How Participatory Grantmaking Can Strengthen Your Philanthropy - Exponent Philanthropy
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How Participatory Grantmaking Can Strengthen Your Philanthropy

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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.

Participatory grantmaking at Global Greengrants Fund

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.

This contextual expertise is key to aligning resources with local needs, and for responding quickly to events and socio-political dynamics. We seek to help grantees join wider movements for change, and advisers offer ideas and mentorship.

Tips and tricks for participatory grantmaking

Our advice to donors looking to bring more participation into their grantmaking:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

The work of inviting participation is never easy, but it is worth it in the end. Involving knowledgeable actors and community members in who and what to fund, and putting a high premium on learning from people and their existing initiatives in ways that give them ownership of ideas and actions – this is all good grantmaking practice at any scale.

Allison R. Davis is director of regional programs at Global Greengrants Fund. Allison has a background in human rights, international philanthropy and anthropology. She joined Global Greengrants in 2014 after working at Oxfam America in research and evaluation. Before Oxfam, Allison spent many years working with and leading teams using participatory research to inform public policy. She is co-author of Climate Justice and Women’s Rights, and she holds an M.A. in Anthropology from the University of Arizona and B.A. from Colorado College.


  1. francés p. sykes

    Right on! There are many variations of participatory grantmaking. The most important part is avoiding conflicts of interest or potential conflicts of interest. For example, Bobby Peek may want funding from your organization in the future. in his/her current or another position. Also, individual personalities may play big roles. After all, people give to people.

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