This weekend I’m about to clean my backyard. And what comes ... back -- it doesn’t matter what I do -- is the grass. The roots are really strong and they are connected to each other. And so many times they [the grass] are not considered part of the garden. For me grassroots means radical inclusion. It doesn’t matter your color, it doesn’t matter your accent, it doesn’t matter your legal status. You belong.”  - Claudia Arroyo, executive director of Prospera

Across the country, grassroots organizations are doing the hard work that leads to movements and lasting change for communities. During the session, Funding the Frontlines: How Giving Circles Can Show Up for Grassroots Nonprofits, at the We Give Summit, leaders from Prospera, Faith in Action, Alaska Native Birthworkers Community, Building Movement Project, and the State Fair of Texas discussed how grassroots organizations are some of the most innovative organizations in the sector. Giving circles and individual donors can increase the impact of these vital groups doing life-giving work in communities, however, it’s important to understand these key lessons before diving in. Learn more below.

Value experience as much as expertise. The nonprofit sector has been known and criticized for approaching community members as recipients of charity and aid instead of experts in their own right. Grassroots organizations are unique because they elevate and value the expertise in communities and find ways to develop local leaders. Donors can better support grassroots organizations by checking their biases about who is a leader and not assuming that leadership requires an advanced degree. Further, funders can create greater impact by investing in and trusting the wisdom of local leaders who know their communities best.  

“Grassroots organizations are about power-with, about power being shared by people who have direct lived experience. That is both part of the radical inclusion and radical potential of grassroots organizations.” - Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, co-director of the Building Movement Project

Be willing to co- and re-define success: Grassroots organizations are often staffed by volunteers or community members with other full-time jobs and responsibilities. Donors should take this into account when determining how and when to assess the impact of their grants. 

Arroyo, executive director of Prospera, a session panelist, explained that the participants in her entrepreneurship program for Latina women live complex lives. This precludes Prospera from delivering the “cookie cutter” results of other start-up programs. Arroyo says funders can be especially helpful when they send foundation staff who are also from the community to talk with the organization about its work and impact. “People who are from the community, they get it.” 

Minimize proposal and reporting requirements for grantees: Onerous proposal writing and reporting requirements can make it tough for many leaders of grassroots organizations to secure vital revenue. That’s why some funders are finding ways to streamline processes and only gather key information. Some funders are also inviting grantees to share their impact in new ways, for example through hearing directly from members served via video.

“I’ve really had to become an expert in grant writing and learn this language and these protocols of philanthropy … and that’s just not a language that a lot of people operate best in. It can definitely create a lot of barriers [in accessing] those funds. Part of my work has now become … how can I educate philanthropy about how best to work with our organization, how best to work with Indigenous communities? How do you support our work without micromanaging or trying to direct our work -- and just honestly trusting us.” - Helena Jacobs, co-founder of the Alaska Native Birthworkers Community   

Prioritize investments in social and well as financial capital: In business, who you know is often more important than what you know. This can be true in the social sector too. Donors can provide significant value to grassroots organizations by amplifying the work of community leaders, making introductions to prospective funders, and helping leaders resource or master key functions. 

“If you are able to fund a grassroots organization, then you probably have the quality of a network that has some skills or influence that could be beneficial to the organization. So not just giving substantially financially but also asking how you can be in relationship with the organization.Where are the gaps in their skill sets ... and connect them to people who can fill in the gap[s].” - Brittany White, organizer and strategist, Faith in Action