True Grassroots Grantmaking Means Transforming Our Institutions and Our Selves

In this post-election era there is a sense that building communities in which all are included and all are cared for may be beyond our grasp.  At Grassroots Grantmakers, we don’t believe that.


In early October, 100 people from around the country came together in Baltimore for Grassroots Grantmakers’ On the Ground, our annual learning experience that we bill as an ‘unconference.’ Our hosts, the Baltimore Community Foundation, welcomed us to their city and provided the conduit for us to learn from and with grassroots changemakers from around the region.

Our unconference provided a space for reflection and growth for people who believe that without the voices of people impacted by investment decisions, all the good intentions in the world cannot bring about the changes our communities need. Philanthropy holds some very important keys for societal healing and transformation – and strengthening the relationship between funders and communities, especially at the grassroots, will increase the likelihood that investments will help and not hinder.

Our teachers in Baltimore were insightful, powerful, and diverse. The Black Mental Health Alliance reminded us that systemic racism causes trauma and that ignoring trauma will not resolve it. They introduced us to compelling work to heal and restore communities in culturally respectful and sustaining ways. A University of Baltimore professor, Dr. Elizabeth Nix, traced the contemporary disenfranchisement of Baltimore’s African American community back through centuries of specific, unjust policies. Residents joined staff from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs and Casa de Maryland to share ways new immigrants are making connections with long-time African American communities to help build instead of divide. Residents and staff at the Creative Alliance involved us in storytelling and a greeting card art project to explore race in transformational ways. And throughout, the presences and performances of amazing artists from a wide range of disciplines kept us centered in our guts and the experiences we shared.

As we explored the many ways Baltimore residents are working to strengthen and heal their communities, we considered the institutional constraints that profoundly limit the ability of philanthropic organizations to support and participate in these transformations. Even more compelling to me, we addressed constraints within ourselves that also block change. I became more convinced that our institutions will change when the people within them are transformed.


On the Ground in Baltimore pointed to many productive directions for institutional and personal transformation. In the coming months, this blog will explore many of those directions in greater depth, from the varied perspectives of new friends and old friends we’ll ask to help out.

Please read the list below and let us know what you think. Which directions speak to you? Which do you want to hear more about? Which would you like to write about yourself? Your input will help guide Grassroots Grantmakers work over the coming months.

Theme areas that arose at On the Ground:

  • Putting race front and center in philanthropy and community change
  • Promoting community and exploring race and racial disparities through art
  • Resident philanthropists and community-focused funders
  • Fiscal sponsorship (a mechanism to get philanthropic dollars to grassroots initiatives)
  • How small grants can achieve big changes
  • Philanthropy’s response to uprisings and local trauma
  • Culturally competent and holistic mental health approaches
  • New approaches to needs assessments
  • Gentrification
  • Youth as philanthropists

We are looking forward to hearing from you, and you’ll be hearing from us soon!

All the best to you in your life and work,




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