How to turn your grantmaking approach inside out


Tris Lumley


What if philanthropy could be more open? Open to the latest ideas, open to listening to others, and open to sharing what we’ve learnt? How much more could we achieve?

Open Philanthropy is about funding in an inclusive and transparent way. Openness applies to how you design your fund, how you make your decisions, and how you evaluate your impact.

Open Philanthropy is inclusive, as it brings in people with direct personal and professional experience of the issue to be addressed. They set the strategy, design the fund, and allocate grants. It’s an approach which centres accessibility, is designed with diversity in mind, and aims to foster trusting relationships between grantees and funders.

The key differences between Open Philanthropy and other approaches such as participatory grantmaking and trust-based philanthropy is that it combines transparency with inclusivity; takes into account traditional data and expertise; and values a range of experiences equally. In doing so, it brings together lived experience, professional knowledge, funders, and researchers to take all the key decisions collectively. Open Philanthropy draws upon co-design, participatory and trust-based methods and aims to take them a little further.

In 2022, we set out to test our theory that working in this way can bring multiple benefits. Over 18 months, we researched the field, designed a process, and quickly gave out over £570,000 of grants to charities helping people in financial hardship across the UK.

Here’s what we learnt about how to run our Open Philanthropy process. Not everyone will choose to take exactly the approach we did, but if you do, here’s what we think matters.

1. Recruit your grantmaking panels

You’ll want to pick a range of people who reflect a diversity of perspectives not available within your own foundation. Look beyond your usual networks and seek to combine lived and professional experience. The people you recruit will create the strategy, design the funds, allocate the grants, and help evaluate your fund. You’ll want some of your panellists to have grantmaking experience, but not everyone. You may want to recruit some advisers as well, who can add extra insights but without having decision making authority.

Your first meeting is a chance to build trust and make the initial decisions that will inform the rest of your process, such as ratifying your terms of reference, code of conduct and role descriptions.

2. Set the Strategy

The second panel meeting is where you set key decisions on the strategy and structure of the fund, including the focus area and funding criteria. Already this is very different to traditional grantmaking, in that you’ve opened up the creation of the strategy itself, rather than merely seeking input into a strategy you’ve already designed.

It can be worth having more in-depth discussions about grantmaking principles, such as conflict of interest and bias, ahead of this session, so you can focus on practical detail in the meeting itself.

After this session you should be ready to launch. Allow enough time for accessibility screening and user testing of the process and consider having multiple ways of applying with alternative formats for applicants to use. This is another good reason to have a range of backgrounds on your panel.

3. Allocate funding

The third and fourth sessions are for allocating funding using the criteria you agreed in the second panel. Use the third session for scoring and the fourth for final decisions. It may be useful to have a set of shortlisting ‘mini’ panels during this stage, so that panellists can discuss the applications in smaller groups and assess small batches as appropriate.

Remember, panel members may be familiar with communities and organisations applying, so conflicts of interest should be understood and declared. Be prepared for a panel member to raise a concern about an organisation, due to knowledge of a community, and have a fair process to deal with this. Panel members may also be triggered emotionally by the content of the applications, and by the number. Be prepared to offer support both ahead of time and on the day.

4. Publish results

Openness is not just about how decisions are made, but also what decisions are made. When all the funds have been allocated it’s time to publish the results. Too often a foundation may be doing amazing work, but not talking about it! This makes it difficult to build upon that work or even to see what has been funded and where there may be gaps or opportunities to give more.

Use platforms such as 360 Giving to build a picture of the funds distributed and share with the wider sector. This is an opportunity to share the process and tell the story of the key principles behind the decisions taken throughout. By working in the open, Open Philanthropy aims to foster collaboration wherever possible.

How will you be more open in your grantmaking?

We hope these tips have piqued your curiosity about a way of grantmaking that is open and inclusive rather than closed and exclusive. You can find out more in a new guide we’ve published at There are myriad ways to embody this vision, so we look forward to working alongside an emerging community of practice to bring these into the light. If you’d like to find out more, and explore developing your own work in this field, please do get in touch at

Tris Lumley is the Director of Innovation and Development at NPC.

Tagged in: Funding practice

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