were trying to do) and reflect (what have we all learned from what happened or didn't happen), and a budget that lays out what money can do and suggests what only people can do that money can't do.

The spice the small grants bring to a funder's civic engagement picture is the spice that most directly propels people with good ideas into action with some intentionality and built-in accountability that keeps them going when life intervenes and sets the stage for the power of learning through doing. That's kind of learning is so much more powerful than learning through just thinking, talking or advising others who are the do-ers. It's like the difference between thinking about the type of parent you will be, how you would handle that unruly child four seats up in the airplane and being in that seat with your child. It's about the difference between issues that other people take on, and the issues that are so personally important, exciting or personal that you're compelled to take them on yourself. It's about moving from supporting actor to center stage as an essential member of the cast.

If you're a funder who is serving up civic engagement salsa without some grassroots grantmaking spiciness, here are some suggestions for a new recipe with some ingredients that are probably already in your cupboard:
  • Incorporate small grant opportunities in your dialogue processes as a way to help the people around dialogue tables who "click" with a hot idea move that idea into action.
  • If you've been convening around a certain issue or engaging community residents in a planning process, invite even more people into the action by inviting community residents to present an idea for how they would address that issue or move forward on a goal via a small grant. I can guarantee that the ideas (and people) you will see will expand on the ideas that even the most expertly facilitated community process will surface – with a promise that community residents are not going to suggest another literacy program if you issue an invitation for creative thinking on how to encourage more people in the community to read with a small grants program rfp.
  • Invite one of your well-connected community partners to expand their repertoire and move into the role of funder world by managing a small grants fund – and, after being clear about the most minimalist list that you can come up with of "do's and don'ts", ask them to be as creative as they can be in setting it up so that it will invite in more than the usual suspects. This will be good for you, good for your community partner and good for the community.
  • Put the question out there – how could some small grants help get some things done in this community in a way that involves the people we're not seeing now – and listen carefully for some good ideas.
I've had it both ways, but I want some spice with my salsa. And you?

October 9, 2011

The Big Grant Part of the Small Grants Landscape

I recently returned from two days with directors of state agencies working in the developmental disabilities world, making some introductions about grassroots grantmaking as a tool that could be really useful in opening up new relationships and possibilities that focus more on people and less on disabilities.  Loved the group, loved the conversation, loved the ideas that began percolating.

As we were talking about the small grants work that is core to grassroots grantmaking, I could sense the discomfort of some in the room about getting into the small grants business.  As people began listing the "why nots" of small grants - transaction costs, staff time required when your goal is to use grants to build relationships at the local level, the different type of outreach strategy needed when you are trying to reach new people and groups, the challenge that comes with geographic distance when you're working statewide but want to have impact at the local level - I found myself nodding yes, yes, yes, you're right. Big thinking about small grants is mostly about building relationships and only partly about funding transactions, and the relationships that you want to build as a funder are face to face relationships with people and groups that normally don't show up at your funder door on their own. Grassroots grantmaking is also about building relationships between groups - creating the connective tissue between associational groups in a community that is so often missing but so very powerful. These relationships are the conduits for learning, inspiration, and the discovery of shared interests and agendas.

This is work that requires enough time from the right person - a person who can live with one foot in the funding world and the other foot in the community world, someone who likes people (and not just the idea of people), sees gifts and possibilities in every person and situation, and is a natural connector. This is work that is also about the connection between people, place and community - quintessentially local in nature. So it's not surprising, is it, that this is work that would be really hard to do long distance?

So what do you do if you're a national, state or regional big thinking about small grants funder?  How do you put your big thinking about small grants into practice?  Can you be a grassroots grantmaker if your feet aren't planted squarely and deeply in a specific community?  What does past experience tell us about what works and doesn't work if you're across the region, across the state or even across the nation from the people you want to invite to move into action with small grants delivered in a grassroots grantmaking way?

Here's my take on those questions.

Yes, you can invest in grassroots grantmaking, yes you can derive the benefits that funders get when they invest in grassroots grantmaking, and yes, you can think of yourelf as a grassroots grantmaker.

But, your approach is a different approach because of the very local nature of this work.  You can't do it directly, but you can do it in a very powerful way with with the right local partner or set of local partners.  That's where bigger grants come into the big thinking about small grants picture.

You can do what The Vancouver Foundation is doing, and partner with a set of deeply rooted community-based institutions - neighbourhood/settlements houses in this case - in your community to be your grassroots grantmaking partners.  Or you can do what The Skillman Foundation is doing with their Good Neighborhoods Initiative and partner with a local non-profit who has experience as a small grant maker and a willingness to bring on another person to their team who has what it takes to effectively staff a grassroots grantmaking program.  You can do what Indianapolis LISC did with the Great Indy Neighborhoods Initiative and partner with an entity like the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center for Imagine Grants, the small grants component of the initiative.  Or, you can follow the lead of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities' Real Communities Initiative and partner with local governments and community based organizations to bring grassroots grantmaking to communities across your state.

