Participation in practice

Participatory grantmaking is not new, but has only recently started blossoming. Community and cameraderie have been key ingredients.

Hannah Paterson
Senior Portfolio Manager, The National Lottery Community Fund

Building a community to drive participatory grantmaking 

The Participatory Grantmaking Community is an international community of practice for people interested in participatory grantmaking, from traditional funders through participatory funders, consultants and researchers. 

Participatory grantmaking can involve communities voting on funding allocation right through to devolving power to communities throughout the funding process, from design to evaluation. 

The Participatory Grantmaking Community aims to increase and improve participatory grantmaking to help build a funding culture that devolves power to communities. Our work follows three main threads:

  • Peer support: helping one another understand and apply participatory grantmaking through monthly meetings (held twice, to cater to international time differences!), sharing resources, solving problems, advising on good practice, buddying up, working as groups, chatting on Slack and more.
  • Deep dives: exploring important topics identified by the community through regular learning events and developing resources on specific topics. 
  • Advocacy: collectively calling for change and working to mainstream participatory grantmaking.

Especially for lone advocates in large organisations, being understood and realising others face similar challenges is hugely reassuring.

A portrait photo of the author
Hannah Paterson
Senior Portfolio Manager, The National Lottery Community Fund

Discovering best practice together 

Participatory grantmaking is not new, but has only recently started blossoming - partly thanks to The Participatory Grantmaking Community. Many members are therefore new to the practice, and even for experienced practitioners ‘best practice’ is far from established. The biggest benefit of The Participatory Grantmaking Community has been collaborative learning.

With such a diverse membership, learning takes many forms. The need to cater to this diversity explains our array of peer-support activities. But in various ways most members have learned more about good practice, had assumptions challenged, received input on challenges and collaborated to boost capacity - all without having to slowly reinvent the wheel in silos. 

Camaraderie underpins this learning. Especially for lone advocates in large organisations, being understood and realising others face similar challenges is hugely reassuring. The community is also an intentional source of fun and joy. For example, we recently enjoyed a musical session with Camerados, themed around when everything hits the fan. People are often refreshed to realise our work is a bit messy and informal, and conducive to building friendships. 

More than just money 

Ultimately, The Participatory Grantmaking Community helps funders make better grants, because working with communities means funders are more likely to address real problems through projects that are actually valued. It also means more accountability for funders and projects alike. Community oversight means more transparency and scrutiny, as well as more people actively invested in project success.

As well as amplifying their voices, participatory processes in and of themselves also help applicants and communities build networks, understand funding processes and make strong applications, ultimately boosting their capacity and chances of securing funding and becoming sustainable. 

Governance is hard (when you can’t freeze time) 

The Participatory Grantmaking Community is free, though we accept donations. We are also transparent, with public accounts and an open email list. These decisions reduce revenue, and mass emails are sometimes burdensome. But our accessibility means everybody can access the support they need, which is vital to our values and impact.

This openness also mitigates the challenge of managing specific interest groups, particularly participatory grantmakers who need to fundraise their grants - a difficult task. In theory they could continually pitch other funders in the community, which would be awkward. In reality they would probably be respectful enough not to spam, but our setup has helped them easily connect and learn together, bringing plenty of benefits beyond pitching to other members. 

Finding a governance structure that protects our decentralised ethos but makes securing funding easier is another challenge. Working with a consultant to decentre privileged women like me has been helpful, but the problem runs deeper. Luckily we have two understanding incubators - The Social Change Agency and Impatience Ltd - giving us thinking space.

If I had known we would grow so fast I would have given more thought to the initial admin. Being mostly volunteer-led and working full-time has often made me long for Bernard’s Watch! Nevertheless, the friendship, support and shared commitment to important work that defines The Participatory Grantmaking Community makes it all worthwhile.

Related opportunities

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