Philanthropy has done much to tackle injustice and inequality, seeking to improve the lives of those affected by layers of structural disadvantage. However, philanthropy is by its nature unequal, with philanthropic giving often drawing from wealth accrued through unequal labour and power structures. Funders are also increasingly examining the sources of their wealth, which can often be traced back to historical injustices and exploitation, which helped create the very problems philanthropy now seeks to solve.

The power dynamics in grantmaking are often imbalanced. Diverse, equitable, and inclusive grantmaking is therefore about who makes the decisions, where we get our evidence, and who is missing from the conversation.

We at NPC have not been as strong on these issues as we could have, both internally and in the advice we give to clients and the sector. We are working to change that. If grantmaking is not diverse, equitable, or inclusive we risk perpetuating a system which favours those with the most wealth and power. With society reeling from the dual impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, it’s more important than ever that funding gets to those who need it most, in particular the most marginalised in our society.

What does DEI mean to you?
The first step is to get your own house in order. If you have staff and trustees, how diverse are they and how do you recruit them? Are all your ‘essential criteria’ actually essential? How do you score for less typical sources of experience?

How inclusive is your culture, and how well do you know your history? Talking about the history of grantmaking can be uncomfortable, but it is crucial if we are to challenge these structures.

How do you decide your goals?
How well do you understand the issues you are trying to address? Do you draw on a range of lived and learnt experiences to understand what people need? Whether you give responsive, targeted, or strategic funding, embedding DEI into your overall approach can lead to better decisions about who you give to, the size and frequency of grants, your attitude to risk, and the nature of the work you fund.

Who makes the decisions?
A diverse funding panel with different lived and learnt experiences will likely better understand the communities you work with. You could co-opt community representatives or experts onto committees and seek additional expertise when considering applications relating to specific communities.

You could also consider alternative forms of decision-making to address power dynamics, such as participatory grant-making or open philanthropy. Or you could use intermediaries to make some of your grants. Always be transparent about who is making the decisions and how.

Read the full article about equitable grantmaking by Sarah Denselow at Alliance Magazine.