Sounds easy enough and it is, in many ways, especially if you find the right local partner.  But, if you are a regional, state or national funder - or even a funder who doesn't have the staff, time or relationships yourself to do this work in-house - and want to work this way, making a bigger grant to a credible partner organization who has what it takes to do the day to day work of grassroots grantmaking, here are some tips to help you stay on the road and out of the ditch or at a disappointing dead-end.
  • While there are some logical places to look for local partners, there's no one right place.  Starting your query with a community foundation is smart, but that doesn't mean that your community foundation is your ideal partner.  Similarly, while settlement houses are serving as ideal partners for The Vancouver Foundation, that doesn't mean that the neighbourhood house in your world will be the right partner.  The smartest way to search for the right partner is focus more on how the organization approaches its relationship with community residents and less on the nature of the organization - placing more stock on experience the organization has with connecting with and supporting active citizens and less stock on what their name or even mission statement suggests.  It also means keeping a special eye for the right person - wherever they are housed - your secret ingredient for some wonderful grassroots grantmaking
  • Even though the bigger grant that you're making is essentially for regranting, if you want to get all the juice you can from your grassroots grantmaking investment - and by "juice" I mean access to the insights, perspectives and powerful people and groups that always surface with grassroots grantmaking - you need to think about big thinking on small grants regranting as a "staying in the relationship-business" way instead of a "we're your funder" way.  This means being intentional about staying in touch with your on the ground buddies and being in the room with their grantees often enough to get to know people and organizations face to face instead of only on paper. 
  • Go out, but also bring people in.  Invite your local partners and their grantees in to meet with and speak to others on your team so that they too have a better picture of what big thinking on small grants means.  Use these new relationships to inform your future work or work in other areas of your funding organization by inviting people from the small grants side of the fence to join those planning committees include community notables and experts. You'll be doing yourself a big favor, but also giving your local partners and their active citizen grantees to see the funding world from the inside out - an experience that can have important capacity building possibilities.
Anyone want to add some additional tips to this list for arms-length funders who want to get into the grassroots grantmaking business?  Or, does your experience suggest another approach for regional, state or national funders who want to be part of the big thinking on small grants world?  Look for the "comment" link and join in!

    September 22, 2011

    So Obvious It's Not Obvious

    Have you ever had the experience of spotting something and then suddenly seeing it everywhere?  That's what's happened to me recently.

    In my work with Grassroots Grantmakers, I have found myself becoming more and more tuned in to how "issues" show up in the grassroots grantmaking world, and what happens when grassroots grantmaking and issue-specific funding - funding focused on education, health, environment, aging, arts, housing, economic development, disabilities, etc - are occupying the same space.  What I have noticed is that many times, funders are doing excellent grassroots grantmaking/resident engagement work on one side of the fence, and very thoughtful issue-specific work on the other side of the fence, with very little visiting between staff, much less grantees, across the fence.

    August 30, 2011

    The Fascinating Summer of 2011 for Grassroots Grantmakers

    I've been conspicuously absent from the blogging world throughout August - not because I've been chilling out on a beach or on an extended vacation, but because the world of Grassroots Grantmakers has been especially fascinating, with so much brewing that I haven't been able to carve out the two hours for the reflective writing that I do with this blog. While my most favorite writing focuses on sharing good work that I spot across the grassroots grantmaking network of funders, I'm going to break back into the blogging habit by giving you a picture of what's been going on with Grassroots Grantmakers.

    This is the year that we're celebrating Grassroots Grantmakers' twentieth anniversary, so I've been thinking a lot about how the work of grassroots grantmaking and Grassroots Grantmakers, the network, have evolved over the past two decades.  I've thought about my first day of work in philanthropy, attending a convening of 15 of the 23 community foundations who had a hand in laying the groundwork for this network.  I've thought about how focused we were in those days on neighborhoods and neighborhood associations - and how much of our energy was invested in figuring out the mechanics of small grantmaking.  We were plowing important new ground, but that was twenty years ago.

    This summer, as we've been planning an "on the ground" learning gathering in Atlanta for the fall that has a special focus on the twenty-year evolution of grassroots grantmaking as a practice and Grassroots Grantmakers as a network, I've been struck by how different the work feels today but how consistent today's work is with the values we embraced in the past:
    •  Patient money – that the most effective investments are long term and that building the capacity for strong, sustainable communities doesn’t happen in one funding cycle.
    • People power – that mobilizing the voice of the community, acknowledging residents as leaders, and helping to both prepare residents and open opportunities for resident contributions to community well-being represents the strongest form of partnership.
    • Trust – that a deep knowledge of the community is required to build strong relationships with community members—superficial knowledge is insufficient—and that answers to community building questions emerge from the process of working together.
    •  Inclusivity – that everyone is welcome, nobody is excluded from community work, and that each person has gifts they bring to the community table.
    • Transformation – that as funders support communities through a process of change, they also experience a transformation of their own traditional funding models and a new confluence of power that reduces the hierarchies in funder-community relationships and supports shared decision-making processes.
    It's against the backdrop of these values and our networks twenty-year evolution that this summer has been particularly fascinating.  Here's a quick sample of where I've been spending my time:
    • Launching our newest learning circle - seven funders who have joined together for a two-year exploration of the intersection of grassroots grantmaking and aging, pioneers in building bridges between the community building work of grassroots grantmaking and the issue-specific work (aging, education, environment, health) that funders do, too-often in parallel universes.  
    • Putting the pieces together to move one of our back-burner research ideas to the front-burner - connecting more directly to community residents who take on grantmaking roles as members of resident-led grantmaking committees - learning more about what this experience has meant for them, what questions they are asking they never get adequately answered, what they know now that they wish they had known back then.  With seven funders in our network now fully investing in resident-led grantmaking, we're in new territory in terms of "we begin with residents" funding. Fascinating.
    • Getting to know the pioneers in the developmental disabilities community like the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, one of Grassroots Grantmakers' newest contributing members - who are seeing grassroots grantmaking as a powerful vehicle to change the conversation about people with disabilities from people with needs to people with gifts whose primary need is to be connected to community.
    • Preparing for the launch of our new website, rethinking our approach to webinars, gearing up for our biennial survey on grassroots grantmaking, thinking about how we can grow our organizational capacity to meet our aspirations, and always, always delighted when the phone rings with someone on the other end who wants to learn about grassroots grantmaking or share their experience.
    So that's a recap of my fascinating summer of 2011 with Grassroots Grantmakers - and my re-entry into blogging about big thinking on small grants. It's good to be back!

