Issues of equity and access have been long-standing conversations within the world of philanthropy. In the Omaha-metro our most vulnerable and underserved communities often lack the financial resources, social connections, training, and capacity needed to pursue funding for the grassroots work that needs to be done. The Omaha Community Foundation is tackling these inequities head-on through resident-led grantmaking—a funding model where funding decisions are guided by the very communities the grants serve. 

The Foundation’s Community Interest Funds (CIF) were created to engage local residents in community-led grantmaking and to provide nonprofits in underserved communities more equitable access to funding. Through these programs, yearly grants are awarded to organizations serving LGBTQIA+, Latino, African American, refugee communities, and neighborhood-led community projects.

Over the past two years, the committees from these five CIF programs have collaborated to build a strategic plan with the goal of increasing the impact of the grants and growing the capacity of the awarded nonprofits.

→  We are actively looking for new members to join these committees. Applications are open through Thursday, March 25, 2021.

Meet Cammy and Patricia

We had a conversation with two of the CIF committee chairs, Cammy Watkins, who chairs the African American Unity Fund, and Patricia Mayorga, who recently completed her term as chair of the Futuro Latino Fund. We wanted to hear directly from them why they believe resident-led grantmaking is important in our community. 

Patricia joined the Futuro Latino Fund (FLF) in 2015 and was the longest-standing member of the FLF committee before cycling off and transitioning into an advisory role. Cammy joined the African American Unity Fund (AAUF) in 2017 and at the time, was the first new person to join in a few years. 

Building Capacity and Community Within Areas of Need

We asked Patricia and Cammy what needed to be done when they joined the committees. “Capacity building,” Patricia says. “It was true then and is still true now.” “Yes, and community building, too,” says Cammy. Patricia goes on,

“Capacity building is not simple to accomplish, but over time you grow in understanding that this is systems work. You don’t flip a switch and it’s solved but you get a better sense of the delivery of the programs, outcomes, and impacts.”

In an effort to foster community and grow capacity, the committees started hosting lunch-and-learns to provide the basics of grant writing and other training. During those training times, it became glaringly clear that there were disparities with access to funds—they heard it from the nonprofits and also saw reflected in the grant applications. Cammy added, 

And if you are a nonprofit leader of color, the margin of error you’re allowed is much smaller. There is a history long before any of us that we have to acknowledge and atone for so that we can move forward and re-build with trust.”

A Strategic Plan Is Built Through Committee Partnership

Before Patricia and Cammy began to volunteer, Katrina Adams, the Omaha Community Foundation’s Grant Programs Manager, was already envisioning ways for the different committees’ collective knowledge to be shared within the different programs. Beyond that, Katrina wanted to measure the impact of the grants, increase their effectiveness, and help nonprofits to mature during their time within the program.

The hope is that after five or 10 years of CIF funding, grantees will be prepared to seek funding opportunities from other sources, from public to private and local to national. To that end, a strategic plan was built that outlines a growth path where nonprofits receive training and support during the year(s) they are funded.

Providing Grassroots Projects Access to Funding

In their most basic sense, the CIF committees are a bridge between highly effective grassroots work being done in the community and the funding needed to do the work. Because they come from marginalized communities, the nonprofits that receive CIF grants typically don’t have access to relationships with funders. And they may not have any prior experience in the grant writing process. “In the race for funding, the most polished applications win,” Cammy says.

CIF Committee members are folks from within the Black, Latino, LGBTQIA+ and refugee communities, so they are well-acquainted with the needs, the people, and the good work that’s being done. And committee members have the trust of their peers so they are able to facilitate introductions to funding opportunities. Cammy says,

“People who apply [for Community Interest Funds] know that it’s folks from their own community reviewing the applications—people who have had the same experiences they have had. So they feel comfortable taking the risk to apply.”

Often potential applicants are worried about making a mistake on their application and losing access to CIF funding forever. Committee members are able to assure them that the program is set up to extend grace and offer assistance for those who don’t have professional experience with the grant writing process. 

Providing Funders With Community Knowledge

Another aspect of bridge-building that happens through the CIFs is between local nonprofits and local philanthropists. CIF committee members are from the community and can give applicants their stamp of approval, which builds their reputation within the philanthropic community. Patricia says, 

“From the CIF grant funder’s perspective, we are helping them a lot in providing validity to the organizations that apply. Everyone on the committees is from those communities. We see the needs directly through our friends, family, and the work we do. If these committees weren’t around, how would local philanthropists know about these nonprofits?”

The Future of Grant-Making

With the coronavirus pandemic and the calls for racial justice we’ve seen this year, there is a heightened focus on inequity in our society. People are watching to see where philanthropy lands with it. “Thankfully, we have already been thinking about that with our funding decisions,” Cammy says.

Now, the committees want to create more synergies between them. Cammy and Patricia would like to see all five of the CIF committees coming together to collaborate more—to build relationships and bridges across different communities. Cammy speaks to their shared dreams, 

“We’ve built some foundations for certain individuals within the LGBTQIA+, Latino, Black, and refugee communities. But we still need to step into the intersections of those communities. The systems that challenge the Black community are the same systems that impact refugees, Latinos, and our queer neighbors. We need to cross over and grow and expand—to solve this as a full community.” 

“Yes!” Patricia adds. 

“I’d love to see this approach to grantmaking grow within our community. Donors here are so generous and I want more nonprofits to have access to funding and relationships with local philanthropists.”

The systems work toward equity requires curiosity, patience, and a willingness to grow. And Cammy and Patricia both exhibit these qualities through every part of their work. Patricia says, “My time on the committee has itself become a capacity building opportunity for me. I’ve learned so much. I know others have, too.”

Get Involved with Resident-Led Grantmaking

We’d love to see more involvement in the exciting work that is being done with Community Interest Funds. There are several ways to contribute.

Serve on a Committee The application to become a committee member is open to anybody in the community! We encourage you to apply.

Introduce Yourself to a Committee If you’re a nonprofit, community organization, or neighborhood association working among Black, Latino, LGBTQIA+, or refugee communities we’d love to meet you! Email Katrina Adams (Program Manager) and she can facilitate an introduction:

Apply for a CIF Grant Learn more here.

Donate to a CIF Grant Recipient See the 2020 CIF grant recipients.