Money affects power dynamics in relationships and as donors, we have the responsibility to send money carefully.
When considering alternatives to a traditional funding approach, participatory grantmaking leverages knowledgeable input and democratic checks and balances. Being participatory is more than soliciting outside advice; it means inviting people at the center of the work to participate in generating the ideas.
Grants are more successful and likely to endure when the people doing the work feel a sense of ownership for the ideas and action.
Global Greengrants Fund, a foundation based in Boulder, Colorado, has been building a participatory grantmaking model for over 26 years. We see participation as key to successful partnerships. Our grants are decided by decentralized councils of advisers who are deeply involved in environmental justice movements and issues in their countries. They are actors in their setting—whether environmental lawyers, or respected human rights activists—and they have committed their careers to causes in ways that have earned strong trust by grassroots communities.
As an example, Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork in South Africa, is an adviser with the Southern Africa Advisory Board. He works with community movements affected or threatened by coal mining and power plants. Bobby continually connects community groups to funding available through the Global Greengrants Fund, including Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action to support their organizing for clean air in the Highveld Priority Area.
Our advice to donors looking to bring more participation into their grantmaking:
- Look for mechanisms that invite say and feedback from the people living and working where you would like to give. It takes time to build such connections of trust and the processes to guide them. You can also partner with organizations that already have these networks and processes in place.
- Establish principles around the grantmaking. Ensure the people proposing the work are using community consultation. Ideally, proposals have inclusive steps to widen who is involved. Good grantmaking brings diverse voices into the decision making because diversity brings strength and innovation for wider effect. Also, at a minimum, the grant should not further exclude people by age, ability, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.
- Peer review is important in grantmaking. Ideally, proposals are debated and improved upon through collective discussion across a diverse and knowledgeable group of people. Everyone learns and can further support the grantee when the grantmaking rounds have a mechanism of transparent peer review.
Read the full article about participatory grantmaking by Allison R. Davis at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.