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05. Community Engagement

Ideas to help you grow in the area of community engagement.

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Understand: Philanthropy works best when it builds long-term community relationships rather than focusing on short-term transactions. Positive impacts increase when we hold mutually respectful, direct relationships with the community. As a result of community engagement, philanthropic organizations become more relevant and more accountable to our community.

We dedicate time to understand our community:

  1. Staff and board have a clear understanding of how we define community and who comprises our community (demographics, geography, beliefs, etc). We understand that definitions of words can vary based on our individual and group identity and perspective.
  2. We take time to learn about the community through all available information sources; we don’t create burdens on the community to educate our board and staff.
  3. We take time to listen to the community.
  4. We understand and acknowledge how our local and organizational history impact our ability to build authentic relationships.

We learn how to engage effectively with the community:

  1. We educate staff and board about microaggressionsassimilation, historical trauma, unconscious bias and generalizing of experiences. We create an organizational culture of growth and humility.
  2. We understand that community engagement builds trust and improves our ability to make collective decisions.
  3. Staff and board build social capital through respectful relationships. We understand the role of authenticity, reciprocity, inclusivity, trust-building and listening.
  4. We understand that community engagement can strengthen everything we do as a funder, an employer, and a member of the community.
  5. We understand the differences in community engagement that come with different grantmaking processes. For example, community engagement differs between an open grant application process versus a pre-selected grantmaking process. Given our grantmaking process, we explore ways to create a high level of transparency and trust with community stakeholders.

Begin: We listen to the desires of the community and we interact with the community in culturally appropriate, meaningful and respectful ways. We engage in continual and reciprocal listening and learning, cultural curiosity and humility. In our relationships, we respect the community’s time and resources and strive to give more than we receive.

Internal practices to build toward community engagement:

  1. We assess our level of community engagement and our motivation for engaging the community.
  2. We recruit staff, board and volunteers who have authentic ties to community; we value those ties and listen to their perspectives.
  3. We take time for self-reflection: “What did I learn today about the community? And what did I learn about myself?” We understand our power/privilege in the relationship.

External practices to build toward community engagement:

  1. We spend time in the community as often as we invite the community to come to us. We attend and participate in community events.
  2. We compensate people for their time, when appropriate.
  3. We identify goals with the community; not goals for the community.
  4. We make our organization inclusive to our community by expanding accessibility based on language, disability, means of communication, etc.
  5. We work actively to improve our cultural awareness and respect for differences, and employ appropriate cultural sensitivity in our communications.

Grantmaking practices to build toward community engagement:

  1. We create broad opportunities for community engagement via our grantmaking process. We design a grantmaking process that is as inclusive as possible.
  2. We design our grantmaking processes with a community-focused lens first and a staff-focused lens second.
  3. We empower our program officers to be bridges between the community and the foundation.
  4. We have a publicly-accessible grantmaking policy or guidelines that clearly define the main areas in which we will make grants. We clearly identify those areas that we specifically exclude from consideration.
  5. We consider a range of financial support options that may include general operating, project, capital, capacity, research, scholarship, endowment, multi-year and challenge grants, loans or other program-related investments, and funds to respond to emergency or other anticipated needs.
  6. We require and review reporting from grantees sufficient to confirm that a grant has been properly received and spent and to otherwise meet our own legal oversight and reporting responsibilities, but with a goal that such oversight and reporting will not be overly burdensome to the grant recipient.
  7. We clearly communicate with grantees about our grant payment procedures and establish reasonable grant reporting requirements, how we will monitor the grant and mutual expectations.
  8. We engage in proper due diligence to ensure that all grants we make are used to further our organization’s tax-exempt purposes.
  9. We take the appropriate legal steps to ensure that our funds are granted in compliance with U.S. law, in particular for grants to persons and organizations other than U.S. charities, including but not limited to individuals, private foundations, and foreign charitable and non-charitable organizations.
  10. We actively involve the communities and constituencies we serve in shaping our grantmaking.

If we accept unsolicited grant proposals or issue a request for proposal process:

  1. We communicate with grant applicants about the processes, forms of application and procedures to follow in submitting a grant proposal.
  2. We communicate respectfully with grant applicants and, whenever feasible, communicate on receipt of and in delivering the outcome of their proposals.
  3. We explain to applicants when and how their proposals will be reviewed, their organizational contacts within our philanthropic organization, and when they can expect to be informed of a decision.
  4. If we routinely contact others for pertinent information about an applicant’s programs or proposal as a part of the review process, our guidelines say so.
  5. We take steps to ensure confidentiality for grant applicants and recipients involved in our evaluation process, and use discretion in both seeking and responding to requests for information about applicants or grantees.
  6. If we make site visits: When possible, we conduct site visits and communicate with grant applicants clear expectations of the nature and purpose of the site visit and their role in the visit.

If we have donors:

  1. We honor the charitable intentions of our donors consistent with community needs and applicable laws and regulations.
  2. Donors are promptly acknowledged for all gifts to the foundation.
  3. An annual fund statement is provided to donors who wish to receive them.
  4. Private information about donors is kept confidential, to the fullest extent possible.
  5. We inform, educate and involve donors about community issues and grantmaking opportunities.

Aspire: We take time to understand our relationships with the community, align our aspirations and actions, and adjust our work, as needed. We solicit community critique and feedback. We strengthen our grantmaking through power sharing, joint decision-making and funding of solutions defined and led by the community.

We work with community to improve our grantmaking:

  1. We convene community leaders, nonprofits, government and other funders doing similar work to learn together and identify collaborative actions such as community-centric fundraising.
  2. We use community-based participatory grantmaking principles.
  3. We include community members in grant decision-making processes.
  4. We offer easy ways for nonprofits to develop relationships with us, for example, by accepting unsolicited grant applications or unsolicited letters of intent.
  5. We provide technical assistance to grantees and other charitable nonprofits, taking care to balance potential ethical dilemmas such as conflicts of interest, power imbalances, undue influence on organizational decisions, etc.
  6. We work with grant applicants to minimize the imbalance of power in grantee/grantor relationships.
  7. We engage community in discussion about their preferred grantee relationship. They devise their reporting procedures: written reports, video reports, in-person discussions, quarterly/yearly/bi-annually, etc.

We shift our thinking related to power and privilege:

  1. We maintain an abundance mindset by appropriately investing in our people, systems and nonprofit grantee partners.
  2. We redefine our use of the term “wealth” to focus on the community’s assets, not solely an individual’s money.
  3. We recognize our role as a tool for community. Community identifies their problems, develops their solutions and implements their strategies. Philanthropy serves as a tool to meet their needs.

We evaluate our work and share our progress:

  1. We seek candid feedback on our organization’s performance from nonprofit grantee partners and denied applicants. We respond to and act promptly on concerns, complaints and areas for growth.
  2. We use program and grant evaluation information to improve community outcomes.
  3. We share successes, failures and lessons learned internally and externally, as appropriate.