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Betty Alonso on The Power of Grassroots Grantmaking

It was that summer when there was “nothing to do” that Betty Alonso’s future suddenly changed. A college student studying economics, she was coaxed by a friend to join a neighborhood driven project designed to keep young people busy and out of trouble.

“This was a project that came together through folks asking simple favors of each other – it was very grassroots, and what I realized that summer is that the smallest things could have an impact,” says Alonso. “It opened a whole new way of looking at things.”

That new perspective not only prompted Alonso to change her major from economics to public administration – but it also charted a career in the private and public sectors centered on capacity building, where “listening to the individual and the community come first.”

Today Alonso is the Associate Director of Programs at the Dade Community Foundation in Miami, Florida, where she has worked for over 7 years. Through her role she’s been able to use her ideas around capacity building to foster productive and livable communities for all residents. Alonso’s recent work in Little Havana Neighborhood exemplifies how “people coming together and working towards a common goal impacts how communities advocate for each other, proving that the small wins are what keep you moving toward the long term goals.”

Adds Alonso, “It’s not easy work – but it is the work we need to be engaged in if philanthropic efforts are to take root in our communities.”

She also serves on a variety of local and national boards, offering her expertise in collaboration and community partnership, homelessness, workforce development, youth leadership, and nonprofit capacity building.

Alonso’s recent appointment as board chair for Grassroots Grantmakers is a role that fits well with her value of resident input. “From the outside looking in, grassroots grants may not seem as important as the larger grants – but the resident input and community buy- in found there keeps us grounded in what is important and way we do this work,” she says.

“Isn’t that how this country was built, through a bunch a grassroots folks? We’re not creating a new nation – but through grassroots grants we’re creating stronger neighborhoods.”

In these tough economic times, when philanthropies are struggling with dollars, and larger organizations can get bogged down in their own inner-workings, Alonso believes that grassroots grant making is set to emerge as the stronger strategy for community change.

“It’s the ability to be flexible and open that happens at a grassroots level. The strength of this strategy is that we get focused on what we’re working for, rather than the dollars.”

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