“There is no better defender of the vulnerable than civil society: committed, compassionate, engaged citizens organizing themselves — and mobilizing others — to work on behalf of others.” Such self-organizing and mobilization are central to disrupting inequality, which lies at the heart of our work.”
– Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation
A recent report commissioned by the Ford Foundation and authored by Dr. Cynthia Gibson, names Grassroots Grantmakers as a national leader in advancing the awareness and practice of “participatory grantmaking” within the field of philanthropy. Dr. Gibson’s seminal work on this topic essentially defines participatory philanthropy and grantmaking as a concept that all funders, particularly public or place-based funders, should systematically and strategically involve recipients of philanthropic support at various degrees and levels of their institutional decision-making process to improve community outcomes and advance the field of philanthropy.
In the 2017 report, “Participatory Grantmaking: Has Its Time Come?,” Dr. Gibson identifies Grassroots Grantmakers as the only philanthropic network in North America that involves non-grantmakers as members – a critical component of the evolving participatory grantmaking movement – and one of the leading organizations that has embraced and advocated for participatory grantmaking as an essential component of philanthropic practice. Taken from the report, participatory grantmaking “moves decision-making about money to those most affected by the issues philanthropy is seeking to address. (Participatory Grantmaking, 2017).”
The report also suggests that there is an heightened sense of urgency by grantmaking institutions for adopting participatory practices, in part, due to the growing sentiments of distrust by individuals and the corresponding increased demand for greater accountability and transparency, the changing demographics of America and the increasing number of non-white citizens and residents, and the impact of the latest technological revolution resulting in the unprecedented access to information. Many within the field believe that the next evolution of philanthropy is the embracing of more inclusive philanthropic practices across all types of institutional grantmakers.
“Grassroots Grantmakers commends both the Ford Foundation and Dr. Gibson in helping to move what we call ‘inclusive grantmaking’ to the forefront of our field and assisting with the development of shared language and common philosophical frameworks that embody our work,” says Lisa Leverette, Grassroots Grantmaker board member.
While many will point to the changing environment as a reason to advocate for more participatory practices, others fundamentally believe that to achieve organizational goals and improve community outcomes, it is necessary to involve a broad range of perspectives, knowledge and insights. As stated in the report, the challenge with institutional philanthropy is that it “seeks to solve community problems with boards and staff members that do not reflect the diversity of the community,” and that community problems are far too complex to tackle unilaterally without involvement of those who are “on the ground.” Therefore, many leaders within the field are calling for mobilization of both the grasstops and grassroots for developing more equitable, sustainable and impactful community improvement strategies. Research from the private sector sheds some light on the potential impact of involving different perspectives in the decision-making process, particularly multiple studies have found that diverse companies achieve higher performance and revenue outcomes then less diverse companies.
As a membership organization of grassroots grantmakers, resident leaders and community organizers, we do our work so that grantmaking institutions are more equitable and inclusive in their practices, particularly involving a diverse cross-section of neighborhood resident. The core question that we ask grantmakers is “How can an institution improve the quality of life of residents without involving those who they seek to help, “yet we expect quality outcomes.” says Roderick Wheeler, newly hired executive director. Wheeler goes on to say that Grassroots Grantmakers goal is to develop and build a long-term commitment of integrating inclusive, or participatory, practices into every facet of philanthropic institutions strategies, activities and culture by providing technical assistance to organizations, convening residents, building member networks and publishing research.
In closing, Grassroots Grantmakers affirm that participatory practices, regardless of the reason, can achieve significant outcomes, including improving decision-making, advancing social justices issues, champion diversity and inclusion efforts, and continuing the democratization of philanthropy – strategies built by the people for the people.
“Has the time come for a broad swath of foundations, including national foundations like Ford, to take on participatory approaches? If self-organizing and mobilization by committed, compassionate, engaged citizens are key to civil society defending the vulnerable, then perhaps they should be central to the practice of philanthropy as well.” – Chris Cardona, Program Officer, Ford Foundation
If you are interested in becoming a member of Grassroots Grantmakers, please contact Amanda Wolf at firstname.lastname@example.org.