To guide the Foundation’s approach to community engagement, we sought to learn from a diversity of leaders across Washington State about their advocacy and organizing for racial and social equity. In Spring 2018, we formed a Learning Collaborative of 11 dynamic leaders and provided stipends for them to share their insights, perspectives, and experiences with engaging communities in ways that are authentic, respectful, effective, and centered on community assets.
Over three months, the collaborative met three times to discuss the why, what, and how of community engagement. Out of these conversations, emerged several important themes for engaging communities—and building trust and relationships in communities.
Shifting Power. Collaborative members shared two critical aspects to shift power are ensuring communities who have historically been left out are involved in decision-making and building funder trust. Specific suggestions for trust-building include:
- Use long-term investment, co-development of RFPs, funding through transitions, and general operating support to demonstrate trust in communities.
- Ensure that boards of funder organizations include representatives of communities most impacted by inequities.
- Use collaborative rather than command-and-control approaches.
- See community-based organizations as principals rather than agents.
- Work with communities to develop outcomes and measurements.
Showing Up. It’s not just showing up but how you show up that matters. Collaborative members identified ways to show up with authenticity, such as honoring people’s expertise, crediting people for their contributions, and being open and transparent about motivations and processes. Another key recommendation was to build the Foundation’s presence across the state, including co-locating staff with communities and meeting partners in their spaces.
Developing Leaders. Multiple levels of leadership—individual, organizational, and community—must be nurtured and supported as part of community engagement. Funders need to invest in developing people who have been oppressed and marginalized and identify clear pathways in leadership.
Helping Learning Happen. A big part of learning requires creating space to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them. Collaborative members discussed the notion of “failing forward” and how funders can support learning so communities can make forward progress rather than be defeated by failure or lose resources because of it.