The overall goal of social-sector organizations is to change lives and circumstances for the most vulnerable among us. Non-profit and government providers and their funders all desire to create maximum impact for those they serve. Participatory grantmaking is a relatively new form of collaboration that increases impact through greater involvement by the communities impacted by funding decisions. Participatory grantmaking is based on the premise of inclusivity—bringing both funders and members of the community together to make decisions across all activities, governance, staffing, and grantmaking. For example, the organizations and funders who work to provide healthcare for the homeless greatly benefit by having formerly homeless individuals serve as activists and participate in the collaboration.
From the funders’ perspective, this collaboration enables them to hear firsthand the accounts of the challenges, realities, and opportunities from frontline social sector professionals and members of the community and incorporate them in their funding decisions. In addition, the knowledge and skills of the community members ensure that donors’ money will be used effectively and have as much impact as possible.
Likewise, from the organizations’ and activists’ perspectives, getting a glimpse into the way funders think and make funding decisions has also proved beneficial to the sector. Across the board, participatory grantmaking practitioners argue that this new structure democratizes philanthropy and empowers those who are directly impacted by social issues. And although this new structure is not without its own unique challenges, the growing number of practitioners are reporting better funding decisions and improved outcomes around social movements.
Is Your Organization Ready for Participatory Grantmaking?
Accountability, collaboration, transparency, equity, inclusion, and diversity make up the foundation of the participatory grantmaking structure. But within this paradigm, there are three key concepts that are critical to the success of these initiatives:
Collaborating for the Benefit of the Movement—Traditionally, foundations, funders, and donors have made funding decisions related to which organizations get funded, how much they receive, and how outcomes are to be evaluated. Through participatory grantmaking however, many individuals, from subject-matter experts, people with lived experience, frontline social sector professionals, and donors and foundation staff, all collectively make the funding decisions together. While this lessens the control of the foundations, funders, and donors, it empowers the people who will directly benefit from the funding and enables them to help set the priorities that will directly impact their lives and their communities. It also increases the overall impact created by the foundation’s investments.
Evaluating the Work—Assessing the value created from participatory grantmaking can be challenging due to its process-centered approach and the emphasis placed on relational and qualitative outcomes, as opposed to quantitative results. For this reason, many participatory grantmaking initiatives partner with measurement experts to determine how to quantify the quality and impact of their work.
Technology to Create Alignment—In order for communities to successfully implement participatory grantmaking, it is extremely helpful to have a technology platform that connects direct providers, stakeholders, and funders with real-time data that shows the impact of their efforts. If participating organizations are able to continuously monitor the progress of their programs, they can determine areas for improvement and drive the strategy for increasing outcomes and impact for their constituents. The technology should also simplify the job of evaluators and saves countless hours spent on data collection and reporting.
For more information about participatory grantmaking, we recommend reading GRANTCRAFT’s (a service of Foundation Center) report, Deciding Together: Shifting Power and Resources through Participatory Grantmaking.
Case in Point: Women’s Funding Network
New research from the Ford Foundation includes a closer look at the Women’s Funding Network, a community of gender and racial justice funders providing research and education, strategic-led initiatives and events, and advocacy tools and support to leaders and advocates. Today, the network includes women’s funds across the United States and in 11 countries, acting as an organizing power for place-based community foundations whose focus is funding through a gender lens. The Women’s Funding Network engaged with the Ford Foundation to better understand participatory grantmaking practices of place-based women’s funds.
Women’s funds have a long-standing history of embracing a collaborative grantmaking approach that centers on the voices of the beneficiaries of the funding, in addition to a diverse range of community stakeholders. As COVID-19 erupted in 2020, these women’s funds were able to shift their grantmaking focus to meet more immediate operational needs of the organizations they support, so that their grantees could attend to the most urgent community needs as quickly as possible. These rapid response funds helped grantees address the critical needs voiced by those most impacted by systemic inequities and racial injustice, while empowering the community through these participatory decision-making practices.
SureImpact is a data collection and reporting platform that connects backbone organizations, partners, funders, collaborators, grant managers, and evaluators with real-time impact data. The platform was built for the social sector by people who have been working in the government, nonprofit, and collective impact initiatives for over twenty years and have a deep understanding of the unique needs of social sector organizations and their funders.
To learn more about how your collaborative can benefit from SureImpact, contact us today.