Funders Beginning to Embrace Participatory Grantmaking, Report Finds

Funders Beginning to Embrace Participatory Grantmaking, Report Finds

A growing number of funders are responding to demands that they be more accountable, transparent, and collaborative through participatory grantmaking, a report from GrantCraft, a service of Foundation Center, finds.

Funded by the Ford Foundation and Open Society Foundations, the report, Deciding Together: Shifting Power and Resources Through Participatory Grantmaking (61 pages, PDF), illustrates why and how funders globally are engaging in the practice of ceding more decision-making power to the communities they aim to serve. According to the report, participatory grantmaking models range in geographic scale from local neighborhoods to global movements and work across many different focus areas, including disability rights, climate change, and youth opportunity.

Increasingly visible and of interest to a range of funders, the practice challenges traditional structures of philanthropy by redefining who qualifies as a "grantmaker" and questioning traditional power dynamics, which affect everything from who knows about grant opportunities to who gets those grants; shifting power about grantmaking decisions by involving the people most affected by an issue or problem; and empowering people who benefit from funding to determine the priorities in their lives.

"The bottom line: participatory grantmaking is a lever for disrupting and democratizing philanthropy," the report, written by Cynthia Gibson, argues.

Based on interviews with funders who have adopted the practice — including the Arcus, Brooklyn Community, Case, Liberty Hill, New York Women's, and NoVo foundations and the Disability Rights, Rawa, and Red Umbrella funds — the report outlines a consensus definition of participatory grantmaking as well as its core elements, theories of change, and benefits, which include a more thoughtful and informed grantmaking process; the promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the grantmaking process and its outcomes; and opportunities to collaborate and strengthen larger movements. The report also notes that the practice can be resource-intensive, does not eliminate the potential for bias, and can be difficult to measure.

The GrantCraft site offers additional resources about participatory grantmaking, including a collection of publications on the practice as well as details related to the different approaches taken by individual foundations.

"This approach isn't just about more effective grantmaking, but it also creates a paradigm shift in how we work alongside communities as agents of change in their own context," said Katy Love, director of resources at the Wikimedia Foundation, an organization that has implemented a participatory approach to its grantmaking. "By sharing decision-making power about money, the participatory approach itself is part of the impact."

"This GrantCraft guide highlights practices of many smaller, human rights-focused foundations," said Jen Bokoff, editor of the guide and director of stakeholder engagement at Foundation Center. "We often look to large, well-known foundations for learning, but the grassroots foundations featured in this guide have just as much wisdom to offer and are particularly intentional about inclusion."