ICYMI: People Are Talking About Participatory Grantmaking

Participatory grantmaking continues to gain traction with grantmakers and grantseekers alike, as more are looking at the value and outcomes of grantmaking that includes all stakeholders in the full process and the ways that participatory grantmaking can improve funder/grantee power dynamics, build stronger alliances, help achieve DEI-related goals, and have a deeper impact on the issues at hand. GrantCraft’s Deciding Together field guide explores this movement in great detail, complete with case studies and helpful tips, and companion templates in the Mechanics section of our website. Since the publication of this guide, we are always on the hunt for new knowledge about how participatory grantmaking is being implemented. Here are three recent compelling reads exploring the impact of participatory grantmaking.


Two beautiful black women stand together. Strong African American girls side by side. Sisterhood and females friendship.

Telling My Truth as a Black Woman Made Me a Better Grant Maker

(Jasmine Sudarkasa, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, February 9, 2021) This first-person account of participatory grantmaking (PGM) at work at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation demonstrates that PGM can also effectively be used within large foundations as a means to lift up under-represented voices and lived experience.

In the face of a people-led movement, philanthropic institutions were woefully ill equipped. By this point, I was, too. I sat in my apartment, looking at facilitation plans for “equitable learning,” and felt like an idiot. Enough was enough. I couldn’t separate my Blackness from my responsibilities as a grant maker. I needed to tell my truth.

And so, I started talking. I cried, too. And surprisingly, people at Hewlett started listening. Those people included Larry Kramer, our president. He heard me, as fearful and enraged as I was. Then he invited me to stand in that fear and do something about it.

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A diverse group of unrecognizable people stand in line to vote. A woman at the end of the line holds an American flag.

To Support Democracy, Foundations Must Practice Democracy

(Josh Lerner, Nonprofit Quarterly, February 9, 2021) Democracy in America (and around the world) depends largely on where the funding goes. Josh Lerner asserts that, “It’s an inconvenient truth, but foundations are one of the most durable bastions of oligarchy. They are generally governed by a small group of benefactors and professionals, who are disproportionately white, wealthy, and male.” Want more democracy? We need more democratic distribution of philanthropic dollars.

Democracy is under attack around the world, and many foundations are rallying to its defense. Yet at the same time, many foundations in their mode of operations are practicing and reinforcing the anti-democratic ideology of the attackers. By preaching democracy externally but practicing oligarchy internally, funders undermine their investments and our democracy.

To confront the crisis of democracy, directing external funding to pro-democracy groups and causes is not enough. Funders must also undo their internal anti-democratic practices. This means ending top-down decision-making by a small ruling elite. It also requires shifting power to communities. Fortunately, we already have models for how to do this.

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Teamwork concept with building puzzle. People working together with giant puzzle elements. Symbol of partnership and collaboration. Flat vector illustration isolated on white background.

Shifting Power to Communities in Grant Funding

(Rodney Foxworth and Marcus Haymon, Stanford Social Innovation Review, January 20, 2021) Foundations are being called to examine how institutional practices deepen inequality instead of dismantling it: from arduous application processes to repetitive reporting requirements, business as usual in the funding world feels more about maintaining control than sharing it. “To address this painful history, and implement policies based on trust and equity, philanthropists must give up power in decisions around funding deployment. Inclusive decision making can have more inclusive and powerful results.”

So, funders must ask themselves: Where in our processes might we share decision making? How might we create space for grantees to tell us about their impact, in their own words, to shape our thinking? How might we be equitable in all aspects of our work, including our investment? The urgency of this moment is calling on us to look across our systems and center those who are building the world we so desperately need.

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Content Development Associate