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Learning Guide: Minigrant Strategies


From 2011-2016, over three dozen people at five community-based organizations (CBOs), three universities, and one college collaborated on the action, research and education project we called Food Dignity. During those five funded years and two additional ones, we collaborated in mapping and traveling the most appropriate and effective roads forward for creating sustainable community food systems that build food security in the US.


This installment in the series of Food Dignity Learning Guides is a guide to products from the Food Dignity project about supporting community-led food system work with minigrant programs. It addresses questions about how to design minigrant programs, what kinds of projects they can support, and what impacts they might have.


Previous research on minigrant programs has found that even small amounts of money invested in community work can yield substantial outcomes in leadership development, community health promotion, and other positive changes for individuals, families, and communities. For example, one small study we did as part of Food Dignity randomly gave half of participants in a gardening workshop a $40 voucher for a local gardening store. Those who received these “minigrants” were more likely to start a garden, if they did not already have one, and to make their garden bigger if they were already gardeners. (See study abstract).


Four of the five community-based organizations (CBOs) that partnered in Food Dignity designed and implemented a community minigrant program to support citizen action for food justice and food security. Over three or four years, each organization awarded $30,000 in minigrants.  Collectively they supported 92 individual community food projects with awards ranging from $150 to $4,299.  Rich details about each CBO as program and the projects and individuals they supported are available in this paper.


Below are our reflections and recommendations based on our experiences with and research about minigrant programs that we did during Food Dignity.

  • Community minigrant programs offer a powerful and efficient way to share decision-making and community leadership development and support in social change work such as in food justice and food security.

  • They also give CBOs the power to design and implement such programs to achieve the best fit with the community culture and priorities and to reach deeper into the grassroots of that community.

  • The design and implementation of the program is a community action in and of itself, above and beyond the work of the individual minigrant funded projects.

  • Community minigrant programs support individuals and informal groups to invest in and broaden community leadership and development.

  • They use the solicitation, application, and evaluation processes as support and mentorship opportunities

  • Consider developing a non-competitive application process. For example, Feeding Laramie Valley used a snowball process, asking each member of the first cohort of minigrantees to identify a person with a project idea to receive a minigrant in the second wave of awards.

  • Include sufficient program support to cover not just minigrants but the substantial time and expertise needed to develop and implement a minigrant program and to support awardees.

Food for thinking

  1. What are advantages and disadvantages of using a competitive minigrant process vs. a non-competitive one?

  2. Invent and describe a design that you might use to award a mini-grants to people in your community that a non-competitive.

  3. Nearly all minigrant programs that are evaluated in the literature only gave many grants to organizations. In Food Dignity they were awarded only to individuals and informal community groups. What are potential advantages and disadvantages of each approach?

  4. Identify a community that you are part of, e.g., a team, club, geographic place, or personal identity. If someone offered you $1,000 to do something good with or for the community, what would you do and why?

Additional Resources

  • Trace how each CBO used their minigrant programs to meet individual and community food justice and security goals in the Food Dignity Collaborative Pathway Models.

  • Most of the people and projects featured in this Whole Community Project video were supported with minigrant funding.

  • This brief review discusses strategies and lessons from eight other minigrant programs and the minigrant plans we had in Food Dignity back in 2012.

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