    July 29, 2011

    Creating a Welcome at the Edge

    I had the opportunity to reconnect with John McKnight when I was in Toronto recently at the Inclusion Network's Summer Institute and have been thinking about a comment that he made there and my work in philanthropy, trying to strengthen and connect the big thinking about small grants funders out there and grow some more.  I've known John over the years through my association with the Asset Based Community Development Institute that he and his colleague and my friend, Jody Kretzmann founded.

    John was talking about "community" - the various interpretations of what we mean when we talk about community.  He mentioned one of the 100+ definitions that sociologists use for community includes the notion that you can spot a community by the innies and outies (my language, not his).  That some people belong and others don't.  That associational groups - the groups that people form out of common interest - basically include people who have that interest and don't include people who don't share that interest.  The community choirs of the world are for those who love to sing, the dalmatian lovers group is for those who love spotted dogs, and the runners clubs are for those who like to run. 

    There's another type of community, however, where everyone is "in" - or should be.  These are the communities that are defined by geography, where the thing people have in common is their block, their street, their neighborhood or their small town.  The place IS the thing in common, even though everyone in that place may experience it in different ways or see it from different angles.  This tie that we share with others is the common denominator among the hodge-podge of people who find themselves living in the same place, by accident or on purpose.

    I love this idea and believe in the magic that happens for a community and for the people involved when there is a place at the table for everyone.  No children's table, no one in the other room or exiled to the front porch or conveniently not invited.  Perhaps that's why I fret when I find myself living in places that don't feel hospitable or welcoming.  In John McKnight's terms, they are places that don't have a welcome at the edge. I've experienced those places - haven't you?

    Having a welcome at the edge means that someone is paying attention to who is not included, who's missing.  Who are the strangers in our neighborhood or town? They may be new to town or to the neighborhood.  They may be elderly or young.  They may have health-related challenges that make it difficult to venture out.  Or they may be people who speak another language or practice another religion or think of themselves as different in some way that makes them feel that stepping out comes with the risk of rejection.  Someone with labels - self-imposed or community-imposed.

    When there's a welcoming at the edge, there's someone who doesn't see the labels, someone or many someones who believe in their hearts that "all" really means "all".  Someone is thinking about how to welcome the people who are standing at the edge and bring them into the circle in a way that is welcoming and accepting.

    So what does this have to do with big thinking about small grants?  The "big thinking" that I'm talking about is about small grants that support everyday people as the difference-makers in the community change equations.  And making a difference means that in any community change equation, there's a welcome at the edge.

    If you're a big thinking funder, are you looking for the welcome at the edge when you're reviewing proposals?  When you're talking to people about the small grants invitation, are you reminding people to think about how small grants can be used to welcome the strangers - and asking questions that expand thinking on who might be considered a stranger? Are you talking with your grant review committee about the power of a welcome at the edge?

    If you're on the other side of the grantmaker/grantee equation, have you thought about who is missing - what blocks or houses or age groups or cultural groups bring up question marks rather than names and faces for you?  Can you imagine how you can include a welcome at the edge that can bring these people are groups form the edge to the center - even if you're trying to secure funding from a grantmaker who is not on the grassroots grantmaking wavelength?  

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on creating a welcome at the edge and your experience with welcoming the strangers in your community or providing funding for this purpose.  Join me on this topic by posting a reply.

    July 18, 2011

    Searching for Four Leaf Clovers

    I just returned from Toronto, attending the Inclusion Network's Toronto Summer Institute.  As I got to know people in this amazing group of community builders and they got to know me, a number of people asked how they could find a funder who thinks big about small grants.  I wish I could say that there's one in every community, and here's the list.  That's the future that I want to see, but that's not where we are now.  There are more and more everyday, but I know for many people, finding one is like finding a four leaf clover.

