Across the field, philanthropy and other potential change-making institutions have grappled with implementing place-based initiatives and funding community-transformative systems. We have seen that success and impact rely on efforts led by collective individual action in communities across the country, and across different cultures and demographics. At their core, successes share one key attribute: they are led by, and realized in collaboration with, the people directly involved and affected through democracy.

We at the Community Democracy Workshop, in partnership with Philanthropy Northwest, are proud to release a new report, The Promise and Challenge of Community Democracy, which highlights many of the essential understandings needed to build localized best practices.

First, we unpack the meaning of “community democracy” -- which encompasses community involvement in all aspects of systems change -- beyond civic engagement and beyond voting. We examine that “community capacity” is broadly understood in an upside-down way by institutions.

Communities have a latent capacity to solve problems that can both exceed and in other ways complement the capacity of the nonprofit, public, and foundation sectors. It is in this latent capacity that the potential for change resides.

We highlight root causes for why so many philanthropic, place-based, community-change initiatives have struggled.

Finally, community democracy in action faces the following institutional challenges to build success:

  • There is unavoidable discomfort on the path to real change.
  • It is usual to under-appreciate and simply not understand both how hard and how necessary “process work” is.
  • The race to results often produces failure.
  • Culture and class is usually a barrier in developing a shared agenda.

Read the full article about community democracy by Garland Yates and Peter Pennekamp at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.