I'm in Cleveland, wrapping up two days with teams from 7 organizations who are plowing new ground in the grassroots grantmaking world on resident-led grantmaking. I've been watching resident-led grantmaking take root over the past few years and am ready to say with certainty that this approach is now trending, with a growing number of funders now heading in the resident-led grantmaking direction.
When I say resident-led grantmaking, I mean grassroots grantmaking - funding that is designed to support work that happens in the citizen sector via groups that everyday people form as vehicles for mutual aid and collective action - where everyday people are making funding and program design decisions vs. funding professionals or posiitonal leaders. In the grassroots grantmaking universe, resident-led grantmaking is just one of the five decision-making approaches that funders are using (look here a chart that shows all 5 options with pros and cons). Each approach has value and can be the right approach. But resident-led grantmaking is the one approach that transforms the grantmaking process itself into a powerful and authentic vehicle for activating and elevating citizen engagement.
Grassroots Grantmakers will be generating and sharing information and tools on resident-led grantmaking over the next few months, but I want to quickly share some "what we've learned so far" insights from the people who were together in Cleveland this week - all everyday people who have deep experience as grantmakers via resident-led grantmaking commimttees in their communities.
The question posed was "what is the most valuable thing you've learned so far" insight about grassroots grantmaking. Here is a sampling of what was shared:
- This work is simple but not easy.
- Advancing citizen-led work is a marathon and not a sprint. It requires you to be patient but to work with a sense of urgency.
- Sustainability is not about sustained money. Sustainability is about more people in the action - but not necessarily always the same people. It's about creating a sustainable culture of participation and citizen action.
- Established non-profits can see this work as threatening. It challenges their good-intentioned work by saying in tangible ways that non-profits are not the ones to lead community change and community building. It's challenging because it's about a shift in the traditional power structure - especially when it comes to who gets funded.
- This work isn't about the money - it's about citizen voice and action. But then again it is about the money, because having money can elevate citizen voice and action. It's just that the money is the vehicle, not the focus.
- Getting the word out is especially important in this type of grantmaking, and it's relationships and personal contact rather than more traditional marketing processes that are needed to reach the people and groups that you want to be in the mix for this type of grantmaking.
- Who sits on the grantmaking committee matters. This work needs people who have credibility in their community and strong belief in people.
- There is a difference between an idea and a plan. People come forward with an idea, but often need help developing the idea into a plan.
- It's important to remember that we are hearing about dreams and passion - about an idea that is as important to people as their own baby. The grantmaking process should be respectful of those babies.