The mini-grant program run by a Minnesota community coalition helps further the group's public policy mission as well as addressing specific problems at the local level, according to project director Jeff Nachbar.
Nachbar, who heads the Minnesota Join Together Coalition (MJT), says that coalitions with the capacity to give out mini-grants should use them “as a strategy to accomplish your mission, not just because of need.”
For example, one of MJT's policy goals is to get state lawmakers to mandate compliance checks of alcohol retailers, in order to ensure that they are not selling to minors. To build grassroots support for this position, MJT's mini-grants have funded compliance check initiatives by local law-enforcement, including using young decoys to determine whether retailers are checking IDs. “Our goal is that eventually compliance checks will be seen as routine law enforcement and be funded by departments' budgets,” said Nachbar.
For the past three years, MJT has distributed $60,000 annually through about 60 mini-grants, typically ranging in amount from $500 to $5,000. Recipients have included local police departments, schools, non-profit organizations, and local government agencies.
The main goal of the program is preventing youth access to alcohol; Nachbar estimates that about half of the grants help fund compliance check programs, which the rest help support campaigns aimed at social providers of alcohol (such as adults who buy liquor for minors), media advocacy campaigns, and public policy advocacy efforts.
The broader mission of MJT is to change policies and practices to reduce underage alcohol access and to create an environment that discourages alcohol use. MJT was one of 12 grantees in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF's) “Reducing Underage Drinking through Coalitions” project, and the mini-grant program was written into the group's original grant application and budget, Nachbar told Join Together.
The group originally intended to give out $30,000 annually in mini-grants, but succeeded in winning additional funding from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety (which donated $30,000 over three years to MJT) and the Minnesota Department of Human Services (which provided $60,000 over three years).
The Office of Traffic Safety funding comes from a federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention block grant aimed at enforcing laws against underage drinking, noted Nachbar, which he called “a natural fit” with MJT's mission. Winning the grant was partly a result of the coalition building alliances with law enforcement and the agencies responsible for distributing the OJJDP funds, and partly because MJT provided links to the community that law enforcement often lacks, he added.
The Health Department money is part of the agency's Environmental Strategies project to address substance abuse; Nachbar said MJT simply submitted an unsolicited grant proposal to the agency, and won the funding on the strength of the fact that the coalition represented hundreds of community leaders and had the capacity to get the funds out to programs at the local level, said Nachbar.
Using support from sources other than RWJF and public agencies, MJT also has been an active player in state politics. Its advocacy efforts this year helped win passage of a bill to toughen penalties for providing alcohol to minors when death or injury occurs, and next year's goals include matching civil liability for providers in such cases. MJT members include the state MADD chapter and the Minnesota Medical Association.