Spark MicroGrants

The Official Spark Advocate Handbook


  1. Introduction
  1. About Spark MicroGrants
  1. Spark Advocates
  1. Advocate Objectives
  1. Resources



On behalf of everyone on the Spark team, welcome to Spark MicroGrants!  As a Spark Advocate, you are now part of a global movement to build a ground-up, community-led approach to development.  Advocates make important contributions to ensuring the success of Spark projects.  

This handbook was created to provide important information on Spark MicroGrants, and your role in the organization.  Please read through it and use it as a reference guide as questions arise.  

Thank you for joining the team, and we wish you a rewarding and fulfilling experience as a Spark Advocate!

Management Team




Sasha Fisher

Executive Director

Eamon Penney

Deputy Dorector

Neal Lesh

Chief Strategic Officer

Teddy Svoronos

Chief Policy Officer

Andy Pritchard

Outreach Director

Justine Esquivel

Special Projects Director

Web Resource Quick Reference List



Spark’s mission is to catalyze community action. We live in a world where billions of people cannot meet basic needs despite billions of dollars spent to assist them. An uncomfortably large percentage of this funding goes to foreign ‘experts’ to assess local needs and design solutions. We are working to shift resources to fuel community-led innovation in a systematic and scalable way. The goal is not new; many foundations aspire to give small grants effectively. We are figuring out how to, and passionately proving it can be done.

Three elements distinguish our approach from other efforts such as microfinance or traditional small grants programs.


The first Microgrant project began in August 2009 in Ilolangulu, Tanzania, where 70% of pregnant women deliver at home instead of a clinic. This is a dangerous status quo – without a skilled health worker, any complications will likely lead to the mother or newborn’s death. Mama Jesinala and Mary, two health workers at Ilolangulu's clinic, proposed offering free diapers and soap to women who come to their clinic to deliver. With nominal assistance, these two women wrote the first proposal of their lives, refined it, and received four months worth of funding. Deliveries at their clinic increased almost immediately. With the Microgrant beginning in mid-October, Ilolangulu's clinic went from 10 deliveries in September to 35 in December. Just $615 delivered soap and diapers to about 200 pregnant women and gathered evidence to evaluate their strategy.


Spark offers a dynamic model for community organizing and granting. Our process taps into the knowledge and imagination of communities in need. We work with local facilitators (often university students or NGO leaders) with connections to under-resourced communities. With our guidance, the facilitator organizes a series of meetings where the community develops a project proposal. We arrange for comments on each proposal from field advisers. When proposals are well developed we help fund them with up to $5000. Rather than come up with ideas to help a specific community from the outside, we are developing a streamlined approach for stimulating innovative community-led projects and their realization.

Each project has its own metric for success, timeframe, and sustainability plan. In Mekelle, Ethiopia, for example, the community installed two water points and set up a committee to collect fees for sustaining the taps. They recorded that daily distance walked to water was reduced from 640 to 145 meters. Throughout the process we collect information on community empowerment using surveys, visits, and discussion groups.

Each MicroGrant impacts communities in two ways: it directly alleviates a pressing social problem through the funded project and empowers community members to design and implement their own solutions. Since the community controls planning and spending, the projects are locally appropriate, effective and highly efficient. We guide them through a two-month grant development process, after which the project is implemented.


The organizational chart below illustrates the interconnectedness of everyone working with Spark.  As an advocate, you will be working primarily with the Outreach Director, as well as the Project Coordinator and Facilitators.


Our Commitment to Advocates

Volunteerism is an important part of the fabric of Spark MicroGrants.  Almost everyone involved in the organization is a volunteer.  This allows Spark to keep overhead costs low and to put almost all of the funds raised directly into community projects.  Spark is committed to helping volunteers, including Advocates, achieve a high degree of professionalism in their work, and ensuring that the experience is a rewarding one.  As the public face of Spark, Advocates should strive to be excellent ambassadors of the organization and the communities we work with.

What is an Advocate?

An advocate is defined as someone who speaks on behalf of another person or cause.  Advocacy is defined as the active support of a cause.  In the most general sense, this could summarize your role as a Spark Advocate.  While the communities we are involved with are implementing the projects we’ve worked with them to design, you will be raising awareness of their efforts in your own community, and raising funds to support them.  

Exactly how you do that is largely up to you, but in order to help you stay on track we’ve set some standard objectives to work toward.  Upon completion of your objectives, you will be presented with a Certificate of Honor in recognition of your work, and you will join the ranks of Spark Advocate Alumni. The typical term of an Advocate ranges from 3 months, at 3-4 hours per week.  

