Grassroots fundraising—getting to the root of issues

By: Melissa Leite

Whether it’s working with young people to help them understand the economic, social, and environmental impacts of food or working together for collective liberation, grassroots organizations play an important role in society. They’re important because they help fill social, environmental, and economic gaps by bringing awareness and organizing around a social issue to provide resources to those directly impacted by societal inequity.

Grassroots groups are often a hub for innovation and they do amazing work on small budgets. They are largely volunteer driven and run by those most deeply impacted by the issues. This is important as people most deeply impacted by the issues have the best solutions to address them. They have the lived experience and know what they need.

That said, grassroots organizers often face barriers in fundraising, which include, but are not limited to: access to wealth networks, lack of resources to fundraise, the taboo around asking for money, and the need to demonstrate urgency. Social marginalization plays a major role in creating barriers to grassroots organizers perceived credibility, which impacts their access to networks and resources.

To overcome some of these barriers, grassroots groups often find creative ways to fundraise, such as crowdfunding campaigns, especially when there’s momentum and they can tie their cause to an event or current salient movement. “Social media is a powerful tool for raising awareness, for both brands and causes. In addition to giving everyone with access a voice, it connects us all to diverse ideas, backgrounds, and cultures.”1 It can help spark “conversations” and bring issues to the forefront. Social media can also be a useful tool in building networks of solidarity, where people support communities and organizations they’re not part of to meet goals because of shared values.

Partnership building can also help further community causes by connecting grassroots groups with funders and individuals that have access to wealth networks and resources. Partnering with businesses and service providers can help provide in-kind support that can be used to solicit donations or help fill resource gaps.

The Reading Partnership is an example of a community-led initiative that is “driven by a spirit of innovation and collaboration.”2 The mandate of the program is to “empower parents to share and lead in teaching their children to read, while working collaboratively to promote literacy in the Kingston Galloway Orton Park (KGO) community.”3 “The initiative is currently run through the collaborative efforts of over 35 volunteers and 10 partnering agencies supporting the program in various ways.”4 This collaborative approach strengthens the resident-led initiative by providing shared capacity and resources and bringing like-minded, committed people together.

While creativity, partnership, and social media are valuable tools that can help grassroots groups thrive, they do not eliminate all the barriers that they face in fundraising. Social change work can be difficult to fundraise for because it is nuanced and difficult to measure. Unlike traditional charities, it is challenging for grassroots organizations to create a simple narrative around complex issues. They must work to address the root of a problem, as opposed to the symptoms, and there may be multiple solutions to a problem that only emerge over time. This requires donors to be comfortable making investments in organizations that may challenge the status quo and test multiple approaches that may or may not work.5

Non-traditional approaches to fundraising can help these groups navigate the system and help change the way they are perceived by potential donors and society. Traditional fundraisers and donors can also play a role by learning from, and being more open to, working with grassroots groups to create systemic change.

Community-led initiatives, when successful, can help create the change needed to better our world. There is no linear approach, it may at times be messy, and change definitely does not happen overnight—it takes time.

Originally posted on AFP Inclusive Giving’s blog. Melissa is a 2016 AFP Inclusion and Philanthropy Fellow. The goal of this program is to build a pipeline of fundraising leaders that reflect the diversity of our communities.


Interview with Tara Marsden, Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs Office

Gitanyow is a community nestled along the Kitwanga River in Northwestern BC. They are represented by the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs to establish modern treaties and implement First Nations conservation practices and land use planning for their territory. We interviewed Wilp Sustainability Director for the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs Tara Marsden and learned more about the Gitanyow model of long-term conservation planning, the significance of observing and adopting First Nations values and methods in conservation, and the importance of flexible, multi-year granting.

Community stories share local food successes in northern Manitoba

928 kilometres north of Winnipeg, Manitoba lies Barren Lands First Nation and Brochet. Facing high food costs, the community of just over 600 people expanded on an already existing interest in gardening by building a 14 x 20-foot greenhouse in 2013 in coordination with their local health centre and the Northern Manitoba Food, Culture, and Community Collaborative (NMFCCC). This is only one of many inspiring examples from the NMFCCC 2016 Community Stories booklet, which shares learnings from 18 communities.