"What is the most equitable and effective way to distribute AJL's grantmaking dollars to best support Colorado youth and families?"

AJL spent most of 2019 trying to find the answer to this question. As part of the learning journey, we sat down with families and youth, community organizers, and professionals from the education and human services fields in Colorado. We heard about their experiences – both personal and professional. We heard about their challenges, their successes and their ideas for impact. And we heard them loud and clear when they told us that at the heart of both “equitable” and “effective” is community-led decision-making to support community-led organizations deeply embedded within the communities we serve. 

The research supports our findings:

  • A Primer for Participatory Grantmaking (Nonprofit Quarterly): Participatory grantmaking (PGM) may be a new trend in philanthropy, but participatory and community-driven giving practices have been around since the beginning of time. From Indigenous understanding of how gift money behaves in a community to the mutual aid networks of Black communities in the US, there is a lot for philanthropy to learn from those who have been systematically excluded from it.  I offer this information to those on the journey of embedding community governance into their decision-making. The work is an ongoing practice of naming power dynamics, embedding equity, ensuring transparency, and for those with privilege and power, letting go.
  • Deciding Together: Shifting Power and Resources Through Participatory Grantmaking (IssueLab): This guide illustrates why and how funders around the world are engaging in this practice that is shifting traditional power dynamics in philanthropy. Created with input from a number of participatory grantmakers, the guide shares challenges, lessons learned, and best practices for engaging in inclusive grantmaking.
  • Why Every Funder Should Consider Participatory Grantmaking (Grantcraft): One common thread among leaders was a passionate vision that this type of grantmaking isn’t solely about more effective grantmaking, although often an important byproduct, but rather demonstrates a paradigm shift in how we work with our grantees as agents of change in their communities rather than simply as beneficiaries of aid. It goes beyond grantmaking into the importance of advancing public and democratic participation in decision making. In essence, the process itself is part of the impact.
  • Participatory Grantmaking: Has its Time Come? (Ford Foundation): During the past decade, all sectors of society have faced heightened demand for greater accountability and transparency. People have become more distrustful of established institutions, they are demanding more information about issues and decisions affecting them and their families and communities, and they want more voice in decision-making processes.  Technological innovation also has created new possibilities — and new pressures — for organizations and institutions to become more democratic by involving the public in their work. Philanthropy is not immune from these trends. While for decades, philanthropy was seen as endowed foundations set up by the rich, recent years have seen a surge in crowdfunding, giving circles, donor-advised funds, and a panoply of digital giving platforms that allow anyone to be a philanthropist. Alongside these, traditions of giving from within communities that existed long before philanthropy became professionalized have become more prominent.

It is with this understanding that we are putting in place a participatory grantmaking process that is driven by a group of diverse stakeholders affected by AJL’s grantmaking. AJL’s Grantmaking Committee will be made up of families and youth, community organizers, professionals working within education and human services, and AJL Board and staff. They will come together throughout the year to identify 20 high-impact nonprofit organizations that meet the following criteria: 1) support Colorado youth and/or families, 2) working within education and human services, 3) that are community-led or heavily community-driven, 4) serve Metro Denver or the San Luis Valley, and 5) have an operating budget under $5M. The selected twenty organizations will receive a general operating support grant of $20,000. 

As a small private foundation, we believe that we cannot overlook the process when it comes to our impact. And if we truly respect, trust, honor and value our colleagues, partners and the communities we serve - as we claim within our values - and recognize them as the experts on their own experiences, we must include them in our grantmaking decisions.  

Shared power is truly shared impact, and we are eager to continue the learning journey in 2020 through participatory grantmaking. If you have any questions or would like additional information, visit our Grantmaking webpage or reach out to Dianne Myles, Community Investments Manager at dmyles@ajlfoundation.org or Kristi Petrie, Executive Director at kpetrie@ajlfoundation.org.

Additional resources: 

  • Moving Beyond Feedback: The Promise of Participatory Grantmaking (Nonprofit Quarterly): Two things are critical. First, a cross section of the community participates—not just those who are more inclined to do so. And second, community participants are seen as equal partners with—rather than constituents of or advisors to—traditional power brokers. That means ensuring everyone has the chance to be involved—not just experts but also “real people,” whose lived experience is equally valuable when it comes to decisions affecting their lives.
  • Philanthropy News Digest: Funders Beginning to Embrace Participatory Grantmaking, Report Finds (Philanthropy News Digest): A growing number of funders are responding to demands that they be more accountable, transparent, and collaborative through participatory grantmaking, a report from GrantCraft, a service of Foundation Center, finds.
  • The Role of Participatory Grantmaking in Philanthropy. (Giving Compass): A growing number of foundations around the world are experimenting with new approaches to philanthropy—approaches focused on engaging people from outside their institutions in everything from setting priorities and developing strategies to sitting on foundations’ boards or advisory committees. Has the time come for a broad swath of foundations, including national foundations like Ford, to take on participatory approaches, including grantmaking? We think this approach is something more foundations, including our own, can and should consider. The paper reviews and synthesizes several frameworks about participation, and offers a simple “starter” framework for foundations to locate themselves at points along a continuum.
  • Five Reasons to Support Participatory Grantmaking (Alliance Magazine): 1) Participation addresses power imbalances. 2) Participation is effective. 3) Participation offers legitimacy. 4) Participation is innovative. 5) Participation supports diversity.