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Getting up to Speed on Supporting Grassroots

Deepti Sood, Associate Director, Evaluation and Learning

Jared Raynor, Director, Evaluation and Learning

We only arrived in this decade a few years ago, and already the 2020s are a time of transformational social and policy change. A pandemic, the increasing threat of climate change, and significant racial justice awareness have increased the importance of policy and advocacy campaigns more than ever. With a vibe shift in the field of philanthropy from accountability to values, we’ve seen funding practices change in many arenas. Increasingly, funders are coming to TCC Group to provide additional guidance for evaluations and learning through focused field research – to better understand trends and what evidence exists to help funders better respond to these trends.

In 2022, we conducted a research study on behalf of the Connecticut Health Foundation. The Foundation – a storied advocacy funder focused on health equity – was interested in shifting some of its advocacy support to be more focused on grassroots advocacy organizations (GRAOs). These organizations – informed by members and residents of communities and neighborhoods – were seen as a missing link in ensuring policy change.

Our study worked to answer one straightforward question, “How can funders best support grassroots advocacy organizations?”

A lot of findings weren’t particularly surprising – GRAOs asked for multi-year support and general operating grants, trends we’ve seen across philanthropy, as nonprofits push back on traditional power structures and ask for more flexibility to lead their own work.

But we wouldn’t be researchers if we didn’t keep digging until we got to a deeper level. Here, we want to share three ideas about supporting grassroots advocacy organizations that you may not have on your radar screen:

  1. Treating community representation as a monolith. GRAOs we spoke to often said they felt as if they were brought in to prove that “community voice” was at the table. But community is not a monolithic concept. GRAOs often work with a specific population or in a certain geographic area – but they don’t represent everyone within those groups or areas. And some GRAOs felt that funders were resistant to supporting “too many” GRAOs because that had the potential to shift power structures. Therefore, meaningful representation of different community perspectives was often missing from conversations.


  1. A pattern of under-resourcing. GRAOs described a pattern for us: funders would ask them to participate in a certain advocacy campaign or coalition but fund them to do so at only the most basic level. In practice, this means that important relationship-building and follow-up work was often left unfunded. Due to limited staff capacity, GRAOs occasionally couldn’t attend important decision-making meetings. Together, these factors led to a culture where better resourced organizations – those with designated staff to participate in campaigns, for example – were fully integrated into campaign leadership while GRAOs were there as a token voice at the table.


  1. Working with grasstops organizations. Why are we talking about grasstops organizations in a blog post focused on the latest research around grassroots advocacy organizations? For the simple reason that many GRAOs we spoke to felt like they were pressured to get along and play nice with grasstops organizations in order to not alienate important business representatives that often had direct connections with legislative leaders. But grasstops organizations were often not given similar pressure – to make an authentic effort to connect with community demands. Funders often were seen as trying to position themselves as neutral parities, instead of bringing their power and perspective to bear equally on both types of organizations.

The report has many more insights – and works to answer a set of 14 questions across the areas of relationship building, finding alignment, supporting GRAOs financially, readiness for success, building advocacy power, expanding focus and lens, facilitating collaboration, and evaluation, learning, and measurement. The full report is available here and we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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