June 1, 2010; Tuscaloosa News | Too much of nonprofit news highlights nonprofits that are big and bigger, often with multi-million dollar budgets and access to multi-million dollar foundation grants. The press—and the federal government—ought to just as eagerly celebrate small, community-based nonprofits that are the bread and butter of the nonprofit sector that most people experience, know, and connect to.

The Tuscaloosa News is trying to do just that. In Perry County, Alabama, a faith-based organization, Sowing Seeds of Hope, works on a wide range of issues through eight issue-based task forces (arts and humanities, economic development, education, health care, housing, spiritual and social development, tourism, and transportation). Sowing’s task forces have generated a self-help housing program, a hypertension clinic, and artist-in-residence program for area schools, and a job training center. The operating theory of the organization is “collaborative community improvement,” drawing on community leaders from all walks of life, or at least, so the organization says.

Would it “scale up” like the behemoths that have been the focus of attention of nonprofit innovation-spotters at the White House?  Probably not. Not surprisingly, Perry County, Sowing Seeds of Hope is always scrambling for money.  Its scaling desire is to “serve as a model for collaborative community improvement in rural towns across the state of Alabama.”  That doesn’t sound like Sowing Seeds of Hope will “solve” big societal problems, the language du jour from the White House about social innovations. But if its portrait in the Tuscaloosa News is accurate, it will demonstrate what nonprofits can do to contribute to grassroots democracy.—Rick Cohen