Thinking Differently About Funding

There are many groups that believe, the only way to get anything meaningful done in their community, is to secure a grant. So often that’s their starting point.

I’ve written previously how starting with a focus on funding can cause your group to be pulled right into a deficit based approach: Too small to fail: ABCD & Schumacher.

Today I want to offer a strategy for breaking out of this bind whether you are a citizen considering applying for a grant or a funder.

Citizens antidote to top-down funding: here’s a way of preserving community power and autonomy in the face of grants from organizations that have predefined the agenda before communities have even applied.

Ask the following four questions in this order, about money:

  1. Do we really need it? If so…
  2. Do we have it locally (in money)? If not…
  3. Can we take the non-fiscal resources we do have and barter or trade or propose a match for it? If not…
  4. Do we have to beg for it?


A donor could also ask four complementary questions:

  1. How can we support communities to discover what they have locally, so that they can then figure out what they need from us and other external actors?
  2. How can we make contact with communities and support them to shape the content of what we invest in?
  3. How can we level-out the power relationship to ensure that what they have is valued more than the money we have?
  4. How can we ensure that communities feel they are the authorizers of how funding is used in their community?


Asking these questions authentically and repeatedly would:

  1. Place a higher value on local assets, than outside funding.
  2. Ensure more citizen led action and voice with or without funding.
  3. Put community in the role of content shaper and funders in the role of contact supporter (when/if needed).
  4. Ensure true equity in the relationship between citizens acting together and funders trying to support their efforts.


If such questions are not being asked, then regardless of what a funder might claim to be doing, they most certainly can’t authentically claim to be working in an asset-based way. Because quite frankly, they are not.

Cormac Russell

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  • Mary Scally

    Thinking in this way could be game changing. I have sometimes thought the funding dependency trap as we know it has many negative spin offs. They need to be named and shamed.

    March 15, 2018 at 8:41 pm
  • In my experience Tudor Trust push us in just this direction. Great people. Thoughtful and relational.

    March 15, 2018 at 8:41 pm

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