Report: How smart grassroots orgs can collaborate for social change

Collaborations between small, grassroots organizations and deep-pocketed entities like corporations, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and faith-based institutions can be win-win-win arrangements in social change efforts. The smaller groups get the added investment, capacity and connections of the larger organization; the more established partner gets an open door into the on-the-ground, authentic world where change is needed; and the community gets the benefit of the well-funded but grassroots-minded investments and leadership development that these initiatives build.


Smart Collaboration at the Grassroots Level

To be successful, these collaborations take a special set of skills, as well as deliberate effort, mutual respect, and careful relationship building on the part of both partners.

To really understand that tricky balancing act, we asked the Touchstone Center for Collaborative Inquiry to examine that through the lens of the Community Connections Small Grants Program. This program is an initiative of the Skillman Foundation founded that has awarded more than $2 million in grants of $500 to $5,000 since 2006. Back then, the Foundation approached the nonprofit Prevention Network and nationally renowned grassroots grantmaker Lisa Leverette and asked them to serve as the host organization and lead for the program.

Under Leverette's oversight, the program has done just what it was designed to do -- grow and support natural leaders working on behalf of children at the neighborhood level. Due to its success, in 2012, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation began backing the initiative, and now grassroots projects and collaborations are being funded in Detroit at unprecedented levels.

A volunteer panel of dedicated Detroit residents called the Changemakers meets monthly to deliberate over applications and award the small grants. The program has awarded more than 640 small grants and annually impacts more than 1,800 neighborhood kids. Equally important, it has developed the skills of resident leaders -- the Changemakers and grantee project leaders -- across some of Detroit’s most impoverished neighborhoods.

The result of the Touchstone Center's research is the report: "Smart Collaboration at the Grassroots Level" written by David Scheie. This report brings Community Connections grassroots collaborators and the Changemakers front and center and asks them what they've learned in the last seven years. How have collaborations grown? Where have tensions arisen? What are the most common challenges, and what are simple tips to overcome them? This report gets to the heart of all that. The insights and tips compiled here will help small grant seekers and makers, as well as larger funders and corporations, forge partnerships that can thrive and produce lasting impact for children and vulnerable populations here in Detroit and beyond.

You can find all the lessons in the report by downloading it from the Evaluation Reports section of our web site here.

We've also created a handy one-pager with the top eight tips for grassroots collaborations. Download it below. 

Here's hoping this report and these tips make your future partnerships more fruitful.