Grassroots Grantmaking

Grassroots Grantmaking

Grassroots grantmaking is a place-based grantmaking approach that focuses on strengthening and connecting resident-led organizations and their leaders in urban neighborhoods and rural communities.

Typically, it is aimed at strengthening the capacity of people who come together to improve their communities through projects and activities that they initiate and manage.

More often than not, funders involved in this type of grantmaking combine modest grants with technical assistance, training, leadership development and convening to enable grantees to become better connected with one another and other resources in the community.

Grassroots Grantmakers:

Why grassroots grantmaking?

Many funders have found that grassroots grantmaking programs are highly cost effective, yielding results that are more significant than the grant dollars would have suggested. Typically, grants support the work of passionate residents – work that is often low-cost in nature and depends on volunteer commitment rather than paid professional help. In addition to projects, there are other important by-products of the grant awards – renewed hope and pride, increased citizen participation and community leadership – and these inevitably spillover to positively impact other quality of life issues.

Grassroots grantmaking can also have significant benefits for the funding organization itself: new relationships and perspectives that inform other program areas, increased credibility as an entity that has deep knowledge and understanding about its community, and opportunities to create new partnerships with donors, local governments, and other philanthropies. Grassroots grantmaking is a strategy that contributes to a funder’s capacity to serve as a community leader, demonstrates its commitment to community accountability, and underscores the funding organization’s unique position in its community.

As a priority strategy for engaging and advancing all voices within a community, for connecting with marginalized segments of the community, and for strengthening community leadership, more and more funders are finding that grassroots grantmaking generates a significant return on their investment.

Core ingredients of an effective grassroots grantmaking program:

Experienced grassroots grantmakers acknowledge that an effective grassroots grantmaking program requires:

Is there a down-side?

It depends. Grassroots grantmaking programs work best when they are focused on relationship building – building relationships between neighbors, between organizations within the neighborhood, between neighborhood organizations and others across the city and between the funder and the neighborhood. For this reason, such programs often require more day-to-day attention than more traditional grantmaking programs. Yes, the grants may be small, but done right, grassroots grantmaking programs require more staff time. If efficiency – not effectiveness or leverage – is your top priority, grassroots grantmaking may not be for you.

Getting started:

If you are intrigued by the idea of grassroots grantmaking and are wondering where to start, you might begin here:

  1. At home – learn about what resources are currently available for strengthening and connecting resident-led organizations and their leaders, with an eye to filling in a missing piece (grants, technical assistance or leadership development opportunities, as a good start) or joining with other funders to strengthen the existing system of support for grassroots groups.
  2. With your colleagues – An ideal way to learn about grassroots grantmaking is to talk with your peers at other foundations and, if possible, to visit their foundations to look at their grassroots grantmaking programs. Grassroots grantmaking lends itself to “kicking the tires” types of site visits – a site visit is often worth much more than 1000 words!
  3. With one of Grassroots Grantmakers’ topical conference calls – Grassroots Grantmakers regularly hosts “topical conference calls” on issues of interest to grassroots grantmaking practitioners. These 90-minute calls are free and open to all funders, and are a great way for you to quickly gather information and to try out the fit of the grassroots grantmaking concept and approach with your foundation. On these calls, you are welcome to listen in the background or be an active participant – quickly tapping into a storehouse of information from the most experienced grassroots grantmakers in our field.