Before starting to implement participatory grantmaking processes, donors might want to develop intimacy with the attitudes and philosophies behind the models. 

Start by asking: “How do we, as an organisation, explore hard questions?”

Here are some questions donors could ask themselves:

  • Why do we fund? What are we trying to achieve?
  • What are the rules / norms of philanthropy that are not in line with our values?
  • What kind of relationships are we willing to develop with grantee partners?
  • How do our practices internalise and reproduce the same systems of oppression we are trying to address with our work? What are we trying to dismantle and what are we sustaining and why?
  • How much power are we holding in our funding practices? How much of it are we willing to share with others?
  • How we as a fund practice transparency and accountability?

These are hard questions. Who exactly would have to ask and respond to these questions for a ‘donor’ to shift its practices? In other words, how does an institution learn and change? Who makes decisions about what? What processes does an institution have in place to think, feel, explore and decide?

Participation shouldn’t be adopted as a check-list of tools and practices, but rather as an ethos to continuously cultivate internally as much as in donor-grantee relationships. Without a frank reflection on the role of participatory processes within our own organisations, it is hard to practice participatory grantmaking models. To best shift gear towards a more participatory culture, it’s best to start looking critically at internal practices and beliefs. 

Pay attention to the quality of internal relationships

Both FRIDA and the groups surveyed in this study value the quality of their internal processes and relationships. Young feminist groups, we learn from the data, achieve participation through affective bonds. Friendship opens the channels of communication so that collective decision-making can be generative, creative and fun. Young feminist groups are inviting much needed questioning into the organisational development and movement building space. They are asking: What is the role of affection and friendship in our work? Philanthropic institutions looking to introduce PGM may want to explore this question internally. Understanding the value of generating more intimate relationships within the workplace can support the creation of more equal partnerships with grantees. 

Invite diversity by supporting the network to see itself

In our view, grantmaking should not become a tool for donors to replicate their own worldviews. Diversity permits resilience – it is an integral part of having a healthy and thriving ecosystem. In civil society, we see the possibilities for a plurality of solutions, ideas and ways of organizing. If encouraging diversity is a priority, donors should start thinking beyond narrow agendas. 

When a donor focuses exclusively on outcomes, without connecting with the unique essence of the groups they are supporting, they miss a huge opportunity. If a donor makes money available to do what they believe is worth achieving, in the way they think is best, they are effectively depriving themselves from the possibility of witnessing the existence of multiple realities. Instead, by inviting partners and communities to see themselves, their contexts, their experience, and perceptions as valid, a donor can hold space for multiple realities. In this way, the world expands.

 To strengthen social movements and accompany social transformation, donors could focus on enabling groups, organisations and movements to see themselves, test methods and learn together. The intention of funding groups themselves, rather than projects, respects the independence and agency of grantees. FRIDA’s work has greatly strengthened the young feminist movement precisely by utilizing resources to encourage and welcome a multiplicity of approaches, worldviews and techniques. 

Build capacity and systems that allow people to participate

In the evaluation survey, we asked grantee partners whether they were interested in getting involved in shaping donors’ agendas. The answer was a resounding ‘Yes!’ Yet, many grantee partners expressed that they feel too overwhelmed to take part in donors’ conversations and participatory grantmaking practices. Because of limited resources and capacities, they miss opportunities to engage with donors’ processes and are often excluded from participation.

“We are so stretched working with our community on a grassroots level. As volunteers it would be difficult for us to participate in setting the agenda without compromising empowering LGBT people in their everyday lives. Servicing donors is time intensive.”

“We think that in order for our group to better understand the current agenda and shape it, it would have been great to create an online-course that would compile the news regarding feminist agenda in our region. As not always we have a possibility to find out what is going on in the neighbouring countries and we do not always understand the context and have clarity about what young women in the region are most concerned about. Despite the fact that our countries have a lot of similarities, everybody has their own problems and we would like to find out more about them and dive into the current situation”

Donors interested in meaningfully engaging grassroots groups should invest in building the structures, timelines and capacity strengthening opportunities that are needed for communities to take part in these processes.