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Demystifying Participatory Grantmaking

What is Participatory Grantmaking?

Many foundations have already incorporated elements of participatory philanthropy. After all, it’s the job of foundation staff to learn from grantees, to know what’s happening in communities, to be the eyes and ears of the foundation. We may have even changed our proposal guidelines and reporting requirements based on grantee feedback.

A chart that shows gradations of "participation"

Participatory grantmaking refers to how grant decisions are made, how dollars are allocated.

Edgar Villanueva’s book Decolonizing Wealth suggests shifting decision-making power away from the seat of wealth and toward those who are directly impacted by the issues we care about. People with lived experience, with proximity to the communities we seek to improve.

It’s about acknowledging that our staff and boards in philanthropy – while they may include experts in multiple fields – are not experts in all things.

So how do we find these participants? What do they do, and what do we, as staff, do? That’s exactly what we shared in this program, with four very different participatory grantmaking processes as examples.

Democratizing philanthropy is possibly one of the most important things we can do. Serving as foundation staff and board members positions us as protagonists; it is our job to improve our practice. Participatory grantmaking can be a step toward that.

This program was presented on November 1, 2023. Thank you to Forefront's Family Foundations affinity group for co-sponsoring this program. A document with links to additional resources was shared at the end of the program; that document can be found below the video clips.

Conant Family Foundation

Erica Lynette Edwards joined Conant Family Foundation's first participatory grantmaking cycle in 2020, and was a Grants Team member in 2023 as well. She described her experience as a participant. Erica is currently the executive director of Giordano Dance Chicago.

Leslie Ramyk, executive director of the Conant Family Foundation, shared the step-by-step webpage she developed to make participatory grantmaking more accessible to other foundations, especially family foundations. That page can also be found here.

Monica George serves on the board of the Conant Family Foundation. She was on the committee that decided to shift grantmaking decisions to Chicagoans with lived experience in racial injustice.

MacArthur Foundation

Geoffrey Banks is a senior program officer with the Chicago Commitment team at the MacArthur Foundation. He described the participatory grantmaking process utilized in the Culture, Equity, and the Arts grants program.

Field Foundation of Illinois

Analía Rodríguez is the Leadership Investment Program Officer at the Field Foundation. Past Leaders for a New Chicago are engaged in a process to select the new cohort of Leaders for a New Chicago.

The Arts Work Fund

Marcia Festen is the director of the Arts Work Fund, a funder collaborative created to help strengthen the management and operations of small arts and cultural organizations in Chicago. She facilitates multiple participatory grants cycles each year.

Participatory Grantmaking Resources
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