A Legacy of Leadership and Support for Grassroots Grantmaking

A Retrospective Assessment of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s Community Foundations and Neighborhoods Small Grants Program prepared by Tom Burns & Laura Downs for Grassroots Grantmakersw with support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

For funders interested in healthy neighborhood where residents are bringing their energy and creativity to solving local problems and influencing larger, community-wide agendas, it is critically important to find ways to deliver dollars and technical assistance to neighborhood groups that typically operate below the grantmaking radar. There are several models for this work, and this newly published retrospective evaluation of the Mott Foundation’s Community Foundations and Neighborhood Small Grants Program concludes that a number of common factors contribute to the sustainability of small grant programs, despite significant differences in the local setting.

The Community Foundation and Neighborhood Small Grants Program operated from 1984 through 1994 and received $6.4 million in Mott funding. The program involved 25 community foundations over this period and spawned the creation of Grassroots Grantmakers. This assessment looked at what happened to the 25 small grant programs launched by community foundations.

It also examined how new entrants to the field of grassroots grantmaking have drawn from the Mott experience and explored how the field of grassroots grantmaking has evolved over the past decade.

According to the evaluation, 19 of the original community foundations participating in the Neighborhoods Small Grants Program continue to fund at the neighborhood level. While this funding has remained relatively modest, the overall practice of grassroots grantmaking in those communities appears to be healthy and expanding.

What sustained the operation of the Mott-funded projects and kept them vital were realistic program goals that fell in line with the resources available at each community foundation. amd a stable source of program funding, sometimes involving multiple partners.  Respect for the opinions and involvement of residents in broader decision making and a solid understanding on the part of the funder’s senior leadership of the pitfalls and rewards of a “relational” style of grantmaking are also critical.

We invite you to read and share this report, and hope that it sparks useful conversations about t what you can do to strengthen and deepen your work. We also invite you to let us know if you would like us to talk about the assessment’s findings and what they might mean for your organization – either informally via a telephone conversation or more in depth via an in-person conversation or presentation.

We hope that you agree that this assessment represents an important step in building a deeper, more substantial base of information about the variety of approaches funders have effectively used to support capacity building of resident-led grassroots associations.

The Executive Summary of this report is also available in print. Contact us for a print copy.

Thanks to the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the community foundation participants in the program for the generous spirit of sharing that made this report possible.

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