March 2009 - Funders Briefing

A Funder's Look at Effective Strategies on Capacity Building and Community Engagement for Social Change

Co-presented with Minnesota Council on Foundations, Northwest Area Foundation, AAPIP Minnesota chapter, and PFund Foundation

On March 26, 2009, thirty participants from leading Minnesota foundations attended a funder's session led by the NGEC to explore effective strategies on community engagement and capacity building for social change. Funders gained new thinking, tangible examples, and tools on how to more effectively engage and build with communities.


MN Funders Briefing - March 2009


Featured Resources and Tools:

NGEC Guide on Community Engagement: Making Social Justice Work Inclusive

NGEC Community Engagement Facilitation Guide that offers practical methods, tools, and exercises

NGEC Justice Rising: Sparking Dialogue for Democacy: videos and discussion guide


Funders explore effective strategies on community engagement and capacity building for social change.

With the economic downturn and increasing community needs - how can philanthropy create more meaningful and lasting impact?  The NGEC believes to effect current change and long-term change, it requires being intentional and strategic about building social justice capacity and the leadership of communities most impacted by inequity. On March 26, 2009, funders examined this very issue.

The NGEC highlighted our community engagement approach and process. Recognizing AAPI organizational leaders need, but rarely get support to reflect on their role, explore social justice, and how this translates into organizational practice, we provided 22 Minnesota AAPI community organizations with financial support, technical assistance, and peer-based learning spaces to engage their own stakeholders in such conversations.

Over six months, our partners addressed three goals:

  1. Better understand the community's issues and needs in the current environment,
  2. Assess the organization's role and capacity to meet those needs and
  3. explore the organization's vision for the community and how a social justice framework may fit.

Integral to the NGEC's community engagement approach is continually listening and learning from communities that ensures our strategies stay responsive and relevant to regional community contexts. Another key ingredient is being conversation-based. This builds upon how communities already address issues: through dialogue.

Supporting our partners in these ways not only enabled them to assess and reflect, but also informed us about the community's infrastructure and organizations' readiness for transformation and social change work.  Looking ahead, funders were invited to continue learning with the NGEC as we test out our social justice capacity building tools and resources through the Organizational Fellowship Program and explore the most salient aspects of our model for philanthropy.


So how does community engagement live and breathe in real practice?

Funders most valued hearing from the NGEC's community engagement partners' stories of impact. Pham Thi Hoa, Executive Director of CAPI (formerly Centre for Asian Pacific Islanders), a multi-service immigrant and refugee agency, emphasized, "it was important for CAPI to engage those they serve as part of our work to identify root causes of inequities and explore what is the most effective role that our organization can play in helping to address them." For CHAT (Center for Hmong Arts & Talent), "community engagement is essential to becoming more social justice focused," said Executive Director, Kathy Mouacheupao. By engaging Hmong youth and young artists, CHAT gained valuable new insights about their past and present role, which they used to help set their future direction. Both CAPI and CHAT are NGEC Organizational Fellowship Program Recipients.

The third key ingredient of the NGEC's community engagement approach is to determine how the information gets used. Our key learnings critically informed our strategies to strengthen community capacity and create an environment for social justice to thrive. The result is the NGEC's social justice capacity building framework and Organizational Fellowship Program.

MN Funders Briefing - March 2009

For an example of one local funder's method to community engagement, the PFund Foundation shared how through community conversations, they were able to build trust and to learn about priority issues concerning LGBTQ people of color PFund's community conversation participants, Max Gries, Co-Chair of MN Transgender Health Coalition and Rogelio Munoz, Executive Director of Chicano Latino Affairs Council, emphasized that it was valuable to create a space for LGBTQ people of color to discuss issues of racial equity with each other and with PFund. And the need that emerged was developing LGBTQ people of color leaders. PFund's community engagement method, in turn, helped shape the Foundation's racial equity lens to their social justice grantmaking.

Reflecting on the session, one participant said, "It was valuable to hear and learn how community organizations created new ways to bring in community voices and to build community ownership." Another said, "the NGEC's process gave me new ideas about how our foundation could be more intentional about engaging communities to build our understanding of issues and needs and be more strategic in our grantmaking." Several funders hope to learn more about the NGEC's social justice capacity building and its potential applications.

Moving forward, AAPIP's Executive Director, Peggy Saika invited funders to join us in ongoing conversations. "We see this as an opportunity to learn together as we test out our capacity building tools, and explore how BRIDGE, a national capacity building resource across communities, could be relevant in Minnesota and the Midwest."