Participatory philanthropy – what are we waiting for?


Halie Dalton


In a 2015 report, Philanthropy New Zealand board member Lani Evans provides an overview of participatory philanthropy. In addition to explaining participatory philanthropy, she also outlines various models of practice, noting pros and cons to each.

Participatory philanthropy serves as a method of change to the current philanthropic system that often behaves like charity – providing aid to the symptoms of various issues as opposed to treating the causes. By enlisting a participatory practice approach, funders can ‘bring their own values to life’ by acknowledging and attempting to remove privilege from the system.

Evans argues that participatory philanthropy strengthens connections across communities as it brings diversity to the table and utilizes and values the opinions and needs of those within the communities being served.

However, there are notable downsides to participatory philanthropy. Some funders are wary of the practicality of participatory projects when strict timelines must be adhered to and remain unconvinced that organisations can partake in authentic community engagement efficiently.

After detailing the various models of practice for participatory philanthropy – representative participation, rolling collective, open/closed collective, direct transfers, crowdfunding – Evans concludes that while it may not be a perfect solution, taking risks and employing innovative solutions is at the heart of philanthropy’s role as ‘radical disruptor’. She urges funders to take 10 per cent of their allocation funds and put them into a participatory practice model asking ‘what are we waiting for’?

The phenomenon of participatory philanthropy seems to be gaining speed and influence. In the US, the Knight Foundation has recently made an investment of $1.15 million in an effort to expand On the Table, a recent initiative from the Chicago Community Trust that connects people and communities with diverse backgrounds. By expanding On the Table to 10 US cities, the Knight Foundation hopes to create a ‘national network of shared lessons’, further strengthening and mobilizing communities through participatory grantmaking efforts.

The rise of participatory philanthropy is expected to continue as GrantCraft publish a guide on the issue in 2018. Be sure to keep an eye out for more developments in this area.

Halie Dalton is a student at James Madison University, Virginia, and is currently an editorial intern with Alliance. 

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