Northern California Environmental Grassroots Fund seeks to fill grassroots funding gap
The Northern California Environmental Grassroots Fund is a pooled fund supported by about 20 funding partners. In addition to being one of the funding partners, The Rose Foundation serves as the Grassroots Fund's host and trustee. Guided by a board of community activists and veteran funders, the Fund's mission is to bridge a significant gap between grassroots environmental groups and the traditional funding patterns of organized philanthropy. Building the capacity and "people power" of small grassroots groups is an essential step towards greater environmental health and sustainability.
The Grassroots Fund conducts two main programs to build community environmental capacity.
Supporting Grassroots Activism
The Fund awards grants of up to $5,000 to organizations that tackle critical environmental problems in their communities. Often these organizations are too new or too small to effectively compete in the traditional funding arena; receiving a Grassroots Fund award is the first grant for many of them. Through this pooled fund, the Grassroots Fund helps all of its partner foundations support small organizations that most foundations are not structured to find and support on their own. Our grantees are based throughout Northern California, from the Tehachapis to the Oregon border. To date, the Grassroots Fund has awarded over $1.5 million to hundreds of grassroots groups.
Building Grassroots Capacity
The Fund also administers a capacity-building training program. The program includes identification of local organizational training providers throughout the Grassroots Fund's service area; providing ongoing training scholarships enabling grantees to attend these trainings; subscription to the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, one of the country's leading publications on progressive social change fundraising; and an annual convening where the grantees learn from experts on fundraising, media, internet and other issues, and share success and tactics with each other.
Grassroots Fund Goals
Strengthen and diversify the capacity of the grassroots base of California's environmental movement.
Provide funders with an effective and efficient way to extend support to small, underserved, community-based organizations.
Teach small organizations how to compete for philanthropic support. After 2-3 years of nurturing, many grassroots grantees eventually "graduate" into direct relationships with our funding partners.
Provide grantees with badly needed training opportunities, as well as scholarship funds, to develop skills in budgeting, communications, strategic planning, computer software, working with volunteers and more.
Enable communities that often fall through the cracks of traditional funding processes to gain crucial recognition and support.
Leverage huge "bang for the buck" on grant investments by targeting awards to small organizations where a grant of $5,000 or less makes a significant contribution to success.
Offer fiscal sponsorship to allow groups that lack 501(c)3 status to receive grant funds.
To Apply for a Grassroots Fund Grant
If you are interested in applying for a Grassroots Fund grant, please visit the "Grant Seeker" section of our website, or click here.
Grassroots Fund Activities
Quarterly Grant Awards: A funding board, comprised of experienced grassroots activists and veteran funders, guides grantmaking decisions. To date, about 60% of the grants have been awarded to groups with budgets under $25,000 - clearly indicating the funding board's preference for supporting smaller organizations with the most direct ties to the community. These groups are also the hardest ones for most foundations to directly reach on their own. The funding board regularly evaluates the geographic, cultural, ethnic and issue-based diversity of applications received in order to adjust how to target the Fund's requests for proposals. The resulting mosaic of grants awarded by the Fund represents the diverse face of Northern California and the range of environmental issues in which communities are engaged.
Annual Convening: The Fund holds an annual grantee convening, where grantees are able to network and share best practices with one another, while also attending workshops on topics chosen to increase their organizational capacity. The convening is free to all Grassroots Fund grantees, and travel stipends are available. Since 2007, the Fund has co-sponsored the convenings with the California Wildlands Grassroots Fund. Evaluations from the convenings are very positive. Topics have included working with the media and fundraising. The focus of the 2008 convening is on using the web to increase organizational communication and effectiveness.
Training Scholarship Program: Grassroots Fund grantees are eligible to receive 80% of the registration costs of any capacity-building training of their choosing (up to a yearly $200 cap). Travel reimbursements are also provided to more far-flung grantees in order to assist their participation. All grantees receive an invitation to participate in the training program upon receipt of their grant. We also send out quarterly reminders of the program and information about upcoming training opportunities throughout Northern California.
Coaching/Developing/Incubating Organization Capacity: Coaching grantees on their internal development is a part of each grant cycle. One-half of all applicants receive some level of training, with approximately 15% receiving fairly extensive coaching. Strategy and finance are the main themes of this coaching. The strategic conversations often relate to small groups' difficulties in articulating the linkages between their immediate, local objectives and overall statewide or national strategies and issues, and/or difficulties in articulating a clear, concise work plan to implement their strategic vision. The financial coaching includes helping groups construct a basic budget or a simple financial report that summarizes past income and expenditures using standard line items.
This hands-on mentoring approach pays measurable dividends. Many grantees report that the process of competing for a grant from the Grassroots Fund - in many cases the first foundation funding that these groups have ever applied for - has helped them learn how to earn dollars from other funders. In some cases, the Grassroots Fund is able to identify emerging groups, build their capacity for two or three years, and then "graduate" these grantees into direct relationship with funding partners. Finally, the Grassroots Fund allows any qualified group that lacks 501(c)3 status to receive funds through fiscal sponsorship. This has been an important service to groups in rural areas, which may have few sponsoring options.
Grantees must complete a self-evaluation that documents work completed under the grant; discusses lessons learned; and provides advice for other organizations tackling similar problems. We periodically circulate this advice to other grantees.
Each applicant is invited to provide feedback about how to improve the application and funding process. This feedback regularly triggers revisions to clarify and improve the application.
Application and awards data is analyzed annually to assess how well the Grassroots Fund is reaching various communities addressing a broad range of environmental health, justice and stewardship issues.
In addition to serving as a strategic funding bridge between foundations and community-based organizations that are not generally served by most funding strategies, the Grassroots Fund also facilitates the flow of ideas. One of its primary communication vehicles is the funding board, where activists and funders jointly participate in setting grantmaking strategy, discuss the merits of applications and make grant decisions. One of the Fund's guiding principles is to always have more activists than funders on this board - changing the traditional philanthropic dynamic into a more community-led process. A community representative and funder jointly co-chair the board, and a primary criterion in building and maintaining the board is that it must reflect Northern California's cultural and geographic diversity, as well as the range of issues faced by local communities. By design, one funder and one community seat annually "turn over," ensuring a steady flow of fresh perspectives and allowing the Fund to include new communities in the dialogue, while also ensuring the continuity of the overall process. The funders and community representatives who have served on the board so far have said that their participation on the Funding board has influenced their thinking about strategy, decision-making, root causes of problems and systemic solutions.
The Grassroots Fund also provides funding partners with a place for them to send groups that look promising, but are too new or too small to be appropriate for their support. The Fund's high impact grants give groups time to develop, establish a track record, and become eligible for more traditional grant support. In some instances, we have been able to identify and nurture an emerging organization, build its capacity for two or three years, and then "graduate" it into a direct funding relationship with one of the funding partners. Finally, we regularly share information about the Grassroots Fund throughout the funding community as a model for effective, grassroots-based funding.