“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
Ford Foundation’s report “Participatory Grantmaking: Has Its Time Come?” identifies Grassroots Grantmakers as the only philanthropic network in North America that involves non-grantmakers as members. The report’s author — Dr. Cynthia Gibson, a longtime student and practitioner of participatory philanthropy — describes such an approach as a critical component of the evolving participatory or inclusive grantmaking movement.
Grassroots Grantmakers, writes Gibson, is one of the leading organizations that has embraced and advocated for participatory grantmaking as an essential component of philanthropic practice.
Participatory grantmaking “moves decision-making about money to those most affected by the issues philanthropy is seeking to address,” according to the 2017 report. The report also suggests that grantmaking institutions have a heightened sense of urgency to adopt participatory practices, due in part 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 nonwhite citizens and residents.
- The impact of the latest technological revolution, resulting in unprecedented access to information.
Many in the philanthropy community believe that the next evolution of the field 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 Patrick Horvath, Deputy Vice President of Programs, Director of Economic Opportunity at the Denver Foundation, and Grassroots Grantmaker board member.
Involving a broad range of perspectives, knowledge and insight also is key in addressing community issues. The report says that the challenge with institutional philanthropy is that it “seeks to solve community problems with boards and staff members who 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.”
Mobilizing grasstops and grassroots
Many leaders in philanthropy 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; multiple studies have found that diverse companies achieve higher performance and revenue outcomes than those that are less diverse.
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, involving a diverse cross-section of neighborhood residents.
“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, who recently joined Grassroots Grantmakers as Executive Director.
Grassroots Grantmakers’ goal, he says, is to develop and build a long-term commitment of integrating inclusive grantmaking, or participatory practices, into every facet of philanthropic institutions’ strategies, activities and culture. To achieve this goal, Grassroots Grantmakers:
- Provides technical assistance to organizations.
- Convenes residents.
- Builds member networks.
- Shares resources and research.
Grassroots Grantmakers agrees with the Ford Foundation report that participatory practices can achieve significant outcomes. Such efforts:
- Improve decision-making.
- Advance social justice issues.
- Champion diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
- Continue the democratization of philanthropy: strategies built by the people and 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 Roderick Wheeler.