On 17 January, Grassroots Grantmakers hosted a webinar entitled ‘Grassroots Grantmaking with an Environmental Lens’ featuring Cheryl King Fischer (executive director, New England Grassroots Environmental Fund) Tim Little (executive director and co-founder, Rose Foundation/Northern California Grassroots Environmental Fund) and myself. The purpose of the webinar was to hear from experienced grassroots grantmakers about how an environmental lens informs grassroots grantmaking, and to share strategies for how an environmental lens might be applied to existing funding programs of other place-based grantmakers.
Whether we hit the mark on that goal or not, the discussion highlighted the remarkable similarities in ‘best practices’ around grassroots grantmaking (lengthy definition to follow). In our preparation meetings, and again during the presentation, I was struck by how alike our organizations are. As my co-presenters spoke about their work, I felt as though a simple change in name and geography would have described Global Greengrants Fund’s work in Nigeria or Guatemala, instead of Boston or Oakland County.
Perhaps this likeness stems from the things that we collectively agreed go into a definition of ‘good’ grassroots grantmaking:
1) Small amounts of money (under $5,000 generally).
2) Grantmaking coupled with capacity building – whether this is help with a proposal, mentoring through a project, connecting groups with their peers, or providing new resources. We agreed that it’s not (just) about the money.
3) Trust the community, ask the community, involve the community. At every step in the process, from setting goals and objectives for your grantmaking to deciding who gets the funds and how to build that capacity after the fact, we all believe in the wisdom of our grassroots grantees to make us better grantmakers, and create the change we (and they) seek.
As we worked through our definition, the environmental lens became almost an afterthought, though it is central to all of our work.
What we discovered in our conversations is that our definitions of ‘environmental lens’ had evolved, precisely because we had talked to our communities and let them teach us. Although we may have started out focusing on the planet, our grantees taught us to think more holistically. When our funding seeks to protect a watershed or pay for an alternative environmental impact assessment on a proposed mine, the actual work on the ground is much more far-reaching. In fact, our grants are supporting community development. Our environmental lens guides our grantmaking, but our reach is so much greater.
Kelly Purdy is associate director of Global Greengrants Fund