Your Role as an Advocate

Spark Advocates do a wide range of activities.  These can be broken down into two general, interconnected categories:

These three fit together and help support a Spark project like this:

Advocate activities: each area strengthens the

others, and benefits the community’s project.

What to Expect

Since so much of what we do depends on web-based communications, communicating across physical and cultural distances, and often across languages, it is important to always be open and patient!   For example, expectations on turn-around time for email responses can differ widely, from hours to weeks.  Internet service can also be spotty, and lead to delays in communications.  Observing the following points will help you maintain a high level of connectedness to Spark and the community you’re working with, and ensure that you have a great experience.


Specific Objectives

While objectives can be customized to meet your needs, there are 10 specific things that, for the most part, all Advocates work toward accomplishing.  These are:

  1. Submit a bio
  2. Email group introduction
  3. Set a fundraising goal
  4. Create a fundraising site
  5. Establish communication with the community implementing the project
  6. Draft an informative backgrounder
  7. Contribute to the Spark blog with updates and other posts
  8. Host an awareness-raising event
  9. Engage in fundraising activities
  10. Produce a final Capstone to tie everything together

Recommended Timeline

In order to accomplish the above objectives in the recommended 3-4 month time frame, it will be important to keep yourself on task.  The timeline below is a recommendation for accomplishing the objectives in 3 months.




  • submit bio
  • introduce yourself


  • choose a fundraising goal (min. $250)
  • create fundraising page
  • consider your final “capstone” deliverable
  • start thinking of the type of event you will create


  • connect with community (at min. we can give them an email address)
  • draft/post backgrounder (general info on the broad issues) -- or combine with week 4 post: info + your plans
  • think about a final deliverable
  • think about which type of event to design


  • first update blog post on activities/plans/ideas


  • work toward meeting fundraising goal, planning an event in your community, other Advocate activities,
  • communicate with facilitators/Spark voice people regularly
  • post blog updates every other week


  • finalize "capstone" product - comprehensive report, article, puppet show,
  • host event

Personal Bio & Introduction

Your bio will be posted on the Spark MicroGrants site under Who We Are.  Bios don’t need to be long - one paragraph will do.  Include some brief information on your background, the specific project you’re working on, what made you interested in volunteering with Spark, and any other tidbits you’d like to mention.  

What to do:

Draft your message using the 3rd person and send it, along with a photo, to the Outreach Director.  This is also a great time to introduce yourself to the Spark team through the email group.  Send an introductory message to -- you can use the same text from your bio.

Setting a Fundraising Goal

Fundraising is an important part of helping to support a Spark project.  One of the first things to do is decide what your fundraising goal will be.  This goal should be at least $250.  If you believe that you will be able to raise more than that, great!  Just be sure to be realistic about how much you think you can raise.  You don’t want to undersell yourself and have a lot of people who might have given see that you’ve already reached your goal, but on the other hand you don’t want to set a goal so high that the money you do raise looks like a drop in the bucket against your goal -- if you have $25 toward a goal of $250 it looks like you’re having a lot more success than $25 toward a $1000 goal!

What to do:

Think about your personal network (friends, family, people you work with, go to school with, etc.), as well as other groups in your community that you hope to reach through fundraising efforts, and then determine whether you want to stick with the goal of $250, or set a higher goal for yourself.

Creating a Fundraising Page

Once you have a goal in mind, the next step is to create a fundraising page so that people can easily donate to the cause.  The specific site you use is up to you.  Here are a few popular ones that we recommend:

Of course, each has it’s pros and cons.  It’s a good idea to take a minute to compare before making a final decision.  

What to do:

Choose which fundraising service works best for you, then create a fundraising page there.  For now, use the brief project descriptions from the Spark MicroGrants site.  This can be modified as your knowledge of the project develops.  

Creating a Backgrounder

Are you oriented with Spark and a specific project, and feeling comfortable with you’re role as an Advocate?  Great!  Now it’s time to get your feet wet by putting a short backgrounder together.  There are 80 million great causes out there competing for people’s attention, so why should they get excited about yours?  Doing some research up front, and familiarize yourself on the project and the larger issues surrounding it, will help prepare you to make the case that this is an issues that people should care about and help support.  For example, if the community is working to create a drainage system so their streets don’t flood, find out why that’s important -- in terms of health and sanitation, economic development, environmental issues, etc. -- and write about it!  

