A guiding question of this year’s On The Ground in Pittsburgh was “what does resident-centered philanthropy look like?” As thought leaders in grassroots grantmaking, we ask this question because just about every funder will say that seeking input from grantees is good for grantmaking, but what that looks like in practice can vary wildly.
Given that thoughtful resident/grantee participation in grant decisions can greatly increase the effectiveness of those investments, we’d like to share some of the ways we are exploring centering resident perspectives, as opposed to simply including them. Including a perspective ensures that it is added to the mix. Centering a perspective ensures that it is elevated in importance, it comes in from the margins, it guides the decision-making. Residents are not the only voice to take into account as grantmaking decisions are made, but given the degree to which they are marginalized or not heard at all, working to bring those voices to the center far more frequently will be highly worthwhile.
What are some aspects of resident-centered grantmaking?
- Strength based, asset-based – Coming to the work of grantmaking with a burning curiosity to discover what is already happening in a community is so important. Too often the urgency of issues and challenges obscures the fact that every community has strength, wisdom, talents, gifts and leaders. Ignoring those impedes the partnership. At GRGM, we pair our experience in Asset-Based Community Development with a recognition that we also need to apply an equity lens to our work (more on that below).
- Relationships come first – Not relationships of tactical obligation, but real, human relationships between grantmakers and grantees. This requires a willingness to be curious about others, to listen deeply and also to be vulnerable. It requires setting aside the professional mask in favor of healthy communication. This may be quite uncomfortable but it is necessary. True and caring relationships improve information flows, expand creative thinking, ensure that the actual problems are targeted and that the solutions proposed will meet the needs and desires of residents. The good news is that true relationships also feed the spirit, and this helps to protect against overwork and burnout.
- Mutuality and Accountability – Resident-centered implies a recognition that power and privilege shape and distort the relationship between grantmaker and resident/grantee. Owning this, naming it, understanding it and working to develop true mutuality nonetheless is the work. It might mean making some decisions that feel uncomfortable or perhaps foregoing some decisions because of what you hear from your partners.
- Recognition of the structures that exclude – Being willing to recognize the ways an institution operates that shut out the poor, people of color, the disabled, LGBTQ folks, people in the justice system, the undocumented, immigrants, etc is important for improved grassroots inclusion in grantmaking, for developing strong relationships across class and community, for mutuality and accountability. Do your committees only meet on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.? Do you serve pork at a lunch that includes even one Muslim? Do you share the full structures of decision-making with your resident partners? Asking your resident/grantee partners to help you build your grassroots grantmaking program can result in changes that are more inclusive.
- A developing understanding of equity in your community and your institution – How do structural racism and economic inequality work in your community? Have decisions made by philanthropy exacerbated inequality in your community? If so, how? How is your institution learning about these dynamics? How are you learning together with your resident partners about power and inequality in their lives? How can your decisions work to dismantle those dynamics? Bringing your understanding about equity together with your view of a community’s strengths and allowing your partners to school you will help.
- Practice – There is no substitution for the practice of grassroots grantmaking. And practice implies that you can’t do it perfectly from the start. We’d love to support you as you think through the ways that your work helps or hinders meaningful participation of residents/grantees.