A New Map of Participatory Grantmaking in the UK

The Advocacy Team surveyed UK grantmakers about participatory grantmaking and shared the results

June 2024
October 2023
June 17, 2024
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In our running series What We Learned, we’ll share our takeaways from recent reports, white papers and studies – pulling out the most important takeaways and useful tidbits.

Participatory grantmaking has been on the rise in the United Kingdom over the past decade – but how much, and by what metrics?

The UK philanthropy sector has seen a steady drumbeat of calls for shifting decision-making power to people with lived experience, driven by movements like #ShiftThePower and outspoken advocates from inside and outside the sector.

Recently, the Advocacy Team, with the support of the National Community Lottery Fund, released findings from the first major attempt to map participatory grantmaking in the UK.

They received 41 responses, the majority from charities and NGOs, with a handful of private and family funds, corporate funds, and even a few public sector funds and local authorities. Here’s what we learned.

A wide range of participation models

The survey asked about “how” the participatory grantmaking works on a practical level, with options provided by Hannah Paterson’s helpful breakdown of participatory grantmaking models.

The two highest responses from the group were community boards (community members have full authority over decisions) and representative boards, where funders and community members share decision-making power. Next was flow funding – when a funder regrants to another organization to distribute funding on their behalf.

A smaller number used models like rolling collective, where each cohort of grantholders decides about the makeup of the following cohort, and closed collective, an interesting model where the applicants to a program make funding decisions together, by vote or deliberation.

What’s on the table? Quite a lot, apparently

The survey next inquired into “what” was being decided by community members.

The highest response, perhaps unsurprisingly, was funding decisions. But this was followed by some interesting responses. More than 70% of funders invited community members to weigh in on strategy development, indicating a broad level of trust with the decisions made. 

Another notable response above the fifty percent mark was monitoring, evaluation and learning – democratizing the process of evaluating whether a grant was successful.

A smaller number of funders incorporated community voice in their communications work; their human resources decisions (including the recruitment and hiring process) and procurement.

Small buckets of money

The actual size of grants being deliberated over remains on the small side. (Note: these numbers will not add up to 100%, as respondents could select multiple options).

More than 80% of respondents reported that their participatory processes led to funding in the range of £1,000 - £50,000, and another 40% reported “micro-grants” of less than £1,000. That said, nearly 50% of participatory funders dealt with grants in the £50,000 - £300,000 range, and a small number of respondents reported grant sizes exceeding one million pounds.

Another survey question inquired into the total percentage of a funder’s dollars that go out through a participatory process. Roughly half of respondents responded “between 10% and 50%”, while another quarter give out more than half of their total dollars with community input.

Toddlers for now, entering Year 1

The most-common response to the question “How long have you been practicing PGM” was tied – roughly a third of respondents answered “1 year” and “2-5 years”. Ten percent have been practicing participation for half a decade or longer.

This underlines the natural conclusion from Advocacy Team’s report: participatory grantmaking is somewhere between its infancy and early childhood in the UK, with endless room for growth.

As Gemma Bull, co-author of Modern Grantmaking, puts it: “Encouraging baby steps – but will PGM mature to become more mainstream over the coming years?”

We’ll have to see, but reports like this one will certainly help.

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