As a consultant focused on participatory grantmaking, I have been thrilled to see growing interest in community-led grantmaking practices. At the same time, I have been disheartened to see common misconceptions spread throughout the sector, such as that participatory grantmaking is new or unproven. I’ve also seen philanthropists dismiss participatory grantmaking as a passing fad.

Perhaps we should instead call modern philanthropy new and unproven. Modern philanthropy in the US emerged in the early 20th century and was developed primarily by the robber barons of the time. It is difficult to prove that modern philanthropy has done much good. To the contrary, it has siphoned over $1 trillion into private control, the majority of which remains in the market and is never distributed to the benefit of communities.

What we take as “normal” in modern philanthropy is based on the fundamental, and frankly patronizing, assumption that the wealthy are best suited to distribute grants—a notion that turns a blind eye to the fact that this practice gives those who extract (or have even stolen) community wealth the power to choose how to distribute this wealth.

Participatory grantmaking, on the other hand, is based on movement frameworks that have been around for centuries—and has roots in community distribution models that have been practiced for millennia. Even in today’s formal philanthropic sector, it has a considerable track record.

In collaboration with a national foundation, I recently had the opportunity to research some of the most longstanding community-led funds in the nation and to learn from them about what it takes to embed effective participatory grantmaking in philanthropic institutions and create authentic community engagement. Inspired by a recent Groundswell “Open Letter to Philanthropy, from People of Color-led, Movement Accountable, Public Foundations,” the foundation selected 10 community-led organizations that have been engaged in different forms of participatory grantmaking, some for over 40 years.

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of establishing a participatory grantmaking program, some best practices and trends were evident, including:

  • Ensure accessibility and compensation
  • Removing donors from decision-making
  • Utilize peer nominations

Read the full article about participatory grantmaking by Kelley Buhles at Nonprofit Quarterly.