A little over two years ago, the pandemic forced us to collectively adapt to an unprecedented set of circumstances. Community organizers quickly pivoted to address community needs and fill the gaps left by government and established institutions. They provided direct services to our residents, including setting up mutual aid networks, distributing personal protective equipment, facilitating COVID-19 testing and vaccination events, and raising money to help individuals and families meet their basic human needs, to name a few.
Even as the pandemic made it glaringly obvious how vital their work is, many organizing groups continue to struggle with organizational development – staffing, funding, financial affairs, and technology. Organizing work is difficult because it requires building relationships and trust. It is time-consuming and requires significant resources. Recovery efforts must be intentional in strengthening the community organizing field to challenge unjust power structures and counteract institutional barriers that led to racial disparities before and during the pandemic. Grassroots organizations and community organizers are key to building a recovery framework that yields more community-engaged methods that lead to better informed, more equitable policies.
At The Chicago Community Trust, we support community organizing and community leadership and networks through our Building Collective Power strategy. We fund community organizing because it develops the leadership capacity of everyday residents, building their self-efficacy and belief that they have the power to effect change and that they are worthy of such. The more residents involved in civic life, the healthier our democracy, the more vibrant our communities. But all of this takes time and sustained support.
Our commitment to the field of community organizing has been multi-year funding to 20 nonprofits who make up the Changemakers Network, a community of practice focused on practitioner, organizational, and network support. In addition, we recently made a multi-year commitment to partner with and support Wieboldt Foundation’s Chicago Capacity Building Organizing initiative to enhance the civic engagement infrastructure and capacity of seven grassroots organizations. Over 12 months, participants will receive general operating support, weekly consultation with a coach, and access to monthly workshops to strengthen their respective organization’s capacity and resilience.
Leadership development and strengthening the social capital of organizers is key to the sustainability of the field, so we’ve also committed to Cultivate Women of Color, a funder collaborative designed to build the leadership capacity of women of color organizers in social, economic, and racial movements. In addition, we have joined other funders and donors to launch the Chicago Racial Justice Pooled Fund. This fund provides unrestricted funds to grassroots organizations building movements and collective power to dismantle the systems, structures, and institutions rooted in white supremacy and perpetuate anti-Black violence.
We fund community organizing because a healthy and thriving community is dependent on a robust civic engagement – residents with the skills, knowledge, values, and motivations to make a difference. Informed and engaged residents lead to campaigns and actions, advocacy, and ultimately systems change that gets us closer to the future we all desire.