Reflections on Community Grantmaking as a TPP Fellow

By Susan Silber

Susan Silber headshotI must have received messages about the first announcements about the Pollination Project from about a dozen people. As a community organizer, I am constantly on the search for foundations who provide for grassroots projects, as they are so few and far between. I applied for my first grant in 2014, my second grant (for another project) in 2015 and received an Impact Grant in 2016.

So when I was approached about becoming a Flow Fund Fellow, it seemed too good to be true! Me, receiving a stipend to give away funds for amazing youth development projects? Heck yeah!

The first phone calls with my the Fellows on my team were equally gratifying. Though  we live in various parts of the country and are diverse in every sense of the word, we instantly seemed to connect as community organizers. I felt an immediate gratitude toward the work that everyone on the team was doing, a “wow, what amazing work” to each person. I looked forward to each call, to connect deeper with each Fellow and learn more from the work they were doing.

I didn’t have to think too hard about the first three Flow Fund applicants. I have many connections with amazing change makers working on youth development projects, so it was challenging to choose just a few. I approached the first one – Brandi Mack – who is on my Network Steering Committee. She is a rock star organizer, an African American from West Oakland who is well-respected in the field of permaculture. She was a natural fit – the $1,000 was well-appreciated as she is operating as a volunteer, working with African American girls and their parents to promote resilience. The other funds “flowed” equally as easily, women I have known for a few years as youth organizers. For example, Effie Rawlings has volunteered her time at the Gill Tract Farm down the street from me, and had spoken to me as about involving more youth in their programs. Vanessa Raditz is a queer activist who has started a beautiful project called Queer Ecologies Project will be starting a series of workshops to connect queer and trans houseless youth in San Francisco to urban gardens in order to support physical, mental, and spiritual healing.

One of my highlights was meeting with Flow Funders a few months after they received their grants. I met with Effie at the farm, who excitedly talked about their project and proudly showed me the work they had been doing thanks to the Pollination Project grants – from a cob bench they were working on with kids to a lively meeting they had with parents. Their project will be complete in early spring, and I will take pride in visiting their farm and the fruits of their labor every time I visit the farm.

Another highlight has been getting to know my last Flow Fund recipient Alexa Kelly, a talented permaculture educator from Berkeley. I learned a great deal from my numerous conversations with her, from organizing successful Intergenerational workshops to creating hands-on permaculture activities for kids of all ages. I am really looking forward to Alexa presenting some of these activities – made possible with grant funds – at upcoming events.

It was also a huge pleasure to participate in the Pollination Project retreat over Thanksgiving weekend. Though seemingly different in every way – from our languages to our cultural identities to the food we ate we spoke a common language as community organizers and our passion to create a more compassionate world. It was rich experience, and I thank the Pollination Project for facilitating it.

I am also appreciative of my growth as a community leader and some of the discomfort I have experience as a Fellow. I have learned that money brings a certain level of power that is sometime uncomfortable. People wanted to talk with me more, they wanted to pitch their projects to me as soon as they learned about the Flow Funds. I will admit that I relished in the power to give away money, and it is now one of my biggest priorities to establish my own mini-grants fund through my own organization.
I have learned that some need – and appreciate more guidance than others. I met with each individually. I am appreciative that it’s super challenging organizing community projects while working full-time. Brandi, for example, organizes the Butterfly Movement while navigating a full-time job, three children and numerous urban agriculture projects she is also involved in.

Nonetheless, both myself and the grantees receiving the funds have experienced nothing but gratitude. Foundations rarely fund grassroots projects, much less provide grantees the opportunity to give away funds ourselves. Twice in the past week I have gotten together with grantees to talk about their work – once at the quarterly gathering at founder Ari Nessel’s house and then at a grantee gathering I organized a few days later. Grantees shared their pride in developing their projects, and I too was beaming.

2017-03-27T13:00:50+00:00