Resident-Led Grantmaking: Community Relations Considerations

My organization had received grants from the Raymond John Wean Foundation in the past. I felt that it was important, at least to me, to be on the other side of that [process] and be able to give back into the community what I had been able to receive. I thought being on the committee itself would help when I talked to people who say ‘oh I couldn’t possibly write a grant; we’ll never get a grant.’ You can do it. You can learn and every time you write a grant the Wean Foundation gives you feedback and so being on the committee you’re able to help people out in the community in stepping out where they wouldn’t have.
– Corky Stiles, Committee Member, Neighborhood SUCCESS, Raymond John Wean Foundation

To hear more of Corky’s about her time on the grantmaking committee listen to the Neighborhood SUCCESS interview.

Grassroots leaders are recruited to resident-led grantmaking committees specifically for their connectedness to neighborhoods and their neighbors. It is noted that many resident grantmaking committee members continue to act as advocates and ambassadors after leaving the grantmaking committee, independent of being asked to do so. As community activists, many are hardwired to share their knowledge of neighborhood resources and opportunities. One of the benefits of serving on such a committee is being better equipped to help and encourage other community groups to apply for funding. However, overlapping roles of community member and committee member can also pose some challenges. A committee member’s visibility in the neighborhood can also make him or her the victim of backlash or scrutiny by neighbors denied funding. Here we explore how committee members in our network view their roles outside of grantmaking and how they have dealt with the challenges of being associated with a community funding entity.

Strategies from Our Network: Community Relations

Being a Resource:
Many committee members have noted that after just one round of grantmaking they learn more about the happenings in their communities than anticipated. They meet and/or learn about gardeners, activists, youth, elderly, artists, teachers, dancers, and more. The connections committee members make in interview rooms are often maintained beyond the grant process. Pastor Gordon Martin, a Neighborhood Connections committee member and grantee, always brings his address book to applicant interviews and, careful not to overstep bounds, will network with an applicant when he sees an opportunity for connections. As both a committee member and grantee, Pastor Martin is familiar with the challenges of the application writing and the review process. His knowledge of organizations that will donate supplies, space, or time is extensive and he likes to share that knowledge with applicants who may be struggling to fill a funding gap. Following that sentiment, David Derbyshire, a community organizer that works in partnership with the Hamilton Community Foundation in Ontario, explains that one reason grassroots grants are modest is to encourage community groups to access the existing resources in their neighborhoods. David says, “the small grants were always used to leverage other resources, so they weren’t to fund the entire project, they were to fund part of the project because what that did was it invited the residents to take part in finding other resources.” Committee members are often the gateway to leveraging formerly untapped resources.

Being an Advocate:

You [as a committee member] are kind of an ambassador into the community because you know the committee side of the process and you also are familiar with the grassroots side of the process and you can go out and spread the word. The Raymond John Wean Foundation has been doing Neighborhood SUCCESS for several years but there are still a lot of people who haven’t heard of it. So everybody you come in contact with and every group you come in contact with, you can spread the word, “there is an outlet for funds if you have a great idea that will help the community and you may not have heard of it, but here’s what it is.”
– Corky Stiles

Beyond decision-making, committee members contribute to their grantmaking programs by talking about the program in the community, thus heightening awareness of the program and increasing the diversity of applicants. Being an advocate and ambassador often positions committee members as cheerleaders offering encouragement – I’ve read the proposals. I’ve written the grants and I know that you can do it too.

Hear more about Neighborhood SUCCESS through their interview.

Dealing with Community Backlash:

I’ve had people come up to me after they receive their denial letter, in my face, saying ‘why didn’t we get funded?’
– Dawn Wilson, Panelist and Change Maker, Good Neighborhoods, Prevention Network

Because committee members are visible, active members of their community they can fall victim to the frustrations and complaints of applicants declined or awarded partial funding. Many grassroots grantmaking programs in the Grassroots Grantmakers’ network hold workshops for applicants that were declined or provide letters explaining the reasoning. Maslah Farah, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Unity Foundation, a grassroots grantmaking program affiliated with the Jacobs Family Foundation, suggests that committee members remind applicants that they are volunteers too. He says, “When you deal with resident work, people will sometimes take it personally that their project didn’t get funded. You have to remind them that we are all doing this as volunteers.” This can remind the frustrated applicants that the committee member and applicant are both working toward the same goal – stronger communities.

To hear more from Maslah and Dawn watch and listen to the Grassroots Grantmakers’ Insights on Resident-led Grantmaking Webinar.



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