$100,000 + Over 100 Conversations = Community Leadership

LATE FEBRUARY, PLEASANT PLAINS, DC—The DC Fund treasurer had just finished his report on the most recent donations on a rainy Friday night, and confirmed a view shared earlier that week in the Fundraising Team: the Fund had raised enough in the previous four months to fund a second grant round. “YEESSS!” a cheer went up in the tiny sitting space at the Emergence Community Arts Collective, members of the Board of Instigators leaping to high-five each other. But one Instigator held his applause, a thought stretching across his face. “Does that mean,” he said, hesitantly, “that we’ve raised $100,000 in just over a year?” The treasurer double-checked. “Oh yes, closer to $102,000.” We were stunned.

Way back in 2010, during our first eight months of listening to community leaders and simultaneously researching the best ways to give away money, we knew we had to prioritize careful conversations and relationship-building, having faith that donors would step up to fund a project with solid leadership behind it. But we had no idea that support would come so quickly, starting with a few pledges in December of that same year.

We were told by others who had undertaken to build grassroots social justice foundations that we would need, more than anything, paid staff. “You have to spend money to make money,” was the refrain. $110,000 later (as of this week) we have yet to spend a dollar on staff time.

Looking back on our progress, I don’t think we would have come close to $100k without the more than 100 one-on-one conversations Instigators have held with potential grantees, Grantmaking Team members and future donors over our first 14 months. Likewise, a large number of the 86 proposals we received last fall started as conversations between Instigators or Grantmaking Team members and future applicants. Several donor house parties were a result of initiative taken by donors to enlist their friends.

This was especially important given that the DC Fund’s initial steering committee was heavily white, male and DC transplants. The process of building trust and transitioning leadership to a mostly people of color Board of Instigators and a Grantmaking Team composed entirely of changemakers of color with years of experience building community locally was grounded in that investment in one-on-one conversations.

Which, we think, has paid off.

Not only are our administrative (BOI) and grantmaking (GT) leaders continuing to drive our programs, grantees themselves are stepping up as leaders of the Allies Circle, and many have appeared at fundraising/conversation dinners. A grantee even proposed a new question for the DCF application, which was adopted for our 2nd round. (Three days left to apply!)

And today as I write this, Bread for the City staff have self-organized a session to help clients and others interested apply for grants at their center on Good Hope Road SE.

We’re looking forward to even more innovations (and surprises!) rippling out from community leadership that starts, always, as conversations.