Modern Grantmaking: A guide for funders who believe better is possible

Reviewed by Michael Alberg-Seberich, Managing director, Wider Sense

This book is two things: first, a practical toolbox for everybody working in the field of grantmaking. Second, the manifestation – not a manifesto – of a growing unease with the practice of philanthropy, and an intense reflection of its dilemmas in the current zeitgeist of identity, power and equity. Gemma Bull and Tom Steinberg bring to this discourse many years of experience in grantmaking in the UK and US. In addition, they draw on interviews that they conducted with grantmakers on both sides of the Atlantic, making this book rich in experience and reflection.

What do Bull and Steinberg mean when they talk about ‘modern grantmaking’? They define it as ‘grantmaking that embodies the values of humility, equity, evidence, service and diligence’ (page 31). This values-based approach to the practice of giving is quite different to the method- and strategy-based books we have seen in the last few years in the field of philanthropy. These five values are a good compass for reviewing Bull and Steinberg’s book.

Humility: the authors have a strong position, but especially concrete suggestions about, for instance, how to deal with the asymmetries of power in grantmaking. The reader finds emerging practices on privilege, strategy or dealing with discrimination, etc, in philanthropy in these 330 pages. These are passed on as peer-to-peer advice, not as the one and only way of doing grantmaking.

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