Theory of Change #5: Shifting the Field

by | Jul 21, 2020 | ShiftHappens

A recent analysis by candid.org found that over half of grant dollars allocated by American foundations went to just 1% of recipient organizations.

This tracks with what we know about the philanthropic sector more generally; by and large, most foundation support is awarded to well-funded, established organizations.

The same report cited above found that the average grant size is currently $35,000.

At The Pollination Project, we’ve seen community transformation begin with a seed grant of what seems a small sum of money, $1,000.

Using a microgrant model, we’ve built a network of nearly 4,000 grassroots leaders in 115 countries working on projects spanning every major social issue. Most of these leaders would not have been able to access funding from traditional foundations; their work may be viewed as too diffuse, risky, or labor-intensive to monitor and evaluate.

Yet we know that a small grant placed in the right hands can have tremendous direct and indirect impact.

In terms of direct impact, a grant of this size can educate over 4,000 teenagers on teenage pregnancy and contraceptive use. It can screen and provide initial treatment to almost 350 diabetics. It can offer vocational training to 30 widows, as well as support in incubating their resulting small businesses. Indirectly, supporting grassroots work builds local leadership, independence and community resilience.

Embracing grassroots efforts offers a meaningful opportunity for intellectual diversity and lasting impact. Those who are closest to the problem itself are the ones who are the most invested in seeking solutions, and they are familiar with and able to mobilize local resources, relationships, and networks in a way that is out of reach for outside actors. Investments in grassroots work, free from constraints of administrative overhead and bureaucracy, often goes further than other interventions. Meaningfully, the authenticity behind these efforts garners community trust, creating networks and a critical nexus of alignment that anchors and amplifies the work itself.

As we live out our values through our work, we hope to share impact with the philanthropic community in ways that encourage others to implement or otherwise support the microgrant model. When we talk about “shifting the field of philanthropy,” this is our intention.

This is the fifth in a series of blogs highlighting The Pollination Project’s Theory of Change. Click here to read the introduction, here to read the first post on uplifting individual action, here to read the post about building capacity & collaboration, and here to read the post about inner transformation. The last post about inspiring action can be found here.