Questions & Answers with New Executive Director
In October 2018, Grassroots Grantmakers announced to its membership the hiring of its new Executive Director, Roderick D.S. Wheeler. In this Q&A, the new Grassroots Grantmaker’s Executive Director shares his story and discusses his vision for the organization.
Grassroots Grantmakers (GRGM): What should Grassroots Grantmakers members know about the new Executive Director?
Roderick Wheeler (RW): First of all, I would like to thank the board of directors for having confidence in me to lead this amazing organization at such an important time in philanthropy. Today, our philanthropic institutions are wrestling with the question of achieving real impact in the communities they serve. However, real impact can only be achieved by engaging those most impacted by the issues philanthropy seeks to address – residents. Grassroots Grantmakers occupies a unique niche in community philanthropy, as it is the only philanthropic serving organization (PSO) that engages residents in everything that it does – from the organizational and board structure to featuring resident-led workshops during its signature event, On the Ground.
However, to answer your question, members should know that my life story personifies the mission, vision and values of the organization. I grew up very poor in Indianapolis, Indiana and aged out of the child welfare system with one goal, finding out how I could help people. I found my way into philanthropy after serving four years in the U.S. Army and have always approached our work and service to the community, as a function of meeting the needs of residents – many of whom I personally connected to their challenges. This sense of humility from my own personal journey, and conviction in the purpose of Grassroots Grantmakers, are two areas that I value most in approaching my new role.
GRGM: Past, current and potential members want to know your vision for the organization. Although you are just getting settled into this new role, can you share a preview of your vision with the membership?
RW: Absolutely. My vision is to lead Grassroots Grantmakers into the next era of excellence by focusing on three distinctive areas that will add value to not only those we serve, but to the field of philanthropy and community organizing efforts as a whole.
Equality of Opportunity for All Residents
I want our organization to be the leading champion of Equality of Opportunity for all residents – meaning, philanthropy’s primary goal is to work with residents in their respective communities to ensure a realistic chance of achieving life-affirming goals without systematic barriers or discrimination. Essentially, when we seek to engage residents civically and influence philanthropic resources, we are seeking community improvement strategies that benefit those marginalized or disconnected due to real or perceived barriers. Grassroots Grantmakers must be a prudent steward of resident voices and engagement to help address inequality and disparities that result from where an individual lives in America.
Small Neighborhood Grant Programs and Inclusive Grantmaking Initiatives
To achieve this overarching goal, we want to hold true to our history and continued ability to provide the philanthropic sector with the tools, resources and assistance needed to launch, grow and sustain small neighborhood-based grant programs, while also helping the field shift to a more inclusive, resident-involved environment, including neighborhood participation and sound management of community improvement resources. I would like to see the number and percentage of community-based philanthropies that report engaging residents before, during and following the grant process increase, with marked improvement in institutions reporting gains in resident input towards how to best invest philanthropic resources and leverage community assets. Part of this work, like many other philanthropies serving organizations, will involve leading specific diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, with a major focus placed on inclusion of residents in community philanthropy for our members.
Community Organizing and Civic Engagement
As our motto states, “We Begin with Residents,” and to do so, we must focus a considerable amount of our resources on building resident and civic leaders. Our membership is composed of both philanthropy and community organization, and thus we must develop robust products and services that help cultivate the next generation of community organizers and resident leaders that will come along side of philanthropy to help solve the challenges of the past, with an eye on a better future.
Qualitative Impact Measures
Finally, I see Grassroots Grantmakers as being a leader in the field in capturing qualitative impact measures by building membership capacity and our collective ability to share how investments have impacted residents. I believe in what Einstein once said, “not everything that counts, can be counted; and not everything that can be counted, counts.” I believe the wisdom that Einstein shared in this quote, as it relates to community philanthropy, is that only measuring occurrences of specific outcomes misses the opportunity to capture stories of how residents lives are made better as a result of community investment. Therefore, I see our role expanding to elevate community voices and share resident stories that help us better understand the impact of community investments in America.
GRGM: What are your major priorities that you wish to share with the membership?
RW: When I accepted this role to serve our Grassroots Grantmakers membership, it was without any illusion that my role will be to help transform the organization into a sustainable and disruptive force in the field of community philanthropy and organizing. To do this, we must strengthen our membership base and membership revenue to provide basic, yet valuable services. Therefore, my most important goal is to re-engage with past and current members to ensure that they know we have a very bright future ahead of us. I call this the “Make it Personal” campaign. We are so pleased to have The California Endowment join as a member. I personally have tremendous respect for their work related to civic engagement and investments made in resident-led community development strategies.
Secondly, no strategic transformation effort can succeed without enlisting talent leaders from the field. Once we have reengaged our members and stabilized our membership revenue and support, we will be better suited to recruit the talent needed to lead Grassroots Grantmakers into a new era of excellence. Currently, we are inviting members to serve on the national board of directors while we implement a regional growth strategy. We are extremely honored to have Janis Richardson our first Executive Director, rejoin our board as Executive Director Emeritus. I believe that this positions us with the type of institutional knowledge needed to build on the past while creating a new future for our organization. We are also looking to recruit members to help shape the next On the Ground conference. This is an important role for Grassroots Grantmakers strategically, as we recruit local and national sponsors to help provide unrestricted net revenue that we will use to develop programs and services to better serve our members and influence the field of philanthropy. We are so pleased to have Sheena Solomon, former board member and a tremendous advocate for grassroots strategies and resident-led community improvement strategies.
Lastly, we need to be innovative and entrepreneurial to grow our membership base and expand our influence. Therefore, my third priority is developing strategic partnerships to grow the influence and impact of our organization in the area of civic engagement, grassroots organizing and funding, and inclusive grantmaking strategies. We will soon reach out to our network to see what partnerships we can leverage along side of our talented membership to help expand funding for grassroots initiatives, increase civic engagement among residents, and prepare philanthropic institutions for a more diverse world while equipping them with the tools to become more inclusive in their grantmaking practices.
I truly want to see a more civically engaged American, with more resources invested in effective grassroots and resident led strategies in addition to a widespread adoption and embracing of inclusive grant making practices for more philanthropic institutions.
GRGM: How can members reach you if they wanted to follow-up and learn more about you, your vision and your priorities for the organization?
RW: I am sending personal emails to all our members, and inviting them to share more about their individual work how they are serving their respective communities. However, if any member wishes to touch base and learn more about the new direction of Grassroots Grantmakers, they can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact me directly at 317.590.1575.
Also, we will have more Q&A posted on our social media sites to encourage more members to connect with us through those mediums as well.