Seeking Grantee Partners: A New Model of Civic Leadership Development

The Reflective Democracy Campaign, a project of the Women Donors Network, investigates and disrupts the demographics of power in the United States, generating groundbreaking research into the glaring race and gender imbalances among our elected leaders: at 30% of the population, white men hold four times more political power than women and people of color. We fund and spearhead innovative efforts to achieve a democracy where women and people of color hold a fair share of seats at the table, and all Americans are represented in the halls of power.

For half a decade, our research into race, gender, and American politics has earned coast-to-coast headlines and sparked activism against the structural barriers keeping people of color and women from fair representation in elected office. Our in-house reports and opinion research are freely available to researchers, activists, and the media, and we also fund research aimed at replacing myths with facts and data about the barriers and opportunities faced by women and/or people of color seeking elected office. The Campaign’s Reflective Democracy Innovator grants support a wide range of organizing, activism, and capacity-building by leaders and organizations committed to the political empowerment of women and people of color.

Seeking Grantee Partners: A New Model of Civic Leadership Development

The Campaign is offering a round of 501(c)(3) nonpartisan grants to community-based organizations whose current work involves community organizing, voter engagement, and/or leadership development aimed at strengthening local, community-based political power. The goal of the grants is to build out a model of nonpartisan civic leadership development that:

  • Transforms organizations traditionally seen as sources of voters (or activists) into sources of effective public leaders
  • Positions organizations with a mobilized base to leverage their community organizing strength to become more powerful players in their political ecosystems regardless of party affiliation
  • Equips the grantee to become a recognized launch pad for local activist leaders with a common analysis of how to tackle injustice and broaden equity, a versatile skill-set, and a broad network of community stakeholders
  • Goes beyond preparing individuals to run for office, and instead prepares participants to exercise community-based grassroots power across a range of positions and activities

The Campaign intends to reimagine how political power is built and deployed and is seeking models that ground civic leadership development in organizational power, shared values, and a systemic, progressive analysis of power and equity. The project aims to support the identification of nonpartisan grassroots leaders who operate both within and outside of electoral politics. Thus, this grantmaking initiative will not focus on more traditional candidate training programs that prepare individuals to run for office.

Letters of interest are due on August 31, 2018.
Submit your LOI online here.
Contact with any questions.

Reflective Democracy Innovator Grants: Systemic Civic Leadership Development to Empower Communities

The Campaign will offer grants to organizations committed to building leadership development programs that, in addition to preparing candidates to run for office, empower grassroots leaders across a spectrum of grassroots activities. Our vision, described in detail below, is a community leadership program that integrates nonpartisan candidate training with other forms of civic leadership training, enabling community-based leaders to:

  • serve on appointed boards and commissions
  • engage in advocacy and activism
  • manage campaigns
  • hold elected officials accountable

Grants are to be used for:

  • planning and designing programs
  • implementation of pilot programs (and/or expansion of existing programs)
  • planning and designing program expansion/scaling

Grants will be awarded in November 2018 and will be for a one-year period. The Campaign’s intention is to provide multi-year support to successful programs. For this first year, maximum grant amounts will be $75,000.

The Campaign’s goal is for grantees to collectively constitute a community of learning and experimentation; emerge as models to encourage the field to shift to more comprehensive approaches to civic leadership development; and participate as thought partners with the Reflective Democracy Campaign. Grantees will actively engage with the Campaign and each other as a cohort, coming together (virtually or in person) to share ideas, strategies, and learnings.


  1. Letter of Interest: Submit a letter of interest that describes your organization’s core program and capabilities, current scope of leadership development programming, and a brief description of how you would utilize a grant to expand into a comprehensive, systemic model.
  2.  Request for full proposal: After review of the LOIs, the Campaign will request a full proposal from selected organizations. Prior to that request, the Campaign may contact organizations for questions or clarification. Full proposals will be requested the week of September 10, 2018
  3. Proposals: The full proposal must include a detailed description of the proposed project, a plan for bringing the project to scale, and organizational and project budgets. Proposals will be due by Friday, October 12, 2018  
  4. Final decisions: After reviewing proposals and conducting phone interviews, the Campaign will notify all applicants regarding final decisions. The grant will be for a one-year period from December 1, 2018 to November 30, 2019. The Campaign’s intention is to renew grants to successful programs.

Final decisions will be communicated by Friday, November 9, 2018  

Systemic Civic Leadership Development: A New Vision

The Campaign has previously made grants to grassroots civic leadership development programs that – unlike their more mainstream counterparts – emphasize a shared political analysis among their trainees, and seek to produce energized, empowered leaders with a strong operational grasp of the political system. An unexpected outcome of such grassroots programs is that trainees leverage their new knowledge, confidence, and networks across a broad spectrum of activities beyond the program’s original intent: While some run for office, others choose to build movements and drive social change through a range of roles in their communities.

Witnessing that the value of civic leadership development extends far beyond preparing individuals to run for office, the Campaign is embracing a wider vision of civil leadership training, one that empowers more leaders to serve their communities through a broader scope of activism and political engagement.

Without abandoning the training of individual candidates, we seek to re-envision civic leadership development as a systemic lever for social change with the potential to fundamentally shift how political power is distributed and exercised. This new round of grantmaking aims to seek out and help build civic leadership development programs that operate with a holistic, comprehensive vision, and a broad, expansive definition of community leadership.

We are eager to collaborate with potential grantee partners to realize this vision. For guidance during the grant application process, here are components we have identified as promising building blocks to systemic civic leadership development:

Community-based recruitment

Trainees possess a demonstrated connection to their community as a constituent, member, or leader of the training program’s organizing entity, or through other forms of active, direct local engagement aligned with the grantee’s mission.

Individual leadership paths

Program allows participants to enter at varied points along the spectrum of civic leadership. Whether training newly-minted activists or elected officials refreshing their connection to the community, the program’s focus extends beyond gaining office, developing leaders and activists for a spectrum of roles. Leveraging a wide range of trainee skills, needs, and interests, the program aims to break down the walls between those who hold power and the communities they serve.

Shared values and political analysis

The cultivation of shared values and political analysis among participants is core to the systemic training model. Promoting common values and analyses across the broad eco-system of civic leadership holds tremendous promise for building grassroots power.

Knowledge and understanding of the political system

Program cultivates a rigorous understanding of the community’s political system. A civics curriculum specific to that community would cover the role of elected officials, boards, and commissions; basics of policy development; and the operations of election systems.

Knowledge and understanding of political campaigns

Nonpartisan campaign training is specific to the grantee and its community, addressing the needs and interests of potential candidates and campaign leaders, as well as community advocates seeking to engage with political candidates. The goal is to distribute the valuable knowledge of how campaigns work to a range of community leaders, and not just those who intend to seek office themselves.

Engaging with and exercising power

Program treats civic leadership development as integral to, not distinct from, advocacy and organizing work. Leaders and members of grassroots organizations are trained and supported to engage with and exercise power. This can include a variety of themes:

  • How to hold office holders and appointed commissioners accountable
  • How to help shape policy as an advocate
  • How to hold an appointed seat effectively
  • How to govern once elected

With an aligned set of leaders both on the inside of government and on the outside as community advocates, the grantee and the community it serves can be positioned as true brokers of community power.

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