Shift the Power. Free the Money. Lessons in Community-led Grantmaking

Shift the Power. Free the Money. Lessons in Community-led Grantmaking. Part III

Shift the Power. Free the Money. is a 4-part series to understand and embrace community-led grantmaking.

Shift the Power.Free the Money. is a reflection on how to effectively shift power and center the voice and experience of Black people especially when a foundation is committed to place-based community support.  

In this series, we will share our working definitions, how to get started and provide a spotlight on community-led grantmaking initiatives.

Part 3. Community-Led Grantmaking Spotlight: THRIVE Thomasville

In Part 1 and Part 2, I shared the key characteristics of community-led grantmaking and critical elements to get started, respectively.  Now, let’s dive into what it is really like in the middle of community-led grantmaking!  

How It Started….

In September of 2018, CBV was approached to lead an inaugural community-led grantmaking initiative for the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta under their Spark Community Fund.  The SPARK Community Fund is dedicated to putting philanthropic investments in the hands of community members.  The fund is dedicated to:

  • Shifting traditional philanthropy to the members of the community

  • Supporting resident leadership development that is a “spark” for positive change

  • Community engagement where residents are aware of available resources and can effectively partner with these resources

  • Acknowledging community assets

Our contract was finalized to lead this initiative in February 2019.  And, we quickly moved to:

  • Engage the community and community based organizations about the initiative.

  • Created a selection process to identify and select council members.

  • Defined the name of the community-led grantmaking council, THRIVE Thomasville Heights, now known as THRIVE Thomasville.

  • Defined the full year calendar.

  • Assisted the council in defining the funding priorities and grant application; and selecting grantees.

  • Conducted outreach sessions to share the initiative and recruit council members and grant applicants.

  • AND MORE!!!!

With all the rush to meet all the deliverables, we still learned a lot and were able to reflect on what worked well and growth areas.

It Worked

We successfully selected 7 community members to serve on THRIVE Thomasville Heights.  Because we engaged the council centering healing and self-care, they centered interpersonal grace with each other and supported members that were having attendance challenges.  

They were engaged from the beginning to the end.  They set funding priorities, created the grant application and selected 7 grantees.  It worked.

Principles, Practices, and Agreements

This was the foundation’s first time implementing community-led grantmaking.  Given this fact, there was not enough time or thought regarding the current ways that they conduct grantmaking and the new ways that are possible with community-led grantmaking.  In addition, the timeline that CBV created was not vetted at all the various levels of the organization.  The lack of developing principles, practices, and agreements cause real tension in the grantmaking.

Once the council finalized the grant application, the foundation began to push for more questioning in the application.  CBV pushed back on the effort to complete an application that is not aligned with the small grants being offered.  

In addition, the foundation requested another layer of interviewing final grant applicants within the grant selection process that was not agreed upon at the beginning of the initiative.  This caused applicants, CBV and council members to scramble to be available and ready to conduct interviews.  

Center the Voice of the Community

CBV created the name of the initiative.  If given more time, it would have been a beautiful experience to facilitate a discussion with the council to identify a name.  However, the council created their motto: Caring, Sharing, and Building Bridges for a Brighter Community.

From our first information session with the community to the closeout, we received a lot of feedback on the history of the community and how a neighboring community should be included in the initiative.  It would have been helpful to conduct an analysis of how the community defines itself prior to the launch of the initiative.

Community Based Partnerships

At the very beginning, we were intentional about engaging community based organizations serving Thomasville Heights to recruit their current clients to serve on the council and to support their clients in submitting grant applications.  These sessions led to unexpected support from the Boys and Girls Club and Purpose Built Communities.

The Boys and Girls Club recruited youth to apply to be council members and even brought younger youth during the council selection process to learn more about community-led grantmaking.  Purpose Built Communities in partnership with Thomasville Heights Elementary provided free space at the school and dinner for council meetings.  


From the start of the initiative, we planned an end-of-year celebration.  The council members co-created the agenda and facilitated most of the celebration.  Food and music was essential.  And, community partners and grantees participated in the festivities.

Create Space and Commitment

Once the council was selected, we offered a retreal-style all-day session that centered on self-care, interconnectedness, and accountability.  During this session, we explored power and privilege; brought in ancestors and the future of the community; and, defined funding priorities.  The council defined their motto that would help them focus on their intentions.  

Each time we came together we opened the space with intention on self-care and interconnectedness.  They were able to address issues with attendance with grace and support.

The council felt supported in the space.  Everyone committed to serving for the entire year.

How Is It Going…

Our second year was launched at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  And, currently, year three, we are still in a pandemic.  

But, we are still going strong and still learning.  So, where are we now?

Principles, Practices, and Agreements

We kicked off the second year with a meeting focused on principles, practices, and agreements with the foundation to share what worked well and growth areas.  The most pressing area was addressing the history of the community.

We shared the history of the community and how the community names themselves.  Historically there was one community that invested in themselves to create a community school, stores, and other amenities.  Based on the history, we advocated that the initiative encompass another community and change its name from THRIVE Thomasville Heights to THRIVE Thomasville.  

The foundation later agreed to get a final decision from the council.  The council voted to approve the change.

Support for Council Members

One of our recommendations for subsequent years is a Removing Barriers Fund for council members.  In year one of the initiative, there were council members that experienced transportation, technology and housing challenges.  The fund would support any member to be able to present as much as possible in their service to their community.

Community Service Project

The council expressed in year one that they would like to lead a project as well for their community.  In year two, funding was set aside to support a council-led and developed project. 

Flexibility in Grantmaking

Year two of the initiative started at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  We started out focused on replicating the grantmaking process from year one.  However, the reality of community hardships and inability to gather in person quickly changed that focus.  

The foundation, CBV and council members changed focus on what to do at least four times.  We finally decided on providing direct support community members in the form of healing and self-care baskets and heaters and care packages for seniors.

In year three, the council agreed to support a development of their local high school pantry, hygiene kits and masks for their local elementary school, neighborhood beautification, and gift cards for residents of an apartment complex facing relocation and displacement.

Community Based Partnerships

The initiative received additional support from FCS.  Our meetings with the council had to move from in-person gatherings to Zoom meetings.  Through a growing relationship, FCS provided free laptop computers to current and further council members.

Term of Service

Originally, council members were required to serve for only one year.  We advocated for council members, if they are available and willing to serve two years.  Most of the first year council members returned.

We also did not recruit additional council members due to the pandemic.  


We have been a witness to the ebbs and flow of community-led grantmaking.  It is a public learning endeavor for the grantmaker and the community that centers vulnerability, interpersonal grace and integrity.   

How ready is your organization to…

  • Center final grantmaking decisions from a Black community?   

  • Listen and incorporate feedback from a Black community on your grantmaking process?  

  • Receive and incorporate the funding priorities from a Black community?  

You must interrogate your practices and policies on how closed or open they are to power sharing.   This will determine how ready you are to embark on this journey and what you may need to get ready. 

If you are ready to look inward; tell the truth about your grantmaking; and, find reconciliation, you may be ready to get started.

Stay tuned for Part 4: Community-Led Grantmaking Spotlight: Stadium Neighborhoods Community Trust Fund.  I will share another inside look into an active community-led grantmaking initiative.

CommunityBuild Ventures’ community-led grantmaking work is made possible by the genius of our cooperative members, Neith Sankofa, Sheronde Glover, Trequita Overton, Kysha Cameron, and Natasha A. Harrison.  The lessons from community-led grantmaking are made possible by their expertise, commitment, intuition, passion, and love for Black people.  

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