5 things grassroots activists want donors and allies to know
Grassroots activists and groups are driving powerful change in their communities and countries, but the support they need to keep going strong isn’t living up to their needs. As part of the Grassroots Solidarity Revolution, we consulted 140 grassroots activists who shared the challenges they face in accessing support from donors and allies and what they need to feel truly nurtured and supported in order to continue their important work.
Here we summarise what these organisers from across 45 countries want donors and allies around the world to know about understanding grassroots realities and the type of support, resources and allyship they need.
1. Most grassroots activists can’t access the resources and opportunities you offer.
Almost 78% of the survey respondents said that they had requested donor funding in the last two years, but 66% of them did not receive any resources. Interestingly, most grassroots respondents applied to institutional donors which, according to the survey, are the ones with less likelihood, in proportion, of awarding grants to grassroots groups, activists and movements, even though they are often subject to less regulatory oversight.
This is not only demotivating but shows that most activists and groups are investing time and resources they already lack in an unsuccessful quest for funds and support. Perhaps it is time to invest in approaches that will unlock the flow of resources to grassroots groups.
What are the main barriers these groups face when looking for funding opportunities and resources? Here are some clues: 46% of respondents said that the search process itself was the main barrier they experience. Another 19% had difficulty finding donors that support the “less traditional” ways of working of grassroots activists and communities, and 15% mentioned that writing project and funding proposals was their main obstacle to accessing funds.
This means that donors and allies could do something to ease around 80% of the barriers listed by these activists and organisations! For example, you could make the information about your funding and support opportunities more accessible to grassroots groups. You could also help strengthen the skills of local change makers to write those (excessively) challenging funding proposals and reports. And what about building strategies that break down the culture of competition and foster a culture of collaboration and cooperation? Donors and allies can play a critical role in promoting collaboration by incentivising and rewarding collaborative efforts and providing resources to support partnership-building initiatives.
 Funding organisations that provide grants to other organisations, or sometimes to individuals, within a policy framework that reflects the organisation’s mandate.
2. Money matters most, but non-financial resources are also needed.
The survey also enquired about the types of resources deemed more important and valuable for grassroots groups and organisations. Unsurprisingly, 67% of respondents said that financial resources are the most valuable to them. Receiving non-financial resources such as support for capacity development came in second place (10%). Respondents also listed infrastructure (e.g. work equipment and working spaces), human capital and social capital (networking) as relevant resources for their work.
So, dear donors and allies, please try and prioritise financial support that is more fairly and easily accessible to grassroots groups. You can help get more money directly into the hands of local communities and partners! But keep in mind that you can also provide support and show solidarity by facilitating key non-financial resources.
3. The political context is holding back grassroots activists and groups and needs to be factored into your strategies and support modalities.
When asked what their main difficulties are in meeting donor requirements, 36% of respondents indicated the political context of their countries/cities as the number one challenge. Clearly, donors and allies cannot, or at least should not, overlook the wave of political instability around the world when designing support programmes and the requirements expected of local grantees/partners.
Respondents mentioned that making use of a trustworthy and safe platform to help manage the grants would also ease the challenges linked to their restricted environments and contexts.
4. It’s not all about passing the money. Here’s to good practices too!
While there is still much to improve, it’s heartening to see many donors and allies embracing good funding practices, challenging power dynamics and being interested in shifting power and resources to grassroots groups. Survey respondents shared good practices they’ve seen in some donors, which are helping build trust and stronger relationships, encourage transparency and ensure that communities are better resourced.
5. This is how you could be a better donor and ally!
Respondents were asked to advise on how to make funding more accessible to smaller, informal grassroots groups. They also shared views of an ideal world where grassroots groups could access the funding and resources they need. Their answers are pragmatic, realistic, doable… Please, take note!
An ideal world where grassroots groups would feel deeply supported would have:
Flexible, predictable and transformative funding
For grassroots organisations, receiving funds can be a transformative experience that allows them to shift the realities of their communities. The survey showed that they would appreciate donors and allies making a conscious effort to understand their realities and challenges and provide adapted funding that is flexible, multi-year and supports core activities and needs (not only projects).
This includes creating tailored opportunities and evaluation approaches for groups of different sizes, investing in collaborative, partnership-building strategies, and transforming calls for proposals into an accessible, inclusive and participatory learning exercise. It also means building spaces for honest exchange between donors, allies and grassroots groups which allows for feedback and meaningful participation to inform grant strategies.
Proactive allies who think and work outside the box
Respondents encourage donors and allies to be more proactive in reaching out to grassroots communities, emerging activists and social leaders. One respondent said that donors and allies should “learn to see us too,” instead of the communities always having to chase donors and allies with proposals and requests. They also advise reaching out to new and less traditional organisations, new geographies, different regions, including rural areas, small cities, peri-urban and less privileged spaces.
Simple and transparent grant application and reporting processes
Grassroots groups do not expect to receive resources without any requirements. They envision more inclusive donors that understand their unique realities and challenges and are willing to remove excessive, difficult and confusing requirements in favour of more transparent and accessible grant application and management processes.
For small groups and organisations with limited capacity, heavily bureaucratic processes might completely exclude them from funding opportunities, always add an extra burden on their teams and reduce the time they can spend doing transformative work in the field. Also, by creating more accessible grant processes, donors and allies can foster a more equitable distribution of resources and begin to address systemic barriers that prevent historically oppressed communities from accessing the funding they need to effect change.
Donors and allies who are willing to trust them and take risks
While grassroots organisations take risks on a daily basis, most donors tend to be risk averse. This is part of the reason why many prefer working with established and well-known organisations, limiting support opportunities for new groups, movements and emerging forms of civic action.
Grassroots groups and actors want donors and allies to trust them and invest in building their expertise, agency and power. This includes funding youth-led groups that haven’t yet established a long track record of work and organisations without audited reports, certificates and so on. As one respondent said, “Not having all that paperwork does not mean that we are not credible people.”
Donors who sit, talk and walk with grassroots organisations
Relationships between grassroots activists and donors aren’t as transformative as we would like. They remain transactional, linear and focused on productivity and outcomes. Donors must move beyond Western conceptions of “impact” that have time constraints and efficiency at their core and focus instead on the positive changes, reparations and healing achieved in the communities through real collaboration.
This collaboration implies close partnerships and trust-based relationships between donors, enablers and local activists and people. It also includes deep mutual understanding, honest and open communication and genuine interest from donors and allies in the growth, strengthening and overall wellbeing of the funded groups and communities.
“It’s not only about achieving results or not. As the community says, it’s about the learning gained to achieve those results”.