The power in this approach is that we get to pick our own champions.

Billy Kinney, one of the Native members of Fund for Shared Insight’s participatory grantmaking group for the “Kolea region” — an area encompassing Alaska and Hawai’i and named for a bird that migrates between the two geographies — shared this reflection at the celebratory session concluding our eight-week process to distribute $1 million to 18 groups. I was struck by his comment, because it should be evident to all of philanthropy: The people who have lived expertise, bring local knowledge, and are closest to the issues we seek to address are best positioned to choose champions for the work we do. Yet, to the contrary, it is often people like me, sitting in offices thousands of miles from the people most impacted by the systems and structures we hope to address, who decide where grant money goes and how it is spent.

That’s why it was a particular privilege to be part of Shared Insight’s participatory grantmaking initiative, started in 2020, and culminating just recently with the selection of grantees. The initiative focused on exploring power-sharing and policy work around climate change and environmental justice and had the stated goal of involving people most impacted by those issues in making decisions about the use of philanthropic resources. The members of our design and grantmaking teams brought lived experience, content and context expertise about community decision-making, and connections with local people and communities to the funding decisions. Ultimately, a majority of groups we identified had never received funding from philanthropy and would have been unlikely to receive our funding if we had followed traditional grantmaking processes.

I served as a learner and observer in the role of funder representative on our grantmaking group for the Kolea region. CC Moore from the Kellogg Foundation participated as the funder representative on a second grantmaking group that focused on the Southeastern United States, awarding an additional $1 million to nonprofits in that area.

Read the full article about shifting and sharing power by Melinda Tuan at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.