If you’ve already gotten in touch with the facilitators and have project-specific details, including those would be great!  If you don’t yet have this kind of information, no worries!  You are not expected to be an expert from the get-go.  You will get better at relating the story as you learn more about the project through research and direct communication with project workers.  

What to do:

Do a little research, and then put together a short (500-1000 words) piece that will help people understand the importance of the project you’re advocating for.  You want to make a compelling case for the project that is backed up by solid information, and will grab people’s attention.  Once it is ready, post it on the blog so others can see it.  

Just a couple things to keep in mind:

Choosing a Capstone Deliverable

The capstone is something that you will create.  Exactly what is up to you.  This could be an article that you submit for publication in a local paper, a report that pulls together all of the details on the project, a presentation that you deliver to an audience, an art project, etc.  There are only three rules:

What to do:

Consider some options and do some brainstorming.  Once you’ve whittled it down a little, start thinking about what steps you need to take to accomplish your idea.  For example, if you want to write a report, think about what information do you need and where can you get it.  Remember, the email group and blog are great tools for getting ideas and suggestions from other advocates and the rest of the Spark team, so don’t hesitate to use them!

Designing an Event

Note: This is Flexible!

The above objectives and time lines are recommendations, but in some cases they won’t suit the needs of Advocates.  In these cases things can be re-organized and customized.   For instance, some Advocates will want to host events earlier in their term, or work to raise funds for projects that haven’t yet begun.  If you have a reason to chance things, contact the outreach director about modifying your approach ASAP.

 ❂ 5 - RESOURCES ❂

Advocates Email Group

The address for the Spark Advocates email group is  Emails sent to the group go to all of the Advocates as well as the Spark management team.  You will be added to this group when you sign up.  This group is geared toward facilitating internal dialog, and it is a great way to raise issues or ask any questions that come up.  Announcements and updates will also be sent out through this email list.  We suggest introducing yourself through the email group when you first sign up!

Keep in mind that new blog posts will be announced over the email group as well.  So, if you come across an interesting resource or have an update on your project, or anything else that could be the foundation of an interesting blog post, you can create a blog post and the group will find out about it!

Spark Advocates Blog

The Spark MicroGrants Blog is at  Once you sign on as an Advocate, we will send you an invite to become an author for the blog.  You will have to accept the invitation to finalize the process.

Advocates play an important role in generating content for the blog.  You are encouraged to use the blog to post project-specific information and updates, updates on your own efforts in your home community, and also to share interesting articles, useful resources, thought-provoking ideas, and so on.  Note that to help get the message out about new blog content, each new post will automatically generate a tweet, and will also be announced through the advocate email group.  You can further promote blog posts by using the Twitter and Facebook badges on the blog to sent links to your social networks.  

One reason that it is important to provide updates on your project through the blog is that these updates feed into the project page on the main Spark Site.  Providing regular updates helps ensure that anyone who visits the Spark website will find fresh, up-to-date information on the projects.  If you’re post is really good, it might even be featured on the Spark MicroGrants front page!

The way this system works is by using specific labels for each project. So, when creating a new post, consult the table below to make sure that the post is labeled properly.  For sorting purposes, each blog post created by an Advocate should contain at least two labels; one from the "project tag" list and one from the "content category" list.  


"Bukomero-animals,  update"

"Advocates, general"

Use additional labels as needed to further clarify the nature of your post, or to label a non-project-specific post.Labels are separated by commas; they are not case-sensitive.  

Label Group


Project-specific labels








Content categories







Program areas






Development project themes

(for posts that deal with these themes but are not focused on a specific project)







To help keep a clean and consistent look to all posts, keep the following set of standards to keep in mind:

Important youtube video

Important youtube video 

If you haven’t blogged before and are concerned about it, don’t worry, you can’t really mess anything up, and any problem can be easily fixed, so don’t be shy!  If you ever have any questions or problems while posting to the blog, contact Andy Pritchard at  

Resource Tracker

While you are exploring issues related to your project, keep this tool in mind.  It was set up to help keep track of useful resources that Advocates come across.  These could include books, websites, articles, video clips, powerpoint slides... anything that catches your attention and might come in handy for someone interested in understanding the issues that Spark projects are focusing on.  

The resource tracker asks for a URL and very short description.  You can access it here: or by clicking the link on the right side column on the Advocates blog.  

Weekly Activity Log

The Activity Log form should be submitted every Friday.  It asks for your name, the number of hours you spent doing Spark activities, and some boxes to check to indicate what you focused on.  

The activity log can be accessed here: or in the right hand column of the Advocates blog.

Don’t Panic