Why Participatory Grantmaking?
We believe it is critical that grant decisions are made collectively, by both those who donate money and by those who receive grants. The Grassroots Fund participatory grantmaking process transforms the traditional funder-applicant structure in which one person, or a small group of people, with money, make all the decisions. We believe in supporting those closest to environmental and social problems in determining their own solutions and seek to create opportunities for people and groups to work together, so that they may share their expertise and experiences. We believe that including a wide range of knowledge and lived experience leads to better funding outcomes, and we serve as an advocate for democratized, equitable grantmaking practices within the philanthropic sector.
As a funder, we also believe it is our responsibility to help leverage and catalyze more grantmaking that lowers barriers to communities most affected by environmental and social degradation and extraction and disproportionally facing funding barriers.
Grow grant and Young Leader grant applications are submitted to the Grassroots Fund’s online system. They are then divided up to Grant Readers with some attention paid to what issue areas readers have indicated they have experience with. We work to ensure that each grant has a wide range of voices weighing in on its review as each grant is reviewed by 8 - 10 readers.
Grant Readers provide comments on the applicants they are assigned and provide scores for six different categories on a scoring rubric. Reader scores are aggregated to create an average score for each applicant. Grassroots Fund staff then conduct phone interviews with each applicant group and request more information based on the Grant Readers questions or concerns. Staff scores the applicants with a scoring rubric with the same six categories as the readers and provides comments on each category. An overall staff recommendation (e.g. “Recommend Fund,” “Recommend Not Fund,” “Discuss”) is also provided. Staff categorizes applications as “Recommend Fund” or “Recommend Not Fund” if overall Reader score and staff score align. Staff categorize applications as “Discuss” if there is a discrepancy between overall Reader and staff score, a large range between Reader scores for the application, or there are specific questions or concerns about how the application fits with our guidelines.
From the pool of Readers, approximately fifteen (15) people are selected to serve on a Grantmaking Committee (GMC). Readers that are interested in this role note so on their grant application. Staff then reviews those interested and selects a committee that is balanced and representative based off of factors including geographic location, age, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity. The GMC selections are also reviewed by the GMC Planning Committee, which is made up of individuals that have participated in the GMC in the past. Those that have been selected to serve on the GMC meet in person for a 1 ½ day retreat, and are asked to approve the “Recommend Fund” and “Recommend Not Fund” applications. Staff facilitates these discussions along with a Planning Committee member but does not vote on the final funding decisions. The GMC makes the final funding recommendations, which staff bring to the Grassroots Fund Board of Directors for final approval of the total dollar amount.
In 2018, we had 160 Grant Readers reviewing 139 grant applications, many past or present grantees themselves. Grant Readers come to this process with a wide range of organizing experiences and lived experiences, and add breadth and depth of knowledge to decisions about resource allocation. We ask readers to self-identify across a number of demographic characteristics so that we can be clear about how we are or are not shifting decision-making toward a more diverse and representative base.
An opportunity to practice addressing bias in decision-making
A core part of our work with Readers and Grantmaking Committee members is to talk about how our biases show up throughout our work. Reviewing applications offers a great opportunity to practice disrupting bias and call each other in as we make decisions about how to allocate resources. In collaboration with CQ Strategies, we are learning together how the anchoring effect, confirmation bias, survivorship bias, and blind-spot bias impact how we view things, and what we can do to pay attention and stay conscious of the impacts.
This ongoing work is at the center of what the Grassroots Fund is about. In addition to piloting this process within our grantmaking practices, we serve as an advocate for democratized, equitable grantmaking practices and believe that this model has the potential to revolutionize traditional power dynamics within philanthropy.