Giving Compass' Take:

• Participatory grantmakers urge other foundations to go beyond using feedback loops that still maintain power dynamics. They emphasize shifting internal structures that address equity and create more agency for beneficiaries. 

• As an individual donor, how can feedback and agency help you make the most impact with your charitable giving?

• Read more about the power of feedback in philanthropy. 

In philanthropy, our role is to address inequalities and create fairer societies. Yet the dominant, traditional model of philanthropy is driven by people with wealth, or their paid staff. Unfortunately, this model often inadvertently perpetuates inequalities.

We are practitioners of participatory grantmaking, an approach where people with lived experience of issues of injustice and inequality decide where the philanthropic dollars that affect their lives go. This structural change in decision-making turns around a historically unequal system that has conflated wealth with wisdom. We work to center the voices of marginalized communities through philanthropy. We seek not only to hear the voices, but to share power through decision-making on grants.

We agree with Melinda Tuan of the Fund for Shared Insight (“Feedback and Participatory Grantmaking are Complementary”) that foundations should listen and seek feedback on their work. However, as Cynthia Gibson outlined in her original article (“Moving Beyond Feedback: The Promise of Participatory Grantmaking”), this means that foundations are still setting the agenda: deciding which questions to ask, who to listen to, and how to respond. At its best, quality listening is the foundation of positive and effective philanthropic relationships. But it often denies agency, positioning people as a source of insight rather than as agents of change. Ultimately, the approach relies on the good intentions of those in positions of power and influence.

We strongly urge foundations to move beyond a narrative of expert elites listening to beneficiary voices and towards adopting internal structural changes and practices that actively advance equity and justice. By ceding the head of the table to those most affected by the outcomes of the decisions, participatory grantmaking offers philanthropy an important tool for moving in that direction.

Examples of participatory grantmaking:

  • FundAction
  • Disability Rights Fund

Read the full article about feedback in participatory grantmaking by Mutisya Leonard, Rose Longhurst, Katy Love,  Diana Samarasan, and Nadia van der Linde at Nonprofit Quarterly.