Can community foundations learn, if given the opportunity, to be effective vehicles for channeling support to low-income neighborhood organizations while increasing their own resources, grantmaking skills, and leadership role in the community? That was the question posed by the C.S. Mot Foundation with its groundbreaking project begun in 1984. Long story short, the answer is unequivocally “Yes.” This Guide, produced after two years of this experimental program, spawned many other similar projects around the country using community foundations as intermediaries to reach smaller, more activist organizations.
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation was among the first large national private foundations to build successful programs around very local community interests, especially among low-income communities. And it was also among the first to recognize the growing force of community foundations. It broke internal silos and merged those two interests to create this very successful program, Community Foundations and Low-Income Neighborhoods, launching in 1984. The program, created many excellent examples of strategic grantmaking, as documented in this publication. This set the stage for many other similarly constructed initiatives around the country.
Small self-help groups often can make significant improvements in the quality of neighborhood life, a reality already known in some corners of philanthropy when this program was created (1984). Civic organizations are attractive options for local donors and local partners, especially those who want the legitimacy of connection to low-income neighborhoods, or who want to invest in these neighborhoods’ growth. Big lessons were learned about the kinds of projects that are likely to work well: projects with popular support, projects that are feasible and manageable, and projects that encourage the organization to expand its skills and resources.
Projects that work well with good outcomes are more likely to capture the eye of funders. Good outcomes included: tangible benefits produced for the neighborhood, and increased organizational capacity to do more. Combining these two outcomes intentionally became the core of I call The Mittenthal Principle, named after the President of the Arizona Community Foundations, one of the pioneer participants.
This publication shows the power of evaluation to bring an experimental effort to scale. It may in fact be the best-known case in the field of philanthropy, certainly among community foundations, setting the stage for a second round of grantmaking, many other initiatives involving community foundations, and a free-standing organization of alums and other interested entities, Grassroots Grantmakers, which actively continues the legacy of this 30-year old program to this day. One of its publications presents the history, achievements, and legacy of this fusion of neighborhood interests with community foundation capabilities. Another presents a Short Course on Grassroots Grantmaking.
Originally appeared: Publication of Rainbow Research, Inc.
Number of pages: 78 Original date: 1989
Author: Steven E. Mayer and David M. Scheie