The Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy

Participatory Grantmaking

Multi-colored toothpicks arranged in a heart shape

One important characteristic of social justice philanthropy is that it involves people affected by a social problem in decisions about how to spend money. Our emerging Participatory Grantmaking project publishes accessible real-life case studies of participatory grantmaking to inform and advance power-shifting in philanthropy more generally.We also explore the growth of philanthropy occurring outside "professional" grantmaking avenues, such as giving circles and community-based youth initiatives.

Check out our December 2023 publication "Ceding Power to Seed Community Recovery: Democratic Funding to Address Mental Health and Substance Abuse Crises.This opportunity brief explores two cases of hyper-local democratic resource allocation that enabled historically marginalized members of defined communities to make decisions about how money gets spent.

For more information about participatory grantmaking, we recommend the following resources, from GrantCraft by Candid. 

Social Justice Funder Spotlights

Three of our Social Justice Funders Spotlights explore different models of participatory grantmaking:

Headwaters Foundation

Hyams Foundation

Disability Rights Fund

Youth Philanthropy

Our Youth Philanthropy project investigates youth philanthropy as a model of participatory grantmaking with the potential to make grantmaking more democratic, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of underserved communities.

"The State of Youth Philanthropy: 2020-2021" looks at the the direct and indirect effects of COVID-19 on youth philanthropy programs across the United States. 

From Beneficiary to Active Agent: How Youth-Led Grantmaking Benefits Young People, Their Communities, and the Philanthropic SectorThis brief focuses on democratic and inclusive youth-led grantmaking in the United States.

Community-Centric Youth Philanthropy: A Case Study of Greater Worcester Community Foundation's Youth for Community Improvement Program: This case study aims to demonstrate how youth philanthropy can be an avenue to democratize philanthropy while it simultaneously benefits young people. 

Giving Circles

In Fall of 2020, we hosted our first ever Social Justice Giving Circles with Heller Students, Faculty, and Staff. Through research and collaboration, each group reached consensus and made a grant to a local nonprofit organization. The Faculty Giving Circle gave a $5,000 grant to Massachusetts Communities Action Network, the Student Giving Circle gave a $5,000 grant to Community Change Inc., and the Staff Giving Circle gave a $5,000 grant to Boston Area Gleaners. We hope to hold additional Giving Circles in the future to continue this participatory grantmaking practice. For additional information on Giving Circles, we suggest the following resources:

Ten Basic Steps to Starting a Giving Circle (United Philanthropy Forum)

The Landscape of Giving Circles/Collective Giving Groups in the US (Angela Eikenberry) 

Growing Philanthropy Through Giving Circles: Lessons Learned from Start Up to Grantmaking (Maryland Philanthropy Network) 

The Sweetness of Circles (Nonprofit Quarterly)