Beyond the Money: Helping Grantees Navigate the Challenges of Operating Grassroots Organizations - Mary's Pence

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Beyond the Money: Helping Grantees Navigate the Challenges of Operating Grassroots Organizations

Working Group on Girls of Schenectady (WGGS), based in Schenectady, New York.

The nature of their size and scope makes Mary’s Pence grantees unique. They are often formed organically by a group of people who, bearing witness to injustice, decide to organize themselves and their community to make lasting social change. But like most women-led, grassroots organizations, Mary’s Pence grantees are generally understaffed and underfunded.

While grantees share the same commitment to creating a more just world, they also share many of the same challenges that come with operating a nonprofit or leading a social movement. Deeply dedicated to their organization’s mission, vision and programming, staff often find themselves scrambling to become experts in all the skills required to manage a nonprofit: fundraising, marketing and social media, finances and administration.

Mary’s Pence understands those challenges. It’s the reason why the Grants Program has amplified its scope in recent years to serve as a resource for grantees in ways that extend “beyond the money.” As one reviewer wrote on our Mary’s Pence GrantsAdvisor page: “They understand that grassroots, smaller nonprofits leaders have very little time on their hands and are often wearing all the hats.”

As a result of new programming, including the addition of the Grants Program Manager position in 2018, capacity building grants, and a professional development networking series, Mary’s Pence grantees have more opportunities to effectively develop and grow as advocates for social justice and change.

Capacity Building Grants

One of the ways Mary’s Pence Grants respond to the unique needs of grassroots organizations is by making capacity building grants available to our grantees each grant cycle. These grants provide additional financial support for program needs that are generally more difficult to fund, such as training for staff, marketing materials and consultancies. Mary’s Pence started offering capacity building grants in the spring of 2018 as a way to directly respond to unique programming needs identified by each of the grantees. The $750 grants are awarded to pay for the specific cost of something the organization has determined is critical to the growth of their organization’s capacity and scope. To date, 37 grantees have received capacity building grants.

Examples of Capacity Building Grants:
• Staff and Board Retreats
• Consultancies for Strategic Planning, Pay Equity, and Policy Development
• Staff Training
• Website Development and Marketing Support

Based in Carrboro, North Carolina, Refugee Community Partnership (RCP), is a Mary’s Pence grantee that uses base building and community organizing to develop resources, relationships, and opportunities to activate social mobility while promoting interdependence and solidarity for refugees.

As a recipient of a capacity building grant from Mary’s Pence, RCP is using the funds to hire a consultant to help develop personnel and governance policies that incorporate the organization’s shared leadership model and reflect values that are important to staff, including: pay equity, compensation transparency, salary bands, and personal development opportunities. Although RCP anticipates a multitude of challenges, they recognize that establishing these norms and protocols is essential to keep up with the scale of the work. As a final outcome, RCP expects to hire a co-director in 2022.

Working Group on Girls of Schenectady (WGGS) is a Mary’s Pence grantee based in Schenectady, New York, that provides social and emotional support to middle and high school girls by providing safe spaces for them to create connections and develop their own voices and confidence.

Recognizing changes in the organization’s board leadership as it shifts and outgrows the original founding members, WGGS wants to make time to focus on teamwork and leadership skills. A board retreat, they proposed, will help solidify the newer members’ commitment to serving girls and young women.

Although most organizations request funding for organizational development, some Mary’s Pence grantees—such as the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism (IRMS)—request help to pay for technical support.

Located in Berkley, California, IRMS is using their capacity grant to contribute to the cost of redesigning their website and branding. A new website will allow them to provide additional resources to users and increase their overall visibility and outreach. Clear and concise online communication is critical to their mission to provide in-depth research and timely analysis of male supremacist mobilization, ideology, and violence. The information they provide supports media, activists, and other researchers challenging misogyny and transmisogyny.

In addition to providing additional financial resources, the capacity grants demonstrate to grantees that Mary’s Pence is committed to developing and maintaining a lasting relationship with them. As one of the few funders that invests in small, underfunded organizations, Mary’s Pence focuses on helping grantees push through some of the barriers that often impact emerging nonprofits.

Making Sense with Mary’s Pence
Building on the work of her predecessor to form a networking community for Mary’s Pence grantees, Grants Program Manager Grace Gbolo launched the Making Sense with Mary’s Pence series in February 2021. The series was developed based on conversations with current and past grantees, as well as feedback they provided in surveys that highlighted both the expertise within their organizations, and the difficulties they encounter as part of their work for justice.

Making Sense with Mary’s Pence, an hour-long, online forum exclusively for Mary’s Pence grantees, provides people with a space to learn, discuss and share ideas about solutions to many of the common challenges of managing an organization. Facilitators share their expertise and lead discussions that encourage grantees to share their own knowledge, skills and experiences with one another.

Themes of Making Sense with Mary’s Pence
gatherings in 2021:
• Small Nonprofit Administration
• Building Support from Individual Donors
• Highlighting Mary’s Pence Grantees
• Communication Effectively Within Your Means
• Board Roles and Best Practices

As she assembles topics for future Making Sense with Mary’s Pence gatherings, Grace says the collaborative and communal approach to working together for the common good aligns with Mary’s Pence mission and vision.

“Making Sense with Mary’s Pence is a way of supporting and standing in solidarity with those we fund,” explains Grace. “The engagement from these sessions helps to create change and provides a way to be a support for one another.”

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