    I'll share what tips I offered about where to look and what signs you might see that a funder is a big thinker about small grants.  But first, I have to say that I'm perplexed about why grassroots grantmakers - the big thinkers of the small grants world  - aren't popping up everywhere.  It just seems so obvious to me that funders with community roots and sensibilities would be natural big thinkers about small grants - the type of small grants that are a centerpiece of grassroots grantmaking.  If you care about strong resilient communities - places that are friendly places of opportunity for people - and are want to invest your philanthropic dollars in ideas that increase your community's livability, viability, and ability to tackle and overcome challenges, how can you overlook the incredible possibilities that can come from relatively small investments made to everyday people to do things that they think will make a difference?  And how can you make decisions about where to focus your philanthropic investments if the intended beneficiaries of your investments - community residents - are not helping you sort through the millions of options that you have before you?  Beats me. I often write here about resistance that I spot to the small grants idea - perceived risk, reluctance to invest in the staff capacity needed, transaction cost, short-term horizon, tunnel vision on an issue - but the benefits so far outweigh the costs, that I just don't get it why some funders are so reluctant to embark on a serious exploration of how to cross those bridges.

    So if you're looking for a funder who thinks big about small grants, here are some pointers of where and how to look:
    •  Look for funders who focus their work in a place - a region, a metro area, a city, or a neighborhood.  These are the funders who are often most likely to be viewing their work with a wide-angled lens, and understand the power (and necessity) of inviting everyday people into the action;
    • Look for funders who get out of the office, invite people in, work hard to build relationships with a diverse group of people, and are consciously navigating around the dollar sign that they and all funders wear on their foreheads;
    • Listen for curiosity about what everyday people are experiencing and what ideas everyday people might have, and what additional assets, energy and connections everyday people can bring to the table;
    • Listen for frustration with business as usual - with an appreciation of the built-in limitations that come with investing in programs and services as the primary vehicle for changing lives and communities;
    • Look at the grants that the funder made in the previous year, seeing if you can spot any (or many) that were made to groups instead of organizations, and that fall in the small grants range of $500 to $5,000. Or a larger grant that was made to a community-based organization who is working as the funders small grants partner - managing the small grants program for the funder.
    • Look for stories that show that this funder understands that small grants can have big impact.
    • Listen for interest in spotting and developing the people who get things going on their block - the natural "capacity finders and mobilizers" in their community, with a knack for connecting people and making the first step on a big idea seem do-able.
    Some funders who are big thinkers about small grants don't call their work grassroots grantmaking.  Some don't even call themselves "funder".  Fertile ground for big thinking on small grants can be found in local governments, neighborhood resource centers, neighborhood houses, giving circles, and community-based organizations in addition to community foundations, family foundations and other private foundations - organizations who understand what happens when people in their active citizen roles connect and bring their voices and values to shape choices that affect them in very personal ways.  And know that when you spot a big thinker about small grants, you have found something better than an opportunity to apply for a small grant, something even better than a four-leaf clover.  You've spotted a funder who is thinking outside of the traditional funding box, part of making a change in how institutions with money are partnering with everyday people to improve their communities.

    If you spot some signs that there might be a big thinker about small grants in your community - or even see just one of the signs that I listed above - help us spread the word and build the community of grassroots grantmakers by sharing this blog, Grassroots Grantmakers' website ( or sending a note of encouragement to check out what we're learning about how to think big about small grants.  Let's make it easier for groups of everyday people to find the modest resources and institutional partners they sometimes need to move their idea into action or amplify their impact.  Let's make it so that spotting big thinking about small grants isn't be as hard as finding a four leaf clover.

    June 27, 2011

    There's Big Goings-On in Cleveland for Grassroots Grantmaking

    I was in Cleveland recently, part of  the Residents at the Center: The Power of Grassroots Grantmaking Forum that The Foundation Center hosted there.  We had a full house of more than 70 people attending in person, and others in an untold number of places watching via simulcast. The recordings of my presentation, the follow-up panel discussion, and the podcast that The Foundation Center used to help promote the forum are now available if you want to check them out out.

    Ira Resnick, wherever you are, are we thinking big enough for you now? I hope you're smiling.

    And keep on smiling.  While I was there, I had the privilege of sitting in on a meeting of Neighborhood Connections' grantmaking committee - the meeting where they approved $300,000 in grants, ranging from $500 to $5,000,  to Cleveland area community groups.  Did you get that?  Yes, I said $300,000 in grants of $5,000 or less.  And this was just one of the two rounds of grants that Neighborhood Connections awards each year.  Yes, indeed, there's big goings-on in Cleveland for grassroots grantmaking.

    I regularly point people who want to try out resident-led grantmaking to Neighborhood Connections, but I hadn't seen the grantmaking committee at work before this visit.  I have been impressed by The Cleveland Foundation's willingness to turn the decision-making about who gets grants from this program over to neighborhood residents, and the process that is used to select people to sit on this committee that goes beyond usual suspects to reach the often untapped layer of community leadership. But seeing this group at work - witnessing how they thought about these grants and the deep understanding and respect they showed for the power and possibilities of everyday people in their active citizen roles - was really wonderful.

    If you're thinking that it's easy to be wonderful when you have plenty of money, let me say this - "oh, really?"  Yes, the grantmaking budget is big here, but the work is anything but easy.  Imagine the outreach it takes to reach deeply into neighborhoods all across the city of Cleveland and the staff and committee work it takes to review proposals of $5,000 or less representing $1 million in requests.  And since the best grassroots grantmaking work is about relationships and not just the grantmaking transaction, there's all the work that goes on after the grant is made - connecting grantee groups together so that they can teach and inspire each other, coaching groups and leaders, keeping an ear to the ground for ways to invite resident leaders to new tables and new conversations, and setting up ways for groups to celebrate their accomplishments in ways that promote learning and open up new possibilities. 

