Starting a Good Neighbor Committee

  • Internal goals. Among the most common reasons for starting a Good Neighbor Committee (GNC) is a desire to build a stronger sense of community within your own institution. One grantmaker said: “...diverse not only in terms of race and gender, but also where people are within the organization. Our committees include people from a broad range of functions, including managing the investment portfolio, greeting visitors, and working in the library and on our intranet. People bring their talents from their work and their personal life. They are talking to each other for the first time, sometimes even getting to know each other for the first time. That’s been really useful for building new communities within the organization.”

  • External goals. Another common reason for starting a Good Neighbor Committee is to build community beyond the organization’s walls — to involve the organization and its employees in the well-being of a broader community. One grantmaker said, "Our committee has enabled us to be more of a resource and a constituent for nonprofit groups in our target neighborhood. This participation also helped to broker a community of relationships among our nonprofit neighbors themselves — many of whom share similar values and needs, but were previously unaware of one another." For example, the committee invited all of its grantees to a luncheon at our New York headquarters where they could meet and talk informally and share information with each other, as well as meet foundation officers and committee members. This luncheon is now a regular event.

Find the Right People to Serve: 
At first, it may be necessary to “market” the idea to a wide circle of employees, to be sure of recruiting people who are genuinely interested in the project and committed to making it work. Once it’s established, though, enthusiasm is likely to build on its own.

Choose a Facilitator: 
At least one relatively senior official is probably the best choice to serve as the committee’s advisor or facilitator — someone to whom its members can bring questions about the institution’s mission and other policies. Ideally, this person should be senior enough to review and approve each of the grants before they are finally made. For example, In the Ford Foundation’s New York GNC, three people have taken on various levels of leadership as facilitators. One is a department director who is able to make budgetary decisions. Another has been a part of the committee since its inception, both as a regular member and as the committee’s administrator, and thus is an advisor and institutional memory for the committee. A third is currently a grants administrator assigned to staff the committee. The facilitator's responsibilities should include:

  • Track all incoming proposals and distribute them to the appropriate subcommittee.

  • Set up training and information sessions for new members.

  • Handle all grants administration, once a grantee has been chosen and a grant recommendation is written up by a committee volunteer.

  • Set up regular meetings of the full committee.

  • Organize idea-exchange meetings between the committee and other institutions interested in starting their own GNC.

Set a Budget:
Start small. The committee’s budget should be proportionate to its size and your institution’s ability to give. But at the beginning, it should also take into account the group’s relative lack of experience. 

Grants need not be large to be effective. Even amounts of $1,000 or $2,000 can make a big difference to a small under-funded organization in particular need. Still, it’s wise to keep grantees’ limited resources in mind. They will spend time preparing and applying for support, and later will report on how they used your grant. 

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 Building Community Inside and Out.