Convening Community Change Efforts - Lessons for Funders

Submitted by Liz Weaver on July 28, 2016 - 1:58am

Across the Vibrant Communities, many funding partners have stepped up to the plate as conveners of community change efforts to reduce poverty.  Typically, these include community foundations, United Ways, and municipal governments.  There are many advantages to having an important community player as convener of the community change effort - they can bring others to the table, they are stable organizations with good reputations and they often have the resources that can help support the initiatives through the early stages of development.  

GEO Partners has recently published a Briefing Paper for grantmakers and their role in convening social change called Great Power, Great Responsibility.  They recognize that convening takes a particular set of skills, values and resources and that there can be some risk involved to the funder/grantmaker is the community change effort is not successful. 

The briefing paper is broken down into three sections:  starting off strong, bringing the right people to the table at the right time, and implementing smartly.  Keys to starting off strong include:

  • Make sure the goals and purpose for convening are clear
  • figure out what role you will play
  • think of progress incrementally
  • be sensitive to the big picture of context and timing

These are wise recommendations.  Too often organizations dive into community change without understanding the landscape and community conditions and without determining upfront how they hope to both contribute to and benefit from the community change effort.  It is also important, as we have learned from Collective Impact, to establish the boundaries for the change effort and for the grantmaker. 

Bringing the right people to the table at the right time recommends that conveners go beyond the usual suspects to get a better understanding of both the complexity of the problem and also the capacity of the community to respond.  Embedded in this is embracing diversity and using convening as an opportunity to build capacity within the community. 

The final part of the briefing paper tackles strategies to implement convening smartly.  This includes the use of skilled facilitators to support the process and providing appropriate resources to ensure success,

In the early stages of development the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction (HRPR), the conveners reflected on their Leadership and Lessons (we have attached this paper below.  The HRPR was co-convenved by the Hamilton Community Foundation and the City of Hamilton and had a prominent business leader as the chair of the Roundtable.  There were many challenges facing this leadership team including skepticism that a city could move the needle on a complex issue like poverty.  Through their collective aspiration to have the issue of poverty owned by the whole community, they were able to get widespready buy in and move forward significant change. 

GEO partners, in developing this briefing paper, has provided some useful guidelines for the role of funder/grantmaker as convener.  It is a challenging role with risk embedded in the role including both reputational risk and the risk of failing at something that is vexing the community.  But, that being said, it is also a critical role that funders/grantmakers can play in trying to move the needle on vexing community problems. 

Jay Connor in his Working Differently blog weighs in with a fifth key for funders interested in convening social change efforts to consider - their role as grantmakers in contributing to and leading the social change agenda.  Read his full blog here -

Your thoughts and comments are welcome as we invite you to join this interesting discussion.