Interest in participatory grantmaking leads to… where?


Is your interest peaked in Participatory Grantmaking after attending Philea’s Forum? Here is a Dos and Don’ts roadmap for taking your next steps.

There was significant interest in Participatory Grantmaking at Philea’s Forum. But where will this interest lead? To harm? Or greater equity and justice in philanthropy? 

Over the years, a number of prominent voices in the participatory grantmaking (PGM) space have presented at the European Foundations Center conferences. These discussions often felt like radical outliers, spoken about on the fringes of the event. PMG was simply an interesting concept to learn and think about but not enact. However, their voices clearly had some staying power because at the newly established Philea’s Forum, participatory grantmaking was a constant thread throughout – from plenaries to multiple sessions.  

The sessions specifically on child and youth partnership and participatory philanthropy were at max capacity with 100+ foundations looking to learn from We Trust You(th) and other young people and those already implementing PGM, like the PGM community,The Other Foundation , and Fund Action.  In addition, Philea’s Children and Youth and Disability Thematic Networks had a degree of success in securing some non-foundation inclusion, with 20+ attendee/speaker slots for those with lived experience. This interest might be promising. However, it is certainly the start of the road, not the destination. 

As the excitement and interest in the topic is ramping up, how do we turn talk to action? What if this increased interest is a road to nowhere? Or worse yet, to unintended harm? What must foundations do and not do in hopes of taking the road towards greater equity and justice? 

Now what? Here is a basic DOs and DONTs roadmap

  • Do NOTjust get started’. There is much good will for the approach but doing it badly can cause more harm than good.
  • Do get uncomfortable and take intentional steps by:
    • questioning internal ways of being and working
    • fund existing PGM organisations and  practitioners and pay to learn from them
    • build participation and collaboration into the whole grantmaking cycle
    • set a steady valued-driven pace, and 
    • share what you learn along the way (the good, the bad, the ugly) with others as public good. 


  • Question and challenge ways of being and working. At your next grant selection meeting – challenge your team’s mindsets, ask: how would our “grantees” or “benefereiceres” feel if they heard our discussion? If they were here, would you change what you say? Why? ” Encourage others to think through these dynamics and  map where you make decisions and determine why you make decisions this way. Mindset shifts will likely be unway and an openness to full team learning will be more possible. 
  • Pay to learn and unlearn. Ideally, get a cross-section of your foundation to agree to learn together (for greater systematic change). Pay current PGM practitioners for sharing their hard learned lessons and fund their current work – do both. You are not the first person who has asked to “pick their brains”, this year, let alone this week. They don’t have the time, energy or resources to continuously repeat themselves. To start, much of this information is out there and the Participatory Grantmaking Community. 
  • Set a steady valued-driven pace. As you shift from learning (which will remain ongoing!) into practice remember, PGM is a way of being or not a way of doing. This isn’t a quick fix, it’s values led. It involves acting with humility and doing the work. Depending on your foundation’s history and current ways of working, it’s likely going to take time and that is ok. Be deliberate with the way you work and build in change for the long term. 
  • DO build participation into the whole grantmaking cycle. Go back to your decision map, you’ll see that power does not begin or end at yes or no to a funding proposal. It starts when you develop your programmes, your eligibility criteria, the people you choose to approach, call and spend time supporting through your processes. It carries right through to how you manage your grants – who you trust and how, what reporting you require. Use the expertise you’re supporting and existing tools to shift these practices. 
  • Share what you learn along the way (the good, the bad, the ugly) with others as public good. The Participatory Grantmaking Community is the perfect place to do so. It’s a wonderful space for friendship, learning, growth and challenge. The Community is currently voluntarily run and free to engage with – however we encourage donations to pay for paying our speakers, facilitators and accountability partners for their time and wisdom.

Philanthropy needs a heavy dose of ‘growth through discomfort’, to successfully shift from interest to systemic practice of PGM. Currently, the only ones who are uncomfortable, in decision making processes and at philanthropy gatherings, are typically those with lived experience. Many people are forced to twist and ‘grow’ toward the traditional. If philanthropy wants to grow in a different direction, down a road that leads to greater equity and justice – those we need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. We hope these dos and don’ts help set a positive trajectory. Progress is possible but not certain.

By members of the PGM Community who attended Philea

Tagged in: Funding practice Philea 2022

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