Capacity Building for Community Organizing Grants

“Organizational development is the biggest need” in community organizing, argued a grantmaker at a national foundation, “and a challenge philanthropy ought to do more to take up. There’s a field-building side to this.” But figuring out how best to provide support can take time — especially if the groups themselves aren’t certain what kind of help they need. Moreover, the bottom-up structure of many community organizing groups can complicate issues of management and control.

“We created a separate set-aside fund for technical assistance,” explained a member of a local funders’ collaborative for community organizing. “We all put funds in the pool and agreed to write a check when a request was made. This seemed to fit the philosophy that the groups themselves would know best what they needed, and we should get out of the way. But the funds languished, or when a request was made it was for something short-term and of benefit only to one group, like a new computer.”

“As our relationship with the organizers became stronger,” he continued, “we realized that several of them were really struggling with the nuts and bolts of organizational growth, as well as with how to advance the overall field of organizing in our region. We gradually were able to talk frankly about what each group needed and what the collaborative needed. The funds are now thought of in a different way, with more attention to field building and organizational development, with lots of input from funders. One foundation, in collaboration with its grantees, provides a small grants pool for networking, travel, conferences, training at institutes nationwide. The same philanthropy (and at least one national intermediary group) also provides support for summer internships at organizations to introduce young people to organizing.

On Salaries and Field Building

Community organizing delivers a lot for the money. But are organizers’ low salaries and long hours limiting the growth of a promising field? Here’s what one funder had to say: “There’s a danger here, in that community organizing is often a low-paid job, certainly lower than salaries for people doing other forms of advocacy or service provision. As funders, we need to ask ourselves, is this okay? do we want to perpetuate the inequity of heaping on organizations the very conditions they are fighting to correct in their communities: low pay, few benefits, long hours, less time for family? I would like to see us do more to take responsibility for building this important field and not just take advantage of it.”

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Funding Community Organizing.