Resident-Led Grantmaking Committee Member Orientation & Development

The priorities you set for your grantmaking committee, the way they are treated, and the way that committee is managed – whether you intend it or not – will ultimately be the way your grants will be delivered too. Cultivate your committee as you want to cultivate your community, because that is your delivery mechanism. That is where the rubber hits the road.
– Sarah Gyorki, Former Neighborhood Connections Committee Member

For resident grantmakers, their involvement with grantmaking often begins upon joining a resident-led grantmaking committee. Foundations that use this strategy don’t intend or desire to equip their committee members to become budding program officers. In fact, the different perspective resident grantmakers bring to the process is the benefit of this strategy. There are various exercises and methods employed by funders in the Grassroots Grantmakers’ network to orient and develop resident-led grantmaking committees. Grassroots grantmaking programs are about helping every day people move into action collectively and thus look quite different from traditional grant programs. Understanding this is important, albeit simple; putting it into practice is much more challenging. The more committee members can be reminded that their primary role is to support and encourage people’s goals and actions; the less likely they are to slip into the traditional grantmaker role, one that funds professional non-profits and analyzes grants from that perspective.

Committee orientation topics are perhaps not much different for resident-led committees than for traditional grantmaking committees, however, the mission, values, and goals of the grant program are most likely the points of divergence. Thus, grounding the committee members in those will result in grantmaking decisions and processes that reflect the values and purpose of the fund.

What to Do and Cover at Grantmaking Committee Member Orientation

Grantmakers in Grassroots Grantmakers’ network have learned that good grantmaking committee member orientations pay off, and design these sessions with these agenda items in mind:

  • Make time for the grantmaking committee members to chat, meet each other, and enjoy each other’s company (oftentimes over dinner or snacks)
  • Consider using get-to- know-you games
  • Mission, values, and goals of the grants program
  • Items/projects that the program will explicitly NOT fund
  • Criteria to take into consideration when reviewing a grant
  • Step-by-step review of the decision-making process
  • Commitment required and expectations
  • Sticky situations, frequently asked questions, frequent difficult situations
  • Conflict of interest disclosure and policy
  • Interview protocol (if the grants program interviews or conducts site visits with applicants)

Strategies From Our Network: Committee Development

Neighborhood SUCCESS, a grassroots grantmaking program of the Raymond John Wean Foundation, takes an experiential approach to orienting their grantmaking committee members. Program officer Jennifer Roller discusses their evolution from orientation sessions to bringing committee members in as observers, or “associate members”, first before they move to being a full committee member with voting rights:

We offered, in the beginning, two to three-hour training sessions. We found…it’s so much information that only a portion of it is retained following those two sessions. So…we made another step in-between called associate members. New members would…review the applications, go to the orientations, sit-in on all of the interviews and decision-making, but just as a learning experience. Then the next round they would be promoted to full member status and have voting privileges.

To learn more about Neighborhood Success’s associate members and their grantmaking committee listen to this interview.

Neighborhood Connections, the grassroots grantmaking program affiliated with The Cleveland Foundation, facilitates conversations amongst committee members as their primary method of orientation and training. Using the style of Peter Block’s “A Small Group”, groups of three committee members answer questions posed about the grantmaking process, with time allotted in between each question to discuss their answers as a full committee. Questions include – What keeps you coming back to the committee? Why are you a committee member? What is the purpose of the grants? Who are the grants meant for? There is always room for improvement. What are some ways the grantmaking committee can improve this round to be the best it can be?

For programs that include an applicant interview or site visit, building a warm and welcoming rapport with applicants is practiced and emphasized in grantmaking committee member training. This includes the way in which committee members ask interview questions, their physical demeanor during an applicant interview, and their ability to recognize whether or not an interviewee is at ease. Neighborhood Connections former grantmaking committee member, Sarah Gyorki, discusses her opinions on developing rapport with applicants:

When you say what makes a good committee member – passion, dedication, commitment, enthusiasm – those things all matter a lot. But at the end of the day it’s really people skills because, really, this isn’t about money. It’s about people and helping them further their goals. And it’s a real challenge when you’re bringing together a large group of passionate, dedicated, enthusiastic, committed community activists to get them out of the mode of caring about what they care about and put them in a mode when they are just about supporting and facilitating. How do I help these people do what they want to do and leave my stuff at the door and just come in saying “tell me about what you’re doing; tell me why you love this; tell me why you’re involved with this; what got you started? I know there’s a story; we love to hear about your goals and plans here and help us understand how this funding will make this possible for you.” Because that’s what these grants are really about.

Listen to Sarah’s full interview to hear more.

Here are some examples of interview questions and protocol Neighborhood SUCCESS has found helpful.

  1. Ask how their project is:
    • Expanding meaningful resident participation and leadership
    • Encouraging communication and collaboration among residents, associations and institutions
    • Leveraging/Building on the financial, human and material resources that exist in the community
    • Enhancing the quality of life in neighborhoods – physically, socially or economically
  1. Ask follow up questions: Help me understand…
  2. Ask what they see as the greatest overlap between their goals and the goals of Neighborhood SUCCESS?
  3. Observe: Is the applicant at ease or reluctant to discuss anything?

Sample documents from Grassroots Grantmakers Document Bank:


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