Trends in Grantmaking: Bring Your Community into Your Decision-Making Through Participatory Grantmaking

Foundations and grantmaking organizations are trying to untangle some of the world’s messiest problems: homelessness, food insecurity, climate change, and the rights of people who are often overlooked, to name a few. Not only are the issues multifaceted and overlapping, but they can also change based on location. What worked in one area of the world is not guaranteed to work in another.

But the people who are on the frontlines of these issues—the people who work directly with the unhoused, who live in areas affected by severe weather, or who are a member of a marginalized group—are the ones who often know how best to loosen the knot. That’s where participatory grantmaking comes in.

By giving your community an active role in your grantmaking process, you get a better understanding of their needs, build stronger relationships, and have a more direct impact.

Participatory grantmaking is a trend that we expect to impact grantmaking for years to come. Learn about the others in our blog post, 5 Trends in Grantmaking that We Think Have Staying Power.

What is Participatory Grantmaking?

Your community lives and breathes your impact area every day, so bringing them into your grantmaking process can provide more equity and stronger results to your funding decisions. Whether organizations start with a single grant program or incorporate a participatory approach across all their funding, there are a variety of ways to practice participatory grantmaking. And several ways not to do it.

What Participatory Grantmaking is

At its core, participatory grantmaking brings your community members into the decision-making process for at least one funding program. Often these community members go through a vetting or recommendation process and receive training in order to review applications.

Grantmaking organizations using participatory grantmaking give this group final say on the funding decisions, because as members of the community, they are more likely to understand what is most likely to help.

Participatory grantmaking efforts also respect the time and experience of the community members. There is typically a stipend to compensate the committee for doing the work.

What Participatory Grantmaking isn’t

Participatory grantmaking is not a free advisory committee and it is not a box to check to say an organization works with their community. This is not a focus group for the grantmaking organization to learn more about the concerns of the committee and it is not an unpaid internship. Foundations and grant makers interested in participatory grantmaking should respect the decisions of the people they choose, and these people should be compensated.

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Tips for Bringing Your Community into Your Decision-Making Process

Overcoming the Four Common Challenges of Participatory Grantmaking

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Examples of Participatory Grantmaking in Practice

Many grantmaking organizations have incorporated more community participation into their decision-making process with success. Here are some examples and how they are shifting the grantmaking power to the communities they serve.

Seeding Justice

Core to their values of centering the community in their work, Seeding Justice puts community members in the grantmaking seat for their General Fund grants, Rapid Response Grants, and Lila Jewel award. The organization features those community members who are serving in those roles on their website.

Diverse City Fund

The volunteer-led Diverse City Fund has three levels of community member participation, starting with the grantmaking team. The website outlines what is expected from their grantmakers, including the background they are looking for, the time commitment, and the number of applications each grantmaker will be expected to review.

Maine Initiatives

Maine Initiatives has been using a Participatory Grantmaking framework since 2016 to help advance their racial justice efforts. Through the principles they list on their website, they give multi-year, unrestricted funding with a low-barrier grant process. They offer the ability to be a proposal reader to anyone who is interested, listing the time commitment and expectations directly on their site.

Borealis’ Disability Inclusion Fund

In 2020, the Diversity Inclusion Fund held an open application for advocates to join their decision-making committee, welcoming seven community members to their first grantmaking committee. They recognized they needed to expand who was at the table to select applications for funding. As they mentioned in the Year 1 report, “We know there are many ways to support disability justice, and we believe that leaders who live into those connections in their everyday lives should be the ones to lead the way.”

Arctic Indigenous Fund

With an invitation to become an advisor to the Arctic Indigenous Fund on their home page, the organization focused on serving indigenous peoples across the circumpolar North makes it easy to learn more about participating in their decision-making process. The expectations are clearly outlined, including the length of the term and monthly time commitment.

Here are other organizations that are incorporating Participatory Grantmaking into their grantmaking processes:


Changing the power structure by sharing the decision-making roles can be a difficult process. So, while the idea of participatory grantmaking isn’t new, applying the principles can take time and a new way of thinking. In this webinar, participatory grantmaking experts Katy Love and Diana Samarasan discuss the benefits and best practices when incorporating this transformative grantmaking method.

Making Reviewing Applications Easy with Your GMS

With a variety of people needing to access, review, comment on, and make decisions about applications, the process can get difficult to manage. With a cloud-based grants management system, your review committee can do their work when and where they are most comfortable. And you can use multiple applications to manage different grant programs.

Check out our buyer’s guide to learn more about how to choose a Grants Management System that best fits your needs and the goals of your funding programs.

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