Report: Participatory grantmaking - Building the evidence

‘Participatory grantmaking’ is an emerging practice in global philanthropy. This way of working devolves aspects of decision-making to grantees, with the aim of delivering better outcomes. It also is thought to address the power imbalance that frequently exists between foundation leadership making funding decisions and the communities they seek to serve through those decisions.

Devolving power to those directly affected by grantmaking is intended to help overcome systemic inequality.

But what is the evidence for this emerging approach?

CEI was asked by Paul Ramsay Foundation to investigate the benefits and challenges of participatory grantmaking and to offer recommendations on how to advance practice and understanding in this emerging field. The inspiration was the Foundation’s own foray into participatory grantmaking, the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) program – a multi-step model for collaborative decision-making on grant allocation.

“There is little in the way of high-quality research available, partly because participatory practice is new and partly because there is a general paucity of research into grant-giving,” says CEI Director, Dr Vanessa Rose. “Our investigation found that there is no one way to enable participation in granting decisions – approaches range from limited consultation to grantees driving the decision-making process.”

“Although at this stage we can’t be conclusive as to whether the participatory approach is more or less effective, philanthropists can have confidence that it holds promise and is worthy of further investment.”

CEI’s report highlights the positives that a participatory approach can enable:

  • Stronger relationships with communities and grantees
  • Greater networking and collaboration opportunities
  • Improved knowledge about grantmaking for non-grantmakers
  • Greater flexibility and innovation in grantmaking
  • Improved transparency, when implemented with this in mind

There are also challenges inherent in a participatory approach:

  • Time and resources need to be committed
  • Ensuring diversity and representation
  • An awareness of inherent bias, both in the decision-makers and the decision-making model, is needed

“The move to greater participation in grantmaking is part of a broader shift in power dynamics across society,” says Vanessa. “There is growing acknowledgement of the importance of involving communities in decisions made on their behalf. Traditional power structures everywhere are opening up, and co-design is becoming more and more common.”

“We’d love to see more grantmakers publishing and sharing their pilots and evaluations of participatory approaches. This will help the whole sector accelerate best practice in the field.”

DOWNLOAD the report

This report was co-authored by Chloe Ang, Maryanna Abdo and Dr Vanessa Rose from CEI,
Dr Renee Lim from the Pam McLean Centre (formerly Health Grants Advisor for Paul Ramsay Foundation) and Jo Taylor from the Siddle Family Foundation, with support from Paul Ramsay Foundation.

The authors presented key findings at a webinar organised by Philanthropy Australia on
14 June 2023: VIEW WEBINAR recording