    If that's not enough, I was also able to sit in on some brainstorming with a group that Neighborhood Connections had brought together to participate in small group training that Grassroots Grantmakers facilitated earlier in the year - visiting with the amazing team at Lawrence Community Works to learn about LCW's NeighborCircles process.  I loved the big thinking around that table - and that at least one person around the table had already taken steps from thinking to acting to try out this process. Before I headed home, I had the opportunity to also get in some conversations with a number of people from a surprising variety of different types of organizations - people who are either supporting or actively engaged in grassroots grantmaking already or intrigued about the possibilities.

    Big thinking has broken out all over in Cleveland, and it was wonderful to have had the opportunity to swim around in that water for a few days.  I suspect, however, that similar waters are waiting in surprising places.  Is that your city?  Are you involved with or spotting interesting work that may not now embrace the label "grassroots grantmaking" that feels like the work that I describe on this blog?  Do you sense that there's big goings-on in your place (organization/town/city/region)?  If "yes" is your answer, please connect!  I would love to share your story!

    June 20, 2011

    Inviting Applications

    Whenever I hear that a funder can't find anyone to apply for a grant - and of course I'm talking here about funders who are thinking big about the type of small grants that are a core tool of grassroots grantmaking - I begin to ask questions.  My detective work usually turns up a problem in the application process that the funder has designed.  It might be something about how the funder is getting the word out about the grant opportunity.  Quite often, it's something about the application itself.

    I don’t think there is any such thing as the perfect application.  If I did, I’d share it here.  Applications, just like every other design element of grassroots grantmaking programs, need to be tailored to work in your community.  I can share some basic do’s and don’ts – starting points for designing or redesigning good small grants applications.

    Perhaps I should start with saying that I do believe in applications.  I know that Bill Somerville and others are fans of the “less is more” approach – substituting a conversation or a simple letter for an application.  If I had to choose between the overly complicated, book-like application and the “less is more” approach, I’d definitely go with “less is more”.  But my first choice is “just a little more”.

    I think there’s something important about sitting down with a few questions that are designed to help spark some thinking and put some more flesh and bones on an idea.  I also believe in processes that support and encourage the thinking on the idea to continue.  It’s no surprise then that I believe that the most powerful application formats are ones that include a few good questions, and don’t lock people into hanging onto wherever they were in thinking about an idea at the time they completed the application.

    Other than the basic “who are you” questions, I like questions that ask people to:
    • Talk about their group and to share a story about how the people in the group came together.
    • Tell about the activity, event or project that they have in mind – what it is, where the idea had its beginnings.
    • List the steps that the group will take to get this done – the who, when, and what of project planning.
    • Talk about their idea of “success” and describe what will be different if the project is a smashing success.
    • Say what they might do next.
    • List, in a very simple way, how they would spend the money that is necessary for their idea to be successful.
    If you need to ask how the idea is connected to some goal that you have for your small grants program – then ask that as well.  But of course, in people friendly terms rather than funder jargon.

    Pretty simple, right?  But more than this, I love applications that use questions like these to set up conversations that don’t really get formalized until after the grant is awarded.  I love applications that are beginning points for the discussions that the staff or grantmaking committees have with the applicant organizations and provide room for the group to continue to “grow” their idea throughout the application process.  The way I handled that when I was a grantmaker was to tell the grantmaking committee members that the application was simply the beginning point for a conversation, make sure that face to face “level playing field” conversations happened between the applicant and those who would be making the grant recommendation, and to avoid those crazy score cards that try to take the subjectivity out of the grant review process.   I also kept the “deal” regarding how money would be spent open as long as possible by holding tight to power to hold new grantees to the budget that they submitted AFTER they knew that they were receiving a grant and for how much.  I loved the opportunity to make hay with the power of endorsement that comes with receiving a grant from a prestigious funding organization, and tell a group to stretch the money we had awarded as far as possible by telling other potential partners that we believed in them and so should they.

    What I don’t like is 15 pages of chutes and ladders- type questions.   That’s funders doing what they think they need to do in the name of some crazy idea of due diligence that is not appropriate for the big thinking world of grassroots grantmaking.

    If you spotted an application with questions like these, would it be inviting?  Would it encourage you to continue or discourage you from taking the next step?  And, if you’re a funder, would it be enough for you to make a decision and be confident about what you’re buying?  Just enough, that’s what I have in mind.  What do you think?

    June 12, 2011

    Getting Basic on Small Grants

    I want to talk about some basics on small grantmaking.  I frequently say (and really believe) that the mechanics of small grantmaking in a big thinking on small grants world are not rocket science.  The same common sense approaches that improve any grant program apply to the type of small grantmaking that we think of as "grassroots grantmaking".  My hunch is that hundreds (if not more) funders have designed good small grants programs from scratch.  I want more of that - more funders just jumping in to the small grants world and doing it their way without over-complicating things.  But I also want all of the precious small grants money that is being invested out there to be as powerful as possible, and the funders who are using these approaches loving what they are seeing.

