How do we speak about modern grant-making?


Jasmine Awad


Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Alliance magazine’s first in-person event of the year to celebrate its 100th issue and 25 years in philanthropy. I must say, after all these months attending online webinars, I felt absolutely inspired by all the real-life, stimulating conversations I had with colleagues in the sector.

My favourite part was the interactive workshop, where small groups were tasked with the design of a special feature of in-depth coverage on a current topic for Alliance. My group focussed on ‘modern’ grant-making – a topic we have been debating extensively both with our clients at I.G. Advisors and through our podcast, What Donors Want (of which Alliance is media partner). Modern-grant-making is essentially the practice of doing philanthropy in a new, non-traditional way, calling for more participation, trust and inclusivity, and fewer restrictions to grants.

Here are the modern themes and features we pitched for our special Alliance issue:

Participatory approaches
Practitioners in the space have been discussing this approach extensively, and several non-profits such as the With and For Girls Collective and the National Lottery are leading the way when it comes to shifting the power and ceding the decision-making to the individuals or communities impacted by the actual decisions that are being made. Whether through ‘full’ participation or not – grantees need to be consulted more, and more funders need to adapt their practices.

Featuring: An interview with a grantee about what it’s actually like to sit on a participatory panel (the good, the bad, and the ugly). Funders, listen up!

Funding agility
Covid-19 has shown the need for philanthropy to be able to react fast. Several funders responded promptly, issuing emergency grants, removing restrictions, reducing reporting requirements, and practicing what we call ‘trust-based philanthropy’. As grant-makers are learning about new, less complex ways of giving that grant more power and trust to grantees, we need more of them to follow the lead and keep up these practices in the post Covid-19 era.

Featuring: Funders’ written pledges to commit to more agile funding post Covid-19, explaining their ‘promise’ and how they will go about maintaining it.

Leading by serving
Philanthropy is not meant to lead, and grant-making shouldn’t be a one-direction stream that starts from the philanthropist’s personal values. The question ‘What do I want to do with my philanthropy?’ is essentially wrong, or rather, incomplete. Instead, funders should first interrogate themselves with a different question: ‘What does the world need from me?’ It is only once this question is answered that giving can be done effectively.

Accountability and transparency
You know the saying, with great power comes great responsibility … and our group argued accountability is just as important, particularly when it comes to Foundations. Boards need to change their practices and shift the power dynamics with grantees and staff to become more inclusive and diverse. Increasing transparency about how decisions are made can help deepen public understanding and call for greater collaboration and inclusivity.

Featuring: The ‘behind the scenes’ of a Funder’s internal meeting, as Programme Officers discuss why specific grantees are being selected for funding.

One thing I learned about being an editor is that it can be extremely hard to pick a limited number of themes for a special feature, especially when there are so many incredible, fresh, and modern approaches to philanthropy out there.

The good news is…this conversation doesn’t have to end here: I.G. is hosting another book-club event in October to discuss Modern Grantmaking, A Guide for Funders Who Believe Better Is Possible with authors Gemma Bull and Tom Steinbeck – we hope to see you there!

Jasmine Awad, I.G Advisors

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