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Power to the People: Promoting Equity and Community Engagement as A Grant Professional

With great power comes great responsibility. As grant professionals, we utilize our superpowers to connect the needs of communities, the interests of funders, and the mission and capacity of organizations. How can grant professionals promote equity in an organization's engagement of communities? How can we help shift more decision-making power to the people most impacted by our work? Perhaps, we can glean lessons from another field.


Prior to transitioning to higher education, I spent the first decade of my career working for healthcare organizations and public health nonprofits. In public health, our work is rooted in equity with the purpose of developing, implementing, and evaluating evidence-based programs and policies to improve the health of all people where they live, work, and play. A core principle of this work is community engagement. Public health recognizes that efforts to advance equity are more successful when they are designed and implemented with (rather than for) communities. Thus, meaningful community engagement is the involvement of individuals as true partners in the work and decision-making.
During my tenure working with public health nonprofits, I learned that there are many factors that contribute to the successful engagement of communities in health programs, policies, and research. I offer three (3) considerations that I believe as grant professionals, we can all incorporate into our work:
Partners at Every Stage
In the early years of my career, I worked for a network of community health centers in Washington, DC. This experience taught me that even the most well-intentioned efforts will not be effective unless there is buy-in, from the beginning, from the intended community. Community members should be involved in every stage of the process, from the planning to evaluation of programming. This requires community engagement is intentional and authentic rather than approached as a way to confirm a pre-existing idea, concept, or plan.
Value Community Members as Experts
Community engagement is grounded in the principles of fairness, justice, and empowerment (Alinsky, 1962; Chávez et al,2007; Freire, 1970; Wallerstein et al, 2006). During my tenure with health nonprofits, there were a number of grant opportunities that brought together patients, their family members, researchers, policymakers, and health professionals to collaborate on projects. The experiences and perspectives of the patient community were key to the success of these projects because they are the experts in the lived experience. It is essential to create an environment where everyone, particularly community members, is heard and feels valued, which includes fair compensation for their time. In our role as grant professionals, we can recognize community members as experts by incorporating their thoughts and voice in proposals. We can also use our influence to advocate that community members are compensated as equal to professional experts also serving as consultants on projects. 
One Voice Represents One Person
Lastly, the most important aspect of community engagement is to recognize that one person does not represent everyone in that community. While that person can offer valuable insight, based on their lived experience, they should not feel obligated to speak for all individuals of that community.
If grants are a call to action that brings people together to work on solutions, then grant professionals are well positioned to advance equity and community engagement by advocating for and incorporating for these strategies and others in our work with organizations and/or clients.
What are your thoughts?  How can we use our knowledge, skills, and influence to promote equity and community engagement? 
Bio: Lesa-Kaye Holtham, MPH, serves as Senior Associate Director of Institutional Grants for the School of Social Service at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. She has worked as a grant professional for more than a decade for public health and health service organizations. Lesa-Kaye shares her insights on grant strategy on her blog at

GPC Competencies: Practices and services that raise the level of professionalism of grant developers; Knowledge of organizational development as it pertains to grant seeking



By: Diane Calabria
On: 09/04/2019 14:08:54
Woo hoo! Hard to pull off, but well worth the effort to try. a proposal written with evidence of real (not contrived) community engagement stands head and shoulders above the rest.

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