    That's why I want to share some of my own pointers for on small grants program mechanics, focusing on the 6 basic questions you should start with to design a powerful small grants program.

    Who:  Know who - the types of groups - you're looking for.  For grassroots grantmaking's small grants, you are looking for the type of groups that everyday people form out of mutual interest or a common purpose,  where "members" share decision-making responsibilities and duties, and where people can come and go at will.  John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann of ABCD fame call these groups associations and are careful about calling out the differences between associations and other types of more permanent organizations.

    I often see funders begin with the intention of funding associational-like groups, but then either unintentionally open the gate for other types of groups - especially those that provide services, or design their program in a way that all but eliminates the more informal associational resident-led groups from the picture, right from the start.  As far as the gate-opening, my best advice there is "don't do it"; once the gate is open, it's almost impossible to close it again, and now your grassroots grantmaking program is just another small grants program, providing seed money to baby non-profits instead of supporting residents as active citizens.

    The best statement of "who" I've seen is "three unrelated people on a block".  Notice what is missing here?  Nothing about having a 501(c)(3) nonprofit designation, nothing about being organized for two years, nothing about financial statements, nothing about by-laws.  If you go fishing with the "three unrelated people on a block" statement in your grantmaking criteria, you're almost sure to find WHO you want for powerful grassroots grantmaking-style small grants.

    Where: This "where" refers to focus.  Are you going to focus in one neighborhood, several neighborhoods, city-wide, metro area, or regionally?   The correct answer to this question is any of the above.  But when you're thinking about "where", it's important to think about the funding organization's capacity, remembering that good small grants work is a relationship and connection building proposition.  If your staff capacity is such that you can't have some regular face-time with the groups that you are funding, and don't know the groups well enough to spot and act on natural connections, then you need to narrow your focus.Otherwise, you're just sprinkling money around, with the assumption that you're doing something, and not thinking big about small grants.

    How: There are a couple of "how" considerations.  How are you going to find the associational groups that you want to find and how do you  make decisions about who gets the grants.  You find the groups you want in two basic ways: 1) by getting out of the office and 2) being smart about using your relationships and networks. By getting out of the office, I mean you're seeking opportunities to talk about the grant program in community settings and showing up with information at community events.  You're also asking people you know to help you spread the word.

    You can approach the decision-making in several ways - each with pros and cons.  Check out Grassroots Grantmakers' website for information on the decision-making models that we have identified across our network.  The important thing here is to select the one that works best for your situation, and begin right away to plan to minimize the "cons".  For example, if you go with a resident-led decision-making process, do some careful planning about how you are going to connect the board of your organization to the program in a way that involves something other than reading a report.

    When: This could be another "how" (how often), but the how often also comes with an important consideration of "when".  My two favorite "how often" options are "constantly" and "regularly".  The constantly option means that you have rolling deadlines and are always in the process of receiving and awarding grants.  The "regularly" option means that you most likely are awarding grants quarterly, semi-annually or even annually.  The trick to to making both options powerful is positioning the announcement of the grant opportunity as an invitation that is welcoming, intriguing, interesting, do-able.  The key to deciding which option works best for you is tied to how you make decisions and how much capacity you have to manage the process.

    Another "when" consideration, especially if you offer grants once or twice a year, is timing.  I like backing into the grant cycle dates from the check-award date, timing the completion of the process and awarding of checks before resident-led groups hit their busy-season - often spring and summer. 

    What:  By "what", I'm talking about what are you looking for - often evidenced by what you talk about when you're deliberating over who receives grants.  With grassroots grantmaking, the "what" you're looking for is an idea that originated with a group of people (i.e. three unrelated people on a block) and is being moved into action as a project, event or activity that, at the most basic level, has the potential to build and strengthen the spider-web of relationships inside the neighborhood and turn on some light bulbs that illuminate possibilities for what people can do when they come together.  The focus is on where the idea originated, who is doing the doing, and what the activity does to strengthen active citizen power and voice.  The conversation at the funding table should focus on these questions.  I view conversations that get overly focused on “things” as conversations that have taken a detour from the most powerful “what” focus – turning into conversations that are more about money and what money will buy instead of what the proposed activity can do to strengthen active citizenship.

    Why: I've been a lot of good small grants programs.  The powerful ones, however, are grounded in a strong sense of "why", and the "why" is to invest in everyday people as active citizens, actively using their creativity, passion, ingenuity and connectedness to make life better, right where they live.  The most powerful small grants programs are clearly not about programs that provide things to and for people as clients or consumers, but instead are about supporting groups of people who want to move one of their own ideas into action.

    You'll find many more tips and tools for grassroots grantmaking on Grassroots Grantmakers' website in the Resources area, and I can think of other great resources of small grants programs, but these are the basics.

    Comments or additions?

    June 1, 2011

    Giftmaking vs. Grantmaking in a We Begin with Residents World

    I've been in the middle of several conversations about money in the past week - funders talking about where money fits into the community improvement, strengthening local democracy picture.  I heard several funders say that they have learned to never lead with money - meaning that beginning a conversation or relationship with "Who needs money?" or "We have some money to give" is a bad idea.  I heard others say that they have learned that money is one of the least powerful tools that funders have in their community improvement toolbox.  This was a familiar conversation.

