How to build strong relationships with grassroots organizations, Part 2 of 3

In order to build authentic relationships with grassroots organizations, these qualities, attitudes and abilities will really make a difference:

4. Assume the best first.

Grassroots organizations, often under-resourced and under-recognized, face immense challenges in providing support to vulnerable families at the local level. Yet we as outsiders often express frustration or impatience if an organization does not appear to be responding, progressing or developing to our expectations. Our own agendas, prejudices, biases, stereotypes, and projections can all impede our ability to see “what is.” Rather we focus on “what is not.” Therefore, it is important to ground ourselves in valuing the strengths and capacities that each grassroots organizations brings to the immense and complex work of helping people.

5. Be curious.

Individuals, organizations, communities and partnerships are all complex and deeply fascinating… if we choose to see them as such. To what extent do we have a real and authentic interest, a deep curiosity in getting to know real people? The more curious we are, the more potential we have to see and reveal what is really happening with grassroots initiatives on the ground.

Being appreciatively curious rather than appearing nosey or meddlesome is a clear indication of your intention to learn from another person or group. Genuine and respectful curiosity is infectious!

6. Practice self-reflection first.

Self-awareness enables us to relate to others from a centre of strength. Having a good relationship with yourself is the foundation for strong relationships with grassroots organizations. If you feel good about yourself, it is much easier to see the good in people and treat them with respect. If you do not, it is common to project this on to others, finding problems with them. In fact, good intentions, without a necessary level of self-awareness, can easily distort power in relationships.

7. Make time your friend.

Forming and maintaining trusting relationships not only takes time, but also takes quality time. Be patient about the time it takes to establish and maintain the quality of relationship desired. Most importantly, accept that the time needed for behavioral and social changes does not fit in 1-3 year project cycles.

Adapted from: The Barefoot Collective. (2009). The Barefoot Guide to Working with Organizations and Social Change. Cape Town: Community Development Resource Association. Retrieved March 18, 2009, from


  1. Eleves Pendame

    The donor should not think of coming into relationship with a grassroot orgazation when there is a third party. Come direct to the grassroots organization, see with your eyes what is needed for the organisation, be patient, build its capacity in all means,listen to their point of development, minimise the hard conditions attached to the donation – remember the grassroots organizations are made up with uneducated ppl whose knowledge is limited to their envirnment. Thank you!!

  2. Thanks for this. I also believe that we need to change the mentality so that donors do not see grassroots organizations as made up of “uneducated people,” but rather people with vital and valued expertise and people with the power and resolve to address their own problems effectively and sustainably.

  3. There must be a reason why people’s organizations exist, a rationale for its existence despite difficult circumstances.

    Understanding this reason first is important. It can help us easier to accept the logic of why it does things and we can better look at it with profound sympathy rather than be preachy about perceived shortcomings.

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