Editor's Note: A Year of Movement

2023 saw philanthropy define terms, push past comfort zones, and move money in new ways

March 2024
Supported By :
Magic Cabinet

Welcome to the second issue of Grassroots Grantmaking, our project at Proximate to cover the movement to reform philanthropy by shifting power to the grassroots.

In this issue we hope to accomplish two things. First, we'll highlight some of the biggest trends this past year around power-shifting in philanthropy, from participatory grantmaking, to DAF reform, to creative giving vehicles and the politics of giving. 

Second, we hope to mark our areas of interest as a magazine and an editorial team. Each trend below is paired with a story we’ve written or commissioned. In 2024 we’ll continue to explore these beats; there’s so much more to dig into, and we're just getting started.

The theme of this issue is Movement.

2023 has been a year of movement for grassroots grantmaking, with big dollars moving toward participatory practices – culminating this month in Disability Rights Fund's eight million dollar check from MacKenzie Scott. In this issue we'll explore some of the drivers of that movement, from new self-assessment tools to conversations about equitable intermediaries.

One big driver of grassroots grantmaking: the rise of creative giving vehicles that can help move money in a more equitable way. We'll look into donor collaboratives, flow funding and giving circles, and hear how grassroots leaders view these new forms of giving.

All of this work is inextricably tied to the grassroots movements that both push funding reform and benefit from it. We spoke with Rawa Fund about grantmaking in the context of Israel's assault on Gaza, and dove into the political battle around the future of DAF reform in the US. Increasingly, funders are being asked to choose sides in a way that tests their dedication to their movement partners.

Here are five signs of movement for grassroots grantmaking in 2023.

(1) From participatory grantmaking to participatory philanthropy

Participatory grantmaking continues to gain traction in the philanthropic mainstream. Just this past week, SSIR published an issue on Philanthropy and Power, while participatory funders took center stage at #ShiftThePower's 700-person summit in Bogotá.

Of course, not everyone is on board. Some foundations, like Rockefeller and Gates, still defiantly take a top-down approach. But one thing is clear: for the biggest players, the choice to make decisions from the top now demands an explanation.

Our take: Participatory communications? Participatory governance and operations? We learned about Katy Love and Diana Samarasan's new Advancing Participation in Philanthropy self-assessment tool, which pushes foundations to think about decision-making dynamics beyond their grantmaking. They hope the tool will help foundations have important and timely internal conversations about power.

(2) The year of the DAF, and the year of DAF reform

A major milestone was passed last year: donor-advised funds (DAFs) now take in a larger share of new philanthropic giving in the United States than foundations.

Critics argue that the rules governing DAFs enable less civic-minded sponsors to hoard wealth – and, thanks to the tax breaks and investment options, accumulate even more.

Our take: The biggest story around DAFs in 2023 was the failure of the ACE Act, a bill introduced in Congress to set a deadline on DAF payouts. What's next for reform? Proximate’s Kaila Philo spoke with several advocates about possible paths to reform, which wind through Congress, the Treasury Department and state attorneys general.

(3) Cautious optimism about new donor vehicles

New and creative giving vehicles are on the rise. From donor collaboratives to flow funding to institutional giving circles, many funders are experimenting with novel approaches that promise greater accountability, flexibility or transparency.

But are these new models actually more inclusive? The answer is nuanced, and we're interested in exploring the extent to which these vehicles are compatible with grassroots grantmaking principles.

Our take: In this issue we explore three types of donor vehicles. First, Ledys Sanjuan Mejía reflects on the rise of donor collaboratives, calling for cautious optimism about their claims of inclusivity. Next, read our interview with Arianne Shaffer about the Kindle Project's longtime work with flow funding. Finally, Grapevine founder and CEO Emily Rasumssen wrote about philanthropy on the blockchain, and giving circles’ overlap with participatory grantmaking.

(4) Fiscal sponsorship is taking center stage

Last month saw the launch of a major new field scan of fiscal sponsorship in the United States – the first in 17 years. The survey revelead a rapidly growing field: fiscal sponsors now support more than 12,000 charitable projects, and steward over $3 billion in funding.

As fiscal sponsorship takes center stage, so does a long-simmering debate about the need for intermediaries to employ more equitable and liberatory practices.

Our take: We spoke with Thaddeus Squire, an author of the field scan and founder of Social Impact Commons. For Squire, the new data is one step toward a larger vision of a more ambitious vision of fiscal sponsorship that centers around peer governance and deeper ties to grassroots movements.

(5) Grassroots grantmaking is political

The Israeli assault on Gaza is a watershed moment in global philanthropy. The conflict has brought quiet debates in philanthropy into sharp relief. Some donors that previously gave to Palestinian NGOs have cut funding. Others have spoken out, while many have simply gone quiet.

Our take: The Rawa Fund has been a key voice in driving these difficult conversations. A longtime participatory grantmaker in Palestine, they have been monitoring and mapping grantmakers that have slashed funding to Palestinian partners, or putting restrictive pressure on grantee partners. We spoke with Soheir Asaad about Rawa's accountability work, their vision of self-determination, and Palestinians' awareness of the "trauma of fragile solidarity".

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