    This time, however, it was sitting on top of another recent exchange about what it means for a funder to say (and mean) that they begin with residents.  It was community residents this time saying that if you begin with us, just give us the money.

    Wow.  Maybe the "never lead with money" funders are right about the corrupting quality of money.  Or maybe the community residents are right when they are telling funders that it is a game for a funder to say that it's not about money when it's so apparent that money is in the room - wearing a disguise or blatantly out in the open - and is shaping the power dynamics in the funder-community resident relationship. Or just maybe these are two extremes of a continuum that has creative grantmaking on one end, and generous giftmaking on the other end.

    I think of gifts and grants as two very different things.  A gift is an act of generosity that isn't supposed to come with strings.  It's me sending money to my daughter for her birthday with a note saying "here's something for you to use however you want".  I might say something like "here's something to help you buy that new coat you need for next winter", but there's nothing explicit or implicit in that statement that says that she can't use the money to make her next Visa payment or put gas in her car or get a massage.  It's a gift.  I might hope that my daughter likes the gift that I give her or, if it's money, uses the money in a way that I think is smart, but I can just hope.  And on her side of the exchange, she also has no way of initiating my gift-giving impulse.  All she can do is hope (or maybe hint) that I remember her birthday with a gift - something that she will like or can use.

    I think of a grant as a deal between two parties, and deals, by their very nature, come with strings attached.  Deals also are places where two parties come together who want to get something done that they both care about – perhaps in different ways and for different reasons.  And there's usually some negotiating that happens until both parties get enough of what they want to forward.  When the moving forward happens, there are clear expectations of what is supposed to happen.  In the grantmaking world, the grantee can expect a check from the funder when the grant agreement has been signed and everything has been done that the grantee agreed to do as part of the negotiations about the grant.  The funder, in turn, can expect that the grantee will make their best faith effort to achieve what they said they would achieve in the grant proposal.  For the funder, it's not about getting a massage when you promised to use the money for a new winter coat.  For the grantee, it’s not about a funder deciding to change the terms – how much, for how long, and for what – once the agreement is signed.  It’s a deal.

    I know this is basic, but I'm being so basic because I think that in the murkiness that happens when money enters the picture, there's some confusion out there about the difference between a gift and a grant.  I think that this confusion is a cloud that gets in the way of using money well in a "we begin with residents" funding environment.  When I hear grants described as "free money" or a grantmakers' job described as "giving away money", I know that people are thinking about giftmaking and not grantmaking.  And if they come into the grantmaking environment with giftmaking in mind, they are sure to be disappointed, even when the best "we begin with residents" funders is at the table.  When I hear funders say that money isn't important, I hear frustration that comes with being perceived as a walking dollar sign with expectations that people have about getting "free money" when there is so much else the funder could bring to the deal and when the “walking dollar sign” person has to navigate through both legal requirements and policy guidelines that come with the grantmaking territory.

    My response to the community group that says "we begin with residents" funding is about giving freer access to the funder's checkbook is this:  If you're talking about getting to the checkbook in a more straightforward way, without feeling like you've just made it through an obstacle course that is specifically designed to weed out all but the most determined or skilled grantseekers - you're right.  If you're also talking about more opportunities for real conversations about what you are trying to accomplish, more opportunities to really listen to what the funder is trying to accomplish, and a relationship that will enable you and the funder to craft a deal that is good for both of you - you're right.  If you're talking about the type of relationship that allows you to see more than the checkbook, and talk with the funder about what else you need besides money - what information you need, what doors you need help opening, where you're stuck and could use another perspective - you're right.  But if you're talking about free money, with an expectation that this grantmaker will become a giftmaker instead - you're missing the boat.

    I'm not one who will ever say that money isn't important or that it's always a mistake to lead with money.  I may be naive, but I believe that the opportunity to apply for a grant can be positioned as a powerful invitation that moves people into action on something that they have been thinking, dreaming or worrying about.  I also understand the limitations of money, and have seen many groups, through the small grants experience, get disillusioned because they really believed that money was the answer and discovered for themselves that it's just part (and often the easiest part) of the answer.  That's why it's so important to completely understand the difference between giftmaking and grantmaking in the "we begin with residents" environment.  If you just want the checkbook, you just may have left more of what you really need to achieve your dream on the table.  And if you're only thinking about money, you're not in a position to join with a funder who aspires to work from a "we begin with residents" orientation and together bring everyday, tangible meaning to that term.

    I know that there are people reading this deal with the sticky part of grantmaking every day - on the grantmaking side and on the grant receiving side - would love to hear what you have to say about grantmaking and giftmaking in a we begin with residents world.  Look for "comment" and join in.

    May 23, 2011

    Thinking More About "We Begin with Residents"

    One of the fascinating conversations at Grassroots Grantmakers' recent "On the Ground" learning gathering in Denver was about success.  What does success (or victory) look like for funders who work from a "we begin with residents" perspective and for the groups that they fund?  As we dug into this question, we spent as much time talking about what "we begin with residents" means.  What is the evidence that a funder is really taking "we begin with residents" to heart?  And what expectations are set in motion for grantees if they hear that a funder works from a "we begin with residents" perspective?

