Initial conversations about the fund began in late 2016 between The Ford Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Foundation and a group of community leaders. The conversations focused on how best to support both leadership and organizational development among local organizations focused on community engagement and organizing. 

By 2018, the inaugural funders committed resources to the work and an informal Steering Committee formed. The Steering Committee identified a team of consultants in 2019 to support them in formalizing their ways of working, creating funding guidelines, and co-designing the capacity-building and leadership development with residents and community members. 

Over the next year, the Steering Committee worked to identify what gaps the fund could fill in the local funding landscape and how to ensure the participatory nature of the work was undergirded by trust, transparency and open communication. 

The pandemic derailed plans for the fund’s public launch in 2020, but the Steering Committee moved forward with its plans to fund an initial group of non-profits during a pilot phase.  This initial cohort helped to refine the fund’s operation and essential COVID-19 response efforts.