Why do we organise?
Going back a few years, when I didn’t have my status in the UK, I had the opportunity to volunteer with community organisers on issues that directly affected me.
This was a life-changing experience. Despite having limited rights and power, the organisers worked "with me" instead of "for me". They focused on developing my leadership skills and gave me opportunities to influence a shared strategy and honour my lived-experience.
This made me realise that democracy is more than just voting; it's about co-designing solutions and holding decision-makers accountable by working with others.
This realisation inspired me to become a community organiser, when I finally received my status after 12 years of struggle.
I now organise with Citizens UK and run the Community Action Fund at the Civic Power Fund; the UK’s first intermediary funder for grassroots community organising.
One of the things that most excited me about the Civic Power Fund was their long-term vision to fund grassroots campaigning and organising on a much wider scale.
From my first-hand experience, I know the impact community organising has on marginalised communities.
The big gap in funding
Prior to joining the Civic Power Fund, I worked in frontline service delivery roles. We were exhausted and had no capacity to work with others or do the much needed organising and campaigning work that would change our long-term situation.
The penny gradually dropped for me that, despite service delivery being critical in the short-run, it won’t be sufficient alone.
Funders must support grassroots organisations to build the power of their communities and win systemic change.
The Community Action Fund
The Civic Power Fund is trying to address this in a number of ways.
One of these is the Community Action Fund, which I run. This is a new initiative to provide one-off grants to grassroots groups that want to win long-term, sustainable change through organising and campaigning.
Now let me tell you more about how big the funding gap is.
A whopping 7,500 people took an eligibility questionnaire on our website. This resulted in more than 800 potentially in-scope applications. The staff team whittled down these brilliant applications to 90 that were definitely in scope. We then co-produced grant memos for each of these 90 organisations (i.e. a brief document that outlines a funding proposal for a project, usually including the purpose and goals of the proposal).
Within these grant memos, we have 28 different issues, from refugee rights to gender justice, and work in 42 different towns and cities from every UK nation and region!
Despite this extremely high demand, we will unfortunately only be able to fund around 20 groups.
In completing these grant memos, I had the opportunity to do more than forty 1-to-1s with leaders from grassroots organisations. A lot of what they shared mirrored my experience from my time working in service delivery.
They were shocked and relieved to find a funder who wanted to fund organising and campaigning work. A recurring theme was that service delivery alone would not win sustainable change - and that it is critical for them to do more organising and campaigning work.
But they had neither the capacity nor the funding to do this.
I hope we can work with other funders to proactively examine our privilege - and authentically listen to and respect the insights of grassroots leaders.
What did I learn about "power" from the Community Action Fund journey?
Firstly, let's mention the power that funders hold in deciding who gets funded. We aimed to shift this power dynamic by recruiting a panel of grassroots organisers and campaigners to make the final decision. This enabled potential partners to open up to us and share their struggles about funding and capacity authentically, instead of trying to persuade us to win funding.
Secondly, the recruitment of the panel helped us devolve power back to the sector - putting grassroots organisers and campaigners who understand the everyday struggle of the grantees at the heart of this process. We learnt so much from the growing Participatory Grantmaking Community in trialling this approach.
This allowed us to move away from the "dominant power" structure, where power is unilateral and one person or institution tends to hold all the power. Instead, by "sharing power", I hope we can work with other funders to proactively examine our privilege - and authentically listen to and respect the insights of grassroots leaders.
Receiving more than 800 applications and being able to only fund around 20 of these illustrates the significant gap in funding and the urgency to fund more organising and campaigning work.
We need the funders to help us close this gap now. Please let us know if you’d like to connect and learn more about and fund some amazing grassroots work. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org