    "We begin with residents" is Grassroots Grantmakers' tag-line, carefully chosen after initially landing on "in neighborhoods, with residents".  We discarded the "in neighborhoods" tag-line because we know that many funders can say that they are "in neighborhoods, with residents", but they are there with their own agenda, without the relationships with residents that we believe are the hallmarks of grassroots grantmaking.  The "we begin with residents" tag-line is an aspirational statement around which we have seen member organizations such as The Denver Foundation continually raise the bar. I think it's a sign of this "bar-raising" and the deep relationship building that is happening across our network that residents and funders are talking together about what it means for a funder to "begin with residents".

    As I've been reflecting on these conversations, I've been thinking about what all-out, full-blown "we begin with residents" funding looks like from both the funder's side and the community's side of the table and what sign-posts could be spotted along the way that a "we begin with residents" relationship is growing and maturing.  On the funder's side of the equation, does "we begin with residents" mean that we begin - and end - with residents and that all of our work is now focused on/initiated by/driven by community residents?  And from the community's side, does it mean that when residents speak, rules are relaxed and the funder's checkbook is within easy (or at least easier) reach?

    We were able to get a good look at capacity building over time at Grassroots Grantmakers' recent "on the ground" learning gathering in Denver.  We saw how The Denver Foundation and the Strengthening Neighborhoods staff had evolved their work over time with both tweaks and more significant programmatic changes - all of which were influenced by what they were hearing from residents and learning from keeping their ears to the ground. We saw evidence of capacity building at many levels on the foundation side of the grassroots grantmaking equation - changes in the grantmaking process, in how staff carried out their work, in who was hired,  in the growing influence over time that Strengthening Neighborhoods has had on The Denver Foundation itself, and how it has both influenced and been influenced by partner organizations such as the Urban Land Conservancy and MOP (Metro Organizations for People), Denver's PICO affiliate.  This is work that is constantly evolving, with its evolution informed by learning about what it means to be a "we begin with residents" funder.

    We also saw some evidence of  the evolving understanding of "we begin with residents" on the grantee and community partner side in Denver. We heard from one of The Denver Foundation's community partners about their evolving relationship with The Denver Foundation over time - evolving from "foundation = money" to "foundation = money + networks + influence + co-thinker/strategizer".  Over time, this became a relationship and more about "we" - what goals that we have in common - and not so much about "us and them".  While we didn't hear the inside-stories about grant negotiations, my hunch is that those negotiations were really negotiations - respectful, give-and-take exchanges - and not the usual funder-grantee, "guess the magic word" conversations.

    In the spirit of supporting "bar-raising" and inviting conversation about what it means for a funder to work in a "we begin with residents" manner, here is what I look for when a fully actualized "we begin with residents" funder is in the mix:

    Its values.  It is clear that the people around the table and calling the shots value:
    • the resourcefulness and ingenuity of everyday people, and are clear about what it means for people to show up as active citizens instead of volunteers, customers, clients or consumers;
    • a patient money approach, with funding policies that are consistent with their understanding that building the capacity for strong, sustainable communities doesn’t happen in one funding cycle;
    • ground truth - as an important companion to other forms of data;
    • inclusivity, working to create a community culture  where everyone is welcome, nobody is excluded from community work, and each person has gifts they bring to the community table;
    • learning, with funders knowing that as they support communities through a process of change, they will also experience a transformation of their own funding models and a new confluence of power that reduces the hierarchies in funder-community relationships and supports shared decision-making processes. And grantees learning how to extend the influence on their block as well as inside key institutions that can be critical allies in their work.
    You can see the difference in their relationships. Funders and grantees alike strive for relationships that are about co-creation, the process of creating great work by standing together with those for whom the results are intended.  Both parties find value and are transformed by the experience of working together. 

    There's more than money in the funder's bag of tricks. Grants are coupled with coaching, training, connecting, celebrating, and connecting, calling for the on the ground people who staff these programs to look past the grantmaking transaction to what else is needed to help the group move their idea into action and be ready for the next one.

    There's a systems orientation lens on the every one's camera. For funders and grantees alike, it's not just about the work of this one funder, this one grant, this one activity, this one group. It's also about how strengthening resident voice and opening up new tables for active citizens can change the bigger picture dynamics of how things get done in that community.

    It's not just one champion, it's the organization. With the most authentic "we begin with residents" funders, there's a depth to their organizational commitment to the values and principles I've already listed.  It may be that one person is the primary flag bearer or the initial internal change-agent, but eventually "we begin with residents" has influence inside the funding organization and doesn't just sit as an attachment to one funding program. While grassroots grantmaking might typically start as a specific grants program or capacity-building activity, it can build toward adopting core values at the grants committee level and then at the staff and board levels, engaging grassroots grantmaking principles and citizen leadership in foundation initiatives around issues such as arts, education, or social services, bringing citizen leaders to the table when the foundation assists the community in applying for national grants, involving the citizen leaders as staff or board members of the foundation.

    What else would look for in a "we begin with residents" funding scenario?  And where along the continuum from initial aspiration to fully actualized do think the "we begin with residents" idea can most likely get stuck?  I'm all ears.