There is a growing recognition across place-based funders that they can use the privilege and power they hold—as well as their proximity to regional public and private sector power brokers—to amplify power in under-resourced communities. Their logic: communities stand a better chance of achieving just and equitable, enduring solutions to stubborn social challenges that have long eluded quick fixes when they have the resources to realize their aims. So what are funders doing to authentically build power in the communities they serve—especially Black, brown, Indigenous, and other communities that have been structurally held back from realizing their full potential?

The 12 peers in the place-based funders learning group who gathered together in 2020 are helping under-resourced communities act as their own agents of change. They are leaning into this shift by supporting Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) leaders of organizations serving BIPOC communities through flexible funds and professional services, indirectly or through intermediaries, and by supporting grassroots groups. As Takema M. Robinson, founder and principal of the New Orleans-based Converge for Change and a member of the Greater New Orleans Funders Network put it, “Organizing and power building is almost the only answer to the current crises. Power building is an emergency response.”

Flexing dollars, providing professional services, investing in leaders

While several funders in the learning group had long used some forms of flexible funding, the pandemic and the creation of new strategies that focus on equity pushed them to pilot ways to flex even more of their funding.

The first step for many is to provide multiyear general operating dollars. Several pointed to MacKenzie Scott’s series of large, unrestricted grants, which began in 2020[1], to primarily BIPOC-led and BIPOC-serving organizations. “That has caused not just a ripple, but a three-ton boulder fell into the pond and the waves are reverberating,” said one funder. “[These gifts] are a kick in the ass to us in a good way. To just get the money out the door, and let the grantees decide what to do. Focus on BIPOC-led orgs and institutions of color. And to not be so cautious.”

Supporting communities through intermediaries

Participants shared that they don’t always have a close sense of the organizations most valued by community members. There are also times when they lack a close-up understanding of the power differentials that prevent close partnerships. In these circumstances, they have worked with intermediaries that have long-standing relationships with those communities they seek to benefit. That way, the intermediary can take on some of the heavy lifting, in partnership with the funder, of sourcing and investing in grassroots organizations that the community trusts and values.

Using networks to help nonprofits accomplish more

Another way place-based funders are building the power of their communities is by supporting nonprofits in creating platforms for working collectively toward shared goals. Part of the logic for supporting cohorts of grassroots organizations and community groups is to forestall “nonprofit hunger games” and suppress the competition for finite resources.

Read the full article about building community power from within by Debby Bielak, Darren Isom, Marion Michieka, and Bill Breen at The Bridgespan Group.