Seven Reasons to Support the Grassroots Fund
The Grassroots Fund is a stable, but still developing, re-granting entity that seeks out and supports the most energetic and creative community-based groups working on a wide range of environmental issues in Northern California. Although the fund gratefully accepts individual contributions, it was primarily designed to help colleague foundations fulfill their own grantmaking missions by bridging a big gap between organized philanthropy and the grassroots base of the environmental movement. More than 20 foundations currently participate, several making multi-year commitments.
Pooling our resources towards strategic grants at the cutting edge of community activism in the most influential state in the nation efficiently expands each partner's reach into communities that it would be very hard for most funders to cost-effectively reach on their own. And, because of California's long-time role as our nation's environmental policy laboratory, we sow seeds of environmental and community stewardship with tremendous growth potential.
The Grassroots Fund is a strong bridge between organized philanthropy and the grassroots base of the environmental movement. Now is the time to cross that bridge with us! Here are seven great reasons why:
1) The Community Need is Long-Term
In initial research four years ago, the founders of the Grassroots Fund identified significant funding gaps between organized philanthropy and the grassroots base of the environmental movement. Those gaps have not yet been closed. Roughly half of our grantees have never applied for, nor received a grant before. However, most of the grantees now report that, while their grassroots grant was their first, it has not been their last. The bulk of these first-time grantees credit our coaching with their improved understanding of the funding application process and being able to present other foundations with strong, organized fundable proposals.
2) The Grassroots Fund Helps Grantmakers Whose Own Programs Do Not Reach Small and Emerging Organizations
The "three years and out" rule, which many funders employ to encourage nonprofit organizations to become independent of the foundation, does not apply to this situation. The Grassroots Fund is not and will not become a nonprofit organization. Rather, it was consciously structured as a vehicle to assist grantmakers to fulfill their missions by extending their reach.
3) Most Foundations Are Not Structured to Find and Nurture These Small Groups
Most foundations are not able to provide the following services to the tiny organizations supported by the Grassroots Grants Fund. The Grassroots Fund proactively:
- Seeks out new lists of contacts and small organizations.
- Solicits proposals from underserved communities after careful targeting.
- Coaches applicants who are unfamiliar with grant seeking.
- Connects grantees to technical assistance.
- Helps grantees develop capacity to earn grants from larger grantmakers.
- Automatically offers fiscal sponsorship to any grantee who needs it.
4) Technical Assistance Program Builds Grantee Capacity
The technical assistance program includes quarterly updates to all grantees about various training programs presented around Northern California; a one-page fax/email application form for training program scholarships (which are automatically available to all grantees); automatic subscription for grantees to the "Grassroots Fundraising Journal;" and a full day of networking and training at the annual Grassroots Convening.
5) Provides Funding Partners With a Place to Send Emerging Groups that "Need a Little Seasoning"
The Grassroots Fund provides a place for funding partners to send emerging groups that look promising, but are too new, too small and/or lack a track record to make them appropriate for direct support. The Grassroots Fund can support these groups with small, high impact, grants that give them time to develop, establish a track record and become eligible for more traditional grant support. We require them to produce a real budget (often their first). We make them articulate how their immediate work fits into overarching strategic themes, and we also make sure they parse the "big-picture" into doable first-second-third steps that we, and others, can confidently fund. We push our grantees to critically measure their results, and network them with colleague organizations that are confronting, and solving, similar size and development issues.
6) Staff Development Opportunity
Every year, one funder, and one community seat turns over on the Grassroots Funding Board. Participation on this board is a great opportunity for a seasoned grantmaker to gain a fresh perspective, or for a grantmaker new to the field to gather additional experience and work in the company of peers outside her/his own institution. This board is wonderfully collaborative and collegial. Participants genuinely enjoy it - some have even called it transformative. Long time funding partners are on the short list for consideration as current board members cycle off.
7) Leverage Funding Partners' Coattails
Though well on the way to being securely established, the Grassroots Fund needs to increase the number of overall funding partners, secure more multi-year commitments and attract funding from foundations outside of California. To do this we need existing funding partners to continue their support during this next important stage of organizational growth. Whenever we approach prospective new funders, an early question is, "which Bay Area/California funders are already on board?" Thus, continued partnership is especially critical, obviously for the cash that comes with the continued funding partnership, but also for the cache that comes from the involvement of colleague institutions.