Co-Creating Knowledge for grassroots grantmaking in community and On the Ground

Grassroots Grantmakers’ tagline is “We begin with residents.” These words privilege residents in the grantmaking process, expressing the desire to start from their experiences – something that is particularly important given that within philanthropy resident voices are seldom heard if at all, and often in very constrained ways.  Our tagline implies the necessity of involving the grassroots at every level of community decision making – especially when decisions directly impact their lives.

In the best models of grassroots grantmaking, involving residents begins way before the application processes are even written. In the best models, residents and community investors co-create  – they explore their relationships to their communities and to each other, and develop a vision together for work they can do in partnership to resource the efforts to create change.

This requires that relationships be based in curiosity, openness, honesty, and a willingness to step back from pre-conceived notions of what “needs to be fixed” in a community and listen instead to what residents love and want to build.  It requires that all partners perceive each other as peers, with gifts to share and challenges to overcome. It requires that learning be mutual, that power be shared, that privilege be understood and effectively mitigated.

In my former life, I was the director of a Spanish-speaking immigrant-led organizing project.  While I came from immigrant grandparents, I am not an immigrant myself, which put me in a privileged position with regard to our members.  Mutual learning, sharing power, understanding and mitigating privilege were pre-requisites for my leadership.   I had to listen and observe deeply, far more than I acted, to be able to understand how my presence impacted members and staff. I had to diminish my role in many ways while being constantly on the alert for the ways I could help open space for others to step into leadership. I saw firsthand the transformative nature of this kind of co-creation.

The kind of culture that lends itself to peer learning is a hallmark of our annual On the Ground learning gatherings.  In addition to surfacing the deeper issues of our host’s work, we offer our Learning Marketplace – a participant-created smorgasboard of conversations where participants offer sessions that allows them to more deeply explore troubling questions they are wrestling with, share successful grassroots grantmaking practices, receive feedback from peers about ideas or initiatives – in short, whatever participants are moved to propose.  Last year we had 35 different sessions.

The Learning Marketplace is us practicing what we preach. We don’t offer On the Grounds so people can passively absorb the experience.  We offer On the Grounds to be a vibrant exchange of ideas and productive dialogue, the best kind of rejuvenating environment for the work we do.  I hope you are thinking about attending this year. If you are, I hope you will consider offering a session during the Learning Marketplace.

You can offer to host a session now by emailing or calling Shannon Dixon, who is helping to coordinate the LMP. Her email is, and you can also reach her by phone at 901-486-4164.  You will also have an opportunity once you get to Baltimore to offer a session as well.

Remember – Early Bird Hotel Registration ends on September 5 and Early Bird Conference Registration ends on September 12th.  Register now by clicking here.



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