Webinar Recap: Governance, Participatory Budgeting, and Grantmaking

Last week, Neighborhood Funders Group held a webinar on Governance, Participatory Budgeting, and Grantmaking to plant a seed and spark a conversation amongst funders about democratic and participatory models where community stakeholders are involved in deciding how public and philanthropic resources should be allocated. Here is a recap of the lessons learned, along with the video recording and slides from the webinar. 

By Nile Malloy, Senior Program Manager, Democratizing Development Program

Throughout the country, innovative approaches are emerging to democratize community, government, and philanthropic resources. 

Our discussion with Josh Lerner, Executive Director of the Participatory Budgeting Project, and Tyler Nickerson, Director of Investments and State Strategy at The Solutions Project, provided a thoughtful dialogue on the challenges and opportunities of resource sharing in philanthropy. Building effective community-involved decision-making structures in philanthropy by examining the successes of the participatory budgeting model takes a deeper commitment from philanthropic institutions to consider sharing power with the community. 

Some of the lessons learned in the webinar:

  • Philanthropic support of participatory budgeting (PB) strategies could be applied to philanthropy itself. PB is not consultation; it gives people real power over how money is spent. Communities work to design the process, which can be used in and by foundations.  The shift in power dynamics between communities and government could also be a shift in power dynamics between communities and philanthropy.
  • Opening up philanthropy’s process of moving money allows us to take further risks and think differently about our models of grantmaking.
  • Democratizing philanthropic resources requires taking incremental steps that move at the pace of an organization’s board of directors. Program officers need to be strategic in moving resources through their institutions—in addition to building community power and truly understanding the communities they fund.
  • Understanding institutional power dynamics is critical when working to get approval for allocating resources.
  • Grantmaking that links to power building, community development, and policy change needs to continue to be responsive to community needs and processes.
  • Jason Franklin at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy has inspired many people in the field to think about democracy in philanthropic resources and is essential to thinking about the advancement of these ideas.
  • Take the word "partnership" very seriously. Grantmakers need to understand the balance between funders’ “power” and look for ways to reduce funders’ influence in order to open up the process for more democratic understanding with our grantees.
  • Work together to avoid “othering” grantees.  It sounds obvious, but it can happen quickly if we’re not careful to prioritize grantee voices in the funding process.
  • Think about how to make the work transformational instead of transactional. There are so many people in the field who are smart with solutions. We should try to bring more of their strategies to influence our values and give more meaningful credit to their insights.
  • Managing field/funder tensions within community and philanthropy is a delicate dance, especially when power dynamics within the decision-making process shift.

With the divisive and disturbing tenor of the 2016 presidential election, moving the theory of deeper democracy into practice has become even more critical. As NFG members explore collaborative pooled funds, local participatory budgeting strategies, and other participatory grant-making approaches, the lessons in this webinar will be essential ingredients in the work that we cook together.