United States

Empowering People Through Small Neighborhood Grants

Providing small grants to low-income neighborhood groups can fundamentally change the way community foundations interact with residents. Additionally, it provides opportunities for residents to identify and carry out their own priority projects.

Building and maintaining strong neighborhoods as a way to ensure an overall vibrant society has been integral to Mott’s grantmaking since the Foundation was established in 1926. This philosophy guided the Foundation in creating and operating a national Neighborhoods Small Grants Program that ran in the United States from 1984 to 1994.

Key Lessons


undefinedProvide More than Money

undefinedInclude the Whole Community

The Neighborhoods Small Grants Program opened community foundations’ eyes to see the real issues affecting neighborhoods and the individuals living in them.


Suzanne Feurtretired Mott Foundation program officer and former managing director for community foundation services at the Council on Foundations

The program’s purpose was to increase community foundations’ interactions with, and support for, resident-led organizations in low-income neighborhoods. Additionally, its goal was to support grassroots groups’ efforts to address local issues they prioritized, such as crime, blight and barriers to good health. The program also provided grants to help community foundations become better partners with grassroots groups interested in improving their communities.

“The Neighborhoods Small Grants Program got community foundations to start interacting with people who were not previously on their radar screens — low-income residents. It opened community foundations’ eyes to see the real issues affecting neighborhoods and the individuals living in them,” said Suzanne Feurt, retired Mott Foundation program officer and former managing director for community foundation services at the Council on Foundations. “This program helped community foundations think differently so they were working with communities, not for them.”

Ultimately, Mott provided more than $6.4 million in support, including grants and consultant services, to 25 community foundations located across the country. Participants received grants ranging from $20,000 to $50,000, which they were required to match at varying levels with their own funds, and then redistribute as micro-grants to resident groups in low-income areas. Micro-grants averaged $4,000 each for small projects that would improve neighborhoods, such as litter clean-up campaigns, community gardens, and crime watches. Additionally, the community foundations annually received $20,000 to $30,000 for their administrative costs.

Twenty-one community foundations received Mott grants through the program. Another four didn’t receive funding, but they were included in the learning network and benefited from specialists who provided expertise in how to develop boards, keep accurate and transparent financial records, make effective grants, cultivate donors, engage residents, and more. They also participated in the program’s evaluation activities.

The Neighborhoods Small Grants Program Communities


Participating Program Sites
Still operating small grants programs
No longer operating small grants programs
Arizona Community Foundation
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Community Foundation of New Jersey
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Greater Worcester Community Foundation
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Dayton Foundation
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San Diego Foundation
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Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and Affiliated Trusts
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Foundation for the Carolinas
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Oregon Community Foundation
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Metropolitan Atlanta Community Foundation
(Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta)
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Baltimore Community Foundation
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Community Foundation Serving Coastal South Carolina
(Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina)
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Dade Community Foundation
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East Tennessee Foundation
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Community Foundation of Greater Flint
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Hawaii Community Foundation
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Community Foundation of Greater Memphis
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New Hampshire Charitable Foundation
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Community Foundation of Santa Clara County
(Community Foundation Silicon Valley)
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Seattle Foundation
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Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
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Tucson Community Foundation
(Community Foundation of Southern Arizona)
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Central New York Community Foundation
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Muskegon County Community Foundation
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Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
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Winston Salem Foundation
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Program Site Profiles
  • Baltimore, MD

    Baltimore

    In greater Baltimore, the community foundation partners with most of the region’s 200-plus neighborhood groups to create a living environment that is safe, vibrant, clean and green.

    Read more on mott.org
  • Flint, MI

    Flint

    The Community Foundation of Greater Flint provided a small grant to help fund activities of a new, all-youth neighborhood block club in Flint.

    Read more on mott.org

In 2014, 19 of the original 25 institutions, including the Baltimore Community Foundation, still operate a neighborhood small grants program in some form, which funds resident-led organizations to be conduits for community change. When combined, the participants’ support for neighborhood projects has leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding nationwide, with more than $88 million in Baltimore alone.

Everything we do today comes down to our belief in informed citizen action, and that comes out of the respectful form of grantmaking we learned from participating in the Neighborhoods Small Grants Program.


Gigi Casey Wirtzcommunications director, Baltimore Community Foundation

In greater Baltimore, the community foundation partners with most of the region’s 200-plus neighborhood groups to create a living environment that is “safe, vibrant, clean and green,” said Gigi Casey Wirtz, current director of communications who has been with the institution since it began participating in the Neighborhood Small Grants Program in 1991. At the time, the program’s core principle of actively engaging with resident-led groups was new to staff, she said, but it remains “embedded in the institution’s DNA” 23 years later.

“Everything we do today comes down to our belief in informed citizen action, and that comes out of the respectful form of grantmaking we learned from participating in the Neighborhoods Small Grants Program,” Casey Wirtz said. “Through that program we learned residents should decide what the issues are and carry out plans to address them. The community foundation is not here to impose what is needed.”