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!

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