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Cultivating Authentic Community Engagement and Equitably Shaping Federal Dollars

The Grand Rapids Community Foundation is working with the city of Grand Rapids in supporting a Participatory budgeting process that engages residents in allocating $2 million of American Rescue Plan resources.

Grand Rapids, Michigan

The Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GRCF) is working with the city of Grand Rapids in supporting a participatory budgeting (PB) process that engages residents in allocating $2 million of American Rescue Plan (ARP) resources.

As CMF reported, Michigan is receiving significant funding through federal and local recovery dollars. As part of the ARP, Michigan is receiving an estimated $10 billion dollars with $1.8 billion in Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funding being allocated directly to 49 Michigan cities and townships.

GRCF received a grant from CMF’s Statewide Equity Fund (SEF) earlier this year after being named a regional collaborative lead in the SEF Strategic Support Pilot.

As part of the pilot, GRCF and four other CMF members around the state are leveraging their convening power and working closely with their local units of government and community to shape incoming federal funding toward equity-centered approaches to economic prosperity.

The city of Grand Rapids is testing the use of the Participatory Budgeting Project, an innovative process that works with communities across the US and Canada to decide together how to spend public money. 

In Grand Rapids, the PB process provides residents with direct decision-making power on how public dollars are spent. Residents develop projects that improve their communities, the projects are then refined and voted on by residents.

“Our role is to ensure the community is properly resourced with the financial resources, technical expertise and power to ensure fidelity in a process that keeps equity at the center,” Kate Luckert Schmid, vice president of programs at GRCF said.

GRCF is partnering with a number of community-based organizations and funders including CMF members the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Wege Foundation, Steelcase Foundation and Frey Foundation.

The Grand Rapids SEF regional collaborative is supporting this process through:

  • Securing an experienced participatory budgeting consultant to provide technical assistance to the city, members of the steering committee and direct assistance to residents as they develop proposals. 
  • Providing financial resources to community organizations to support targeted outreach to ensure engagement with under-represented and historically underserved communities
  • Continuing the implementation of a community engagement framework across city departments and functions through a permanent position within the city-funded Office of Equity and Engagement.

Luckert Schmid shared that the regional collaborative initially saw that the PB process was under-resourced. 

“That’s where the funding collaborative could come in and give it not only the financial resources but also raise the expectation that this is going to be something that we all needed to participate in and be mutually accountable to ensure that the fidelity of the process would get us where we needed to go,” Luckert Schmid said. 

The Grand Rapids SEF regional collaborative has been focused on how to have a better equity-centered approach with community through this process with both a near and far agenda in mind as more federal resources become available.

“We know that once this wave of funding passes, we will still be left with a community that wants to be in a different relationship with how decisions are made, so how do we establish new expectations for how the community partners with system leaders to change the nature of the relationship towards community power and decision making?” Luckert Schmid said.

Luckert Schmid shared that the regional collaborative wanted to ensure there was intentionality and dedication in their learnings to apply it again in the future.

“As a community, whether we choose to use the participatory budgeting process again or similar approaches, we certainly are going to evolve in how we can partner with community and how the themes and things we learn collectively through this experience can be applied to future engagement opportunities with community,” Luckert Schmid said.

According to Luckert Schmid, the collaborative expects potential challenges with balancing timelines while ensuring a process that engaged all residents and aligns with PB standards.   

“One thing we aren’t going to do is deviate from the equity lens even if there’s a barrier in the process,” Luckert Schmid said.

The SEF regional collaboratives began engaging in the pilot in February, working with their local units of government and community as well as connecting virtually through CMF-hosted conversations on a regular basis for shared learning across regions and for learning opportunities with similar models underway across the country.

Shared learning is something that Luckert Schmid says the pilot site has benefited from.

“It’s been great to have the other pilot sites to almost affirm the same things we’ve been experiencing and to encourage being a champion to stay the course,” Luckert Schmid said.

Luckert Schmid shared that this work has been a reminder of the resources funder communities have. It goes beyond financial support and can focus on the ability to share power with community in new ways.

“We encourage funders, and we’re encouraged, to stop and reflect on whether we’re taking advantage of every opportunity to share that power with the community. Community knows not only what it wants but what it needs. A process that allows residents to not just advise or recommend but to own the process in its entirety leads to more equitable outcomes,” Luckert Schmid said.

CMF members Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Flint, Community Foundation of Marquette County and the Pontiac Funders Collaborative are also piloting their own work to advance equitable outcomes toward economic prosperity through the SEF Strategic Support Pilot in their respective geographic service areas.

The SEF is a $2 million pooled fund that empowers CMF members to strategically pool resources toward systems change efforts with an equity-centered approach, utilizing a co-investment model focused on the policy domains of public health, education and economic prosperity within CMF’s Building an Equitable Future Together  policy framework.

The SEF is supported by CMF members the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Ralph C. Wilson Jr., Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Ballmer Group, DTE Foundation, Ford Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Skillman Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Hudson-Webber Foundation, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and GRCF.

Want more?

CMF has launched a new website that provides enhanced features and content including the new SEF Strategic Support Pilot Resource page. This curated collection of resources highlights data, tools and resources related to shaping public dollars.

This afternoon CMF members and the Statewide Equity Fund Working Group will join Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder in Residence at PolicyLink for a fireside chat. Blackwell will share insights about philanthropy's role in shaping the equitable outcome of public dollars.