Prioritizing Diverse Perspectives for Greater Impact: Engaging Deeply with Community

Jun 5, 2024

Boston, Greater Newark, Kansas City, National

At a featured session at the May, 2024 Feedback+Denver conference hosted by Feedback Labs, Nick Stuber, GreenLight Fund Director of Learning, sat down with three GreenLight Fund executive directors Sarah Courtney Haberberger (Kansas City), Tish Johnson-Jones (Greater Newark), and Melissa Luna (Boston), to discuss GreenLight’s approach to engaging deeply with community. Below, we share an overview and highlights from the session.

Our approach to community engagement ensures our work is truly community-driven. It centers on the inclusion of people from multiple sectors and of varying identities, with a particular emphasis on the voices of Black, Indigenous, Asian, Hispanic, and Latine residents and those living on low-income, to inform the implementation of the GreenLight Method and portfolio management in each of our sites.

By including diverse perspectives and input from those closest to the issues we are trying to address, we provide a pathway to elevating power and opportunity for community members with lived experience. We believe:

  • We make better funding decisions that align with the needs of communities,
  • Individuals and families have access to the opportunities and resources they seek in order to lead self-determined, abundant and healthy lives, and
  • Nonprofits we bring to our cities are sustainable and integrate with the existing ecosystem.

All GreenLight sites engage a Selection Advisory Council (SAC) that includes a diverse set of community members who help guide the selection of the programs in their communities. In addition, they design and implement community engagement practices that are adapted to their local community’s needs and assets.

In the conversation with three executive directors at the Feedback+Denver conference, attendees heard different approaches to our work with communities. Three themes emerged during the discussion: shifting power, cultivating trusted relationships and learning and adapting.

Shifting Power
Regardless of the specific community engagement approach in each of GreenLight’s communities, one theme that is consistent is sharing power with community residents and people closest to the challenges we are looking to address. We recognize residents’ expertise, leadership and the unique value they bring to the process. By centering dignity, meeting people where they are and building trusted relationships, GreenLight and our communities are better for it and, we have learned, our residents also benefit by being part of the process.

“We need to be thinking about shifting power from being about money, funding, and resources to power being about the knowledge from the community through their lived experience.” – Tish Johnson-Jones, GreenLight Greater Newark Executive Director

“The power of feedback, … closing the loop… just as much as someone gives, we should be giving back to them” – Melissa Luna, Vice President Site Success and GreenLight Boston Executive Director

Tish Johnson-Jones speaking at Feedback+Denver
Tish Johnson-Jones

Cultivating Trusted Relationships
Every voice matters in this process and we seek to assemble diverse and inclusive coalitions. Building authentic, trusted relationships with the individuals who are giving of their time and expertise is paramount. We meet people where they are and compensate them for their time. We share how they’ve shaped our thinking. We check in with them and keep them informed throughout our process. Once a decision is made, we celebrate together as they help us launch the selected organization.

“Co-designing a structure alongside those with lived experience to ensure the process works for them.” – Melissa Luna

“Grantmaking funding decisions can be a linear process – relationship and trust building is very much not a linear process.” – Sarah Courtney Haberberger, GreenLight Kansas City Executive Director

“Asking the questions of the people that have the answers with intentionality. What is wrong, how can we solve it together, what are the resources you need? Working together through the whole process.” – Tish Johnson-Jones

Sarah speaking at Feedback+Denver seated next to Melissa
Melissa Luna and Sarah Courtney Haberberger

Learning and Adapting
We are still learning how best to engage the community, particularly those closest to the challenges we’re looking to address, in our decision making process. As a national network in 13 cities, we continually learn from each other. We recognize that engaging with the community is not one size fits all. Yet, we can still apply learnings from an approach best suited for one of our cities as we develop plans and processes that align with another city’s culture and dynamics. Our approach continues to evolve and, as we face challenges, we learn, share those learnings and improve.

“Sometimes these learnings result in an iterative process requiring flexing timelines, while balancing the urgency of addressing the needs of our community. It’s important to take time to pause, reflect and repair relationships with community when necessary.” – Sarah Courtney Haberberger

“The data is a starting point and it is important, but it’s the stories that really help us understand how we can select an organization that will be responsive to the needs.” – Tish Johnson-Jones

Learn more about GreenLight Kansas City’s approach to community engagement: Case for Community Consultants as a Grantmaking Strategy