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Request for feedback (deadline June 17): Defining "Community Led"

Hi there. I'm new to this community—Rituu invited me and suggested I ask my question here. Thank you in advance for your help! 

I'm leading a working group within the Movement for Community Led Development.  We're seeking to build consensus around a shared definition of “Community Led” in order to help individual donors and funders identify, support, and strengthen community-led approaches. Over the past 12 months we've conducted literature reviews, interviews, pilot studies, and sent surveys to more than 1000 nonprofit leaders around the world. The result is a pair of definitions and survey to help identify community-led approaches. I'm looking for practitioners of community led development to provide feedback on the definition and survey instrument. 

If you work in community led development, we'd love your feedback. Please take this (relatively) short survey here:

The deadline for the survey is next Monday, June 17. 
Thanks again! 
Alison Carlman
(on behalf of a working group within the Movement for Community Led Development)

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Hi Alison, 

Thanks for the post - Rituu shared this on Facebook too. A very interesting topic. 

I have tried to answer the questions on the survey, but I'm struggling a little. Where the questions refer to 'the team', what is this referring to? Are the questions referring to a professional context or citizen driven approaches? 

For example in the question 'To what extent is the work supported by community members’ own time, money, property, or other resources?' Projects that are community led are often not the 'work' of an organisation. For example local community groups e.g. knitting/ sewing groups are most often recreational. Our professional involvement might be connecting residents together with a shared interest, but we might not have any involvement in the project/ club or group itself.

This of course is a more challenging concept for funders as the 'professional' involvement that might need resourcing is the element of facilitating of connections, rather than delivering projects. That said, in many cases the connecting work is also led by residents too. Many organisations try to offer some flex in this and shape community programmes around the funders interests, but these then become about the funder's outcomes, not the community's, so one has to ask where is power really located in these instances and who are we serving?  

If I understand correctly I think you are digging at a question of power and control in philanthropic relationships. 

Sorry, I couldn't answer the survey - I'm not sure if the questions are quite right.


Thanks for your feedback, Richard! I'm sorry the context was hard to parse. 

The goal of this survey is to help potential funders (including individual donors, companies, and some foundations) identify and support community led initiatives. What I hear from your response is that highly-community-led approaches (or community owned) don't likely live within/under an official entity like an 'organization' run by a 'team.' This is an important point. It helps us identify the scope of community led work which we (as a connector/funder) can actually identify and support from the outside. The group of organizations we'll be surveying will likely be working as part of an official entity, so they won't be completely community owned in the way you describe. 

Based on your response and the survey results I've seen so far, there's definitely a spectrum or series of stages ranging from the knitting/sewing groups you describe on one hand to a completely funder-driven initiative on the other. It's my hypothesis that there's an area in the middle (toward the community led side) somewhere that makes sense for us to target with funding and support. The purpose of this survey and definition is to help us understand the shapes and forms of community-led change. 

The 'crowdfunding' approach we take is one way to get at the power and control issues you describe. When people/organizations identify the initiative they want to pursue, and individual funders give small amounts (and therefore have very little power over the program itself), it gives organizations the freedom and ability to be more accountable to the communities they serve rather than the needs of the donor. 

I hope that helps anyone else who might be interested in more context. And I appreciate your willingness to engage and provide feedback, Richard. Thanks again.

Thanks Alison, Thats really helpful.

I work for a funder, which is why I'm interested in this topic. We have been offering very small (£250) grants to stimulate community led change with neighbours getting together to do stuff where they live. This funding criteria is very simple and the group applying doesn't need to be constituted, which can make a big difference in enabling community led action - see There is of course some risk for funders attached to this, but it is small given the amount of money.

We have also hosted roundtable discussion groups on the relationship between funders and those being funded. There were a couple of themes that suggested focusing on shared learning (rather than services or specific outcomes) could start to address power inbalances and focus on building the capacity of individual change makers, who might be better placed to transform the local system than the organisations themselves.

Of course underpinning this, there is also a conversation about the philosophical approach organisations take to their work. By which I mean are they trying to fix people's problems (doing for people) or are they building longer term capacity for people to do more things for themselves (community led)? Funders maybe unintentionally reinforcing traditional power structures by investing in the former because outcomes/outputs/ impact is more direct and therefore measurable etc. Funded organisations often get trapped by following the guidelines set by the funders and not feeling able to change the system because there is essentially dependency relationship. 

To address these sorts of issues we have been attempting to increase self and organisational awareness across our local system of funders, commissioners, providers and activists by bringing them together to take part in a shared leadership programme, where such questions can be explored safely in a relational way - see I'm happy to share more about this if its helpful.  

I also think that our context is really important. In the western word there is a political change happening, where voters are pushing back against the traditional power structures (our example in the UK is Brexit), hence why phrases like 'taking back control' have resonated here. This feels important in relation to philanthropy, as it questions decision making processes and where power lies. Bringing philanthropists and grant makers into that conversation feels critical if they are to stay relevant. 

Anyway, if you fancy a chat on Zoom\ Skype more that happy to connect. 


Thank you, Richard!

What a wonderful idea to get input on your survey. I look forward to seeing what you learn after you launch the survey. I found it very helpful also as a quick self-assessment tool to help identify some areas to strengthen in our community-led work. Thank you! 


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