Civic Engagement & Advocacy Fund - Grant Applications Now Open

This new grantmaking program will invest in organizations committed to racial equity by building and deepening their involvement in civic engagement and advocacy. UWCW draws inspiration from the Funders Committee for Civic Participation (FCCP). We share the belief that transforming our democracy into one that is representative and well-functioning requires centering impacted communities whose voices are most often left out of critical democratic decision-making processes that affect their lives. This work can be advanced by supporting communities to build collective power and agency to overcome current and historical barriers to their participation. In addition, movement toward greater inclusion, justice, and equality requires experimentation and solutions that drive democracy towards openness and equity, and fuel a culture where people want to participate, knowing their participation matters

View Grant Application and FAQs Here

Strategic Framework & Goals

United Way of the Columbia-Willamette emerged from the pandemic period with new leadership and a strategic framework focused on the future. The framework applies lessons learned from past experiences and guides the organization’s ongoing evolution in order to remain relevant to ever-changing community needs. Grantmaking is a strategy that helps advance the first goal called out in the strategic framework:

Advance racial equity by collaborating with community stakeholders to create conditions for children, youth and families to thrive.

Like United Way, many groups emerging from the pandemic are rethinking their work, programs, strategies and positioning. The landscape has shifted, and racial equity focused organizations are seeking authentic relationships with philanthropic partners, greater flexibility from funders to meet their unique organizational needs and the ability to be thought leaders in program design, rather than implementers of funder-driven priorities. Drawing on community input, United Way created the Civic Engagement & Advocacy Fund.

Theory of Change

United Way believes that fundamental change occurs when people experiencing racial, social, environmental and economic injustice address the root causes of their conditions and create and implement their own solutions. To achieve this, impacted communities must be able to meet basic needs as well as develop leadership and organizing skills, effective and healthy organizations and powerful advocacy coalitions.

Guiding Principles

In the pilot year, these guiding principles will inform our process and outcomes:

Community-centered partnership:

  • Culturally specific and culturally responsive organizations. Culturally responsive organizations typically refer to organizations that possess the knowledge and capacity to respond to the issues of diverse, multicultural communities at multiple intervention points. Culturally responsive organizations affirmatively adopt and integrate the cultural and social norms and practices of the communities they serve. These organizations seek to comprehensively address internal power and privilege dynamics throughout their service delivery, personnel practices and leadership structure.
  • Recognize the inherent wisdom of frontline communities most impacted by the issues we seek to address.
  • Involve community leaders in the design, decision making and assessment of the program.
  • Build and deepen relationships authentically and intentionally while acknowledging that this takes time, practice and the creation of trust.

Encourage community impact and capacity:

  • Recognize the variety of ways in which impact and measurement of progress can take shape. 
  • Recognize the value of building skills and experience to address barriers to racial equity that might operate at a systems level. 

Learn and Adapt:

  • Build our collective knowledge of community needs and racial equity.
  • Minimize the administrative burdens of applying for a grant and reporting on outcomes.
  • Provide flexible funding with minimal restrictions.

2024 Fund Focus

In this inaugural year, United Way will invest in organizations committed to racial equity and have an interest in deepening their involvement in civic engagement and advocacy. Examples of potential projects may include, but are not limited to:

  • Base Building and Leadership Development: Social and policy change movements are best built from, and accountable to, an inclusive grassroots base that is diverse in terms of race, class, gender, religion, ableness and geography. Supporting leaders from impacted communities is a critical component to creating real change. Examples:
    • Base building activities designed to increase the number of engaged community members in the issues that impact their lives.
    • Internally focused leadership development initiatives that help staff build skills to participate in decision making processes that affect their lives.
    • Community leadership development programs directed at increasing the number of people with lived experience on boards, commissions, or other non-electoral decision-making bodies.
  • Advocacy: People and communities who are not included in decisions that affect them often hold solutions to the problems they face. Organized people, advocating for community-validated solutions, bring wisdom and diverse perspectives to decision-makers, ensuring more equitable and inclusive public policy.
    • Advocacy initiatives advancing community-created solutions.
    • Coalition building work that brings different organizations into alignment around common civic engagement/advocacy goals.
    • Service-to-organizing projects that move community members from recipients of services to engaged advocates.
    • Volunteer or mutual aid programs led by and serving target populations.
  • Capacity Building: Organizations need to have appropriate capacity to get involved and sustain their work in civic engagement/advocacy. For smaller groups that are newer to this work, this can be particularly challenging. 
    • Organizational development such as strategic planning, creating administrative systems, technical/operational improvements, strengthening boards of directors are a few examples of capacity building efforts.

Eligibility & Application Process:

If you have any questions about this grant contact Laurin Bello at laurinb@unitedway-pdx.org. Eligibility requirements to apply for funds includes the following:

  • Be based in United Way of the Columbia-Willamette funding region:
    • Oregon — Multnomah, Washington or Clackamas Counties
    • Washington — Clark County
  • Have 501(c)(3) tax exemption or have a 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor.
  • Demonstrated organizational commitment to advancing racial equity.
  • Annual operating budget of no more than $2 million.
  • Meet insurance requirements including Workers Compensation and General Liability Insurance. 

Applicants will be more competitive if they have the following characteristics:

  • Commitment to deepen work in civic engagement and advocacy.
  • Clear and specific strategies to reach, engage and support people of color.
  • Clear and realistic plans given capacity and time, including project timeline, budget, execution plan, etc.
  • Culturally responsive and culturally specific organizations.
  • Existing connection to United Way’s current work in these four areas of focus:

Grant Size:

  • Up to $25,000 will be awarded for one-year projects (June 2024 - June 2025).
  • Up to $50,000 will be awarded for two-year projects (June 2024 - June 2026).

Only one proposal for each organization will be considered. United Way will consider multiple applications from an organization if it is part of a collaboration.

Grant Application Timeline:

  • Applications accepted from Monday, June 3rd until Monday, July 1st at 5:00pm
  • Civic Engagement & Advocacy Fund Listening Session 1:
  • Civic Engagement & Advocacy Fund Listening Session 2:
  • Monday, July 1st: Applications due by 5:00pm
  • Grantees will be announced the first week of August

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