If we can do things bigger...can we do things better?

Audrey Irvine-Broque

This June, through the Grassroots Fund's participatory process, $374,099 was distributed to 121 grassroots groups throughout New England. Of those groups, 29 were awarded Young Leader grants, and - count ‘em - 92 were awarded Grow grants. All told, this was the Grassroots Fund’s biggest grant round ever.

Even in the face of increasingly alarming reporting on climate change and its many related crises, it's hard to not feel hopeful when reading about the diverse strategies that groups are enacting in order to transition their communities into a better relationship with people and the environment. The groups funded this spring ranged from young writers engaging their peers about the realities of climate change, to vibrant placemaking for community and environmental health to building cooperative economies that resist displacement. We invite you to share in this hope and learn more about this round's grantees by exploring our map here

But this round didn’t just have big outputs. This spring, we had over 150 volunteers join us as grant reviewers in order to weigh in and share their perspectives on where resources are most needed in the grassroots environmental movement in New England. This meant that each grant application (144 in total) was assigned 10-12 reviewers from a diverse range of lived experiences, who crafted funding recommendations that were then reviewed by our final, volunteer grantmaking committee. 

As our equity trainers from CQ Strategies often remind us, one of the ways that our implicit bias (shaped by white supremacy culture) can show up in this work is by believing that “progress” is inherent when something is becoming bigger, or doing “more.” So while the number of projects that will get funding this year is exciting, we also want to be asking ourselves how we can be doing this work better and with more attention to our values. 

As with each round, we asked our applicants and reviewers for their feedback on the process, from the technical changes we can make to streamline their experience, to our overarching evaluation guidelines and values. We want to consistently be checking in with our base of community members and ask: where are we succeeding, and where are we missing the mark?

Many readers found that the experience of being a grant reader deepened their knowledge and excitement about the grassroots work emerging in our region, saying the experience was “invigorating, and gives positive energy - [I’m] almost jealous that I can't go visit each project or meet the people in person who wrote the proposals I had the opportunity to read about.” 

Despite the perceived one-way relationship between applicant and reviewer, we find time and again that our participatory review process is also a practice in collective reflection. “It really forced me to think hard about how my own work does or does not reflect these values,” shared one of our grant readers. “I don't have clear answers at the moment, but it was a provocative and productive experience.”

During the final grantmaking committee - in which a planning committee selects a handful of grant readers to come together and process the final decisions and deliberations - we had even more time to reflect on the future of this work. We continue to ask ourselves: how can we make sure that these resources are known about and accessible across communities in New England? What are the procedures and practices that we need to be uplifting as an organization within our own work, and within the work of the groups that we fund?

(For more on this, you can check out our summer fellow Faizah Barlas’ blog about her work on our rubric toolkits.)

If you are interested in these questions, we encourage you to join us as a grant reviewer this round and continue to help us live up to our Guiding Values and support building healthy, resilient, and environmentally sustainable communities throughout our region. Our open call for grant readers will be live on Thursday, August 1st, and you can sign up here