Building Community Inside and Out: With a Good Neighbor Committee

Many organizations — businesses, civic groups, foundations, or otherwise — might like to have a regular vehicle for supporting and participating in community activities in the neighborhoods where they operate. Forming a Good Neighbor Committee can help with that goal, and can do something more: provide a leadership opportunity for employees who are interested in the organization's relationship with its neighbors. Based on the Ford Foundation's Good Neighbor Committee this guide offers one model of how such committees can work and what they can accomplish.

Highlights

  • Designing a program to meet internal and external goals
  • ​Organizing your committee, and getting started
  • Carrying on an effective program

What's in the Guide?

  • Starting a Committee: Organizing the committee begins with deciding on its goals, who should be members, how long they will serve, who will facilitate and lead the group, and what its budget will be. This section offers ideas for how to start, and what issues may arise in the early stages. 
  • The Committee's First Steps: Once a Good Neighbor Committee is formed, its members will have a number of further issues to settle: What's the definition of the "neighborhood"? What kinds of activities might they support in the neighborhood, and how will they learn about its needs and the organizations they might fund? What duties will each member be expected to perform, and how will the committee organize its workload? Every committee answers these questions differently. This section offers some ideas and examples.
  • Other Sources for Learning about Grantmaking
  • A Sample Request for Proposals 
  • Frequently Asked Questions 
  • Other Ways to Use This Guide
  • takeaways
    Good Neighbor Committees Sample Criteria for Selecting Grantees

    With the Ford Foundation’s committee, we concentrate on three main questions:

    • What does the applicant hope to accomplish through the proposed project or program?

    • What is the capacity of the applicant to carry out the proposed project?

    • What will the project or program accomplish?

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  • takeaways
    Using Requests for Proposals with Good Neighbor Committees

    Using Request for Proposals (RFP). RFPs, as they’re often called, can come in many forms, from simple one-page information sheets to elaborate formal documents many pages long:

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  • takeaways
    Good Neighbor Committee Get to Know the Community

    Get to know the community:
    There's much value in spending time in the community and encouraging members to get to know who’s doing what, what the needs are, and how your organization can help. That’s a continuing activity, well worth keeping up throughout the year.

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  • takeaways
    How Much Time Does Serving on a Good Neighbor Committee Take?

    Setting a regular meeting day and time will help people decide whether they can join, and plan their schedules accordingly. It also helps to estimate how much work will need to be done outside of the committee meeting — including time spent on subcommittees, if any.

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  • takeaways
    Good Neighbor Committee’s First Steps
    1. Create a Mission Statement.

    2. Define the geographic area you want to serve. It may be necessary to spend a lot of time at first thinking about how to define a community that was large enough to be diverse in needs and services, and yet still anchored by our location — close enough so that committee visits could be done at lunch hours or while walking to or from work.

    3. Decide whether to focus on certain topics. Will your Good Neighbor Committee make grants only in a specific field (e.g., youth development, education, the arts, etc.), or will you cast a more general net? For ideas on how to answer this question, look to your organization’s mission and what came up in the conversations around creating your committee. It helps to have subjects that committee members are passionate about.

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  • takeaways
    Starting a Good Neighbor Committee

    Internal goals. Among the most common reasons for starting a Good Neighbor Committee (GNC) is a desire to build a stronger sense of community within your own institution. One grantmaker said: “...diverse not only in terms of race and gender, but also where people are within the organization.

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  • takeaways
    Avoiding Infringement

    How can you avoid having your Good Neighbor Committee activities infringe on or undermine the activities of other departments in your organization?

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  • takeaways
    What is a Good Neighbor Committee (GNC)?

    A team of employees who live or spend time in the community, interact with other residents and leaders, and help formulate and propose grants for local benefit. Good Neighbor Committees (GNCs for short) create an opportunity for more personal interaction between their host organization and other parts of the community...

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  • takeaways
    Conducting a Meaningful Site Visit

    A site visit can be one of the most important tools you use, as a grantmaker, in determining your ultimate funding decisions. For example, an in-person look at a potential grantee’s activities can complement a grantee’s written proposal and give you a clearer picture of their request. In fact, site visits can be one of the most interesting parts of the grantmaking process.

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This guide was written with several audiences in mind — not Good Neighbor Committees alone, but also the many other people with whom they make decisions and formulate goals. As you work through the issues raised in this guide, you might find it useful to distribute copies to others who can be important to your success. For example:

  • With Executives or Board Members of Your Parent Organization: Besides being an outreach to the community, committees are also a leadership program for their members. As such, they need wide latitude to make decisions from the earliest possible stages of their creation. So it's important, when considering whether to create a committee, that leaders of the organization understand how the committee will work and what it's meant to achieve. You may find it useful to share this guide with senior members of your organization, even though they will probably mostly be involved only through the beginning stages of the work, and then later in opportunities to meet the grantees from time to time. This guide can help them understand how they can help make the committee effective, provide guidance and leadership for the group when it's appropriate, and be available to handle sensitive issues as they arise. The introduction and first chapter are particularly written with senior leaders in mind, describing how the committee fits overall into the structure and mission of an organization.
  • With the First Set of Members of a New Committee: The first members of a committee must make a number of initial decisions about how the committee's work will be done: How frequently will it meet? What will be the specific mission that guides its work? How will the committee make its final funding decisions? These start-up issues are addressed specifically in the second chapter.
  • With New Members of the Committee Over Time: Although you'll probably develop your own initiation materials as time goes on, this guide might still be helpful, either as a source of information to include in those materials, or as a supplement. You should feel free to excerpt information from this document if you find it useful.
  • If Your Organization is New to Grantmaking: This brief guide obviously can't provide all the information you may need to create a grantmaking program, though it points you to several sources of information that can fill in the details (see Other Sources for Learning About Grantmaking). If you're new to grantmaking, you may find it helpful to pay special attention to the third and fourth chapters of this guide, as they describe the tools necessary to begin and operate your committee and answer many questions about how to be an effective grantmaker.
  • If Your Organization is Already Involved in Grantmaking: If your organization is a foundation or a company with an established grantmaking program, you will no doubt already have in place a set of procedures for determining how grants are formally approved, what kind of progress reporting is required, and the like. Scattered sections throughout this guide and all of the fourth chapter describe the set of specific grantmaking documents and processes that are used by the Ford Foundation's committee. While you may wish to skip over these sections, you may also find it interesting to compare these methods with your own.

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