Remembering the Grassroots of the Nonprofit Sector

Young people volunteering in park

Nothing beats some good old grassroots participation. Image: Shutterstock

We’ve heard it over and over again, that real change comes from the grassroots. While national nonprofits can get a lot done, they absolutely require that the “little people” be giving them money. And that’s just on the most superficial level.

All problems faced by nonprofits are, essentially, local problems. They affect real people in real communities, even if an organization is approaching them from a top-level, abstract point of view. Curing a disease may not “feel” local, but if one remembers that the disease in question is affecting real people, with real families, in real communities, it’s a lot easier to think about it that way.

With about £64bn (a little over $80bn) going to nonprofits every year, the competition for funds can be fierce. There are many good causes out there, and a lot of those causes have big international organizations trying to find solutions. But it’s often the smaller local nonprofits that have the most impact, especially when it comes to talking to local politicians and dealing with the underlying causes behind issues like poverty or drunk driving.

It can be easy for bigger organizations to overlook small grassroots operations. In a meeting of the United Nations in July of 2016, attendees discussed the importance of working together to eradicate global poverty and other serious issues. The conversation stayed at a larger overview level until two Catholic sisters, Sr. Margaret O’Dwyer and Sr. Elsa Muttathu, urged the assembly not to forget the importance of the work already being done by local nonprofits.

“To the 193 nations supporting the SDGs–don’t forget the wisdom of the people at the grassroots, and don’t forget their voice,” O’Dwyer admonished.

Mutttathu agreed: “The way to sustainable development must involve empowerment of grassroots groups.”

So if nonprofits want to actually make changes, they need to address issues at the local level. They need to work with communities to solve problems, spread knowledge, or whatever their mission entails. And they need to address elected officials at pancake breakfasts and other events where those officials are more likely to actually hear from the people they represent. While a letter might get ignored, it’s a lot harder to ignore a constituent–or a nonprofit which helps and represents those constituents–when you’re sitting across the table from them.

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