For 45 years, we have known that those most impacted by injustice—those closest to the pain of oppression—are the best equipped to come up with solutions to the problems that affect them.
Since our founding in 1976, Seeding Justice has had an activist-led grantmaking committee; it is not only foundational to who we are and how we operate, but also crucial in our quest to move wealth and shift power to our communities.
Today, people call what we do Participatory Grantmaking (or PGM); it’s been defined as “(The practice of) ceding decision-making power about funding— including the strategy and criteria behind those decisions—to the very communities that funders aim to serve.”
PGM is not a new concept, especially among grassroots funders, despite what larger funders would have you believe as they shamelessly co-opt it.
While they rave about its benefits, few actually adopt PGM because putting it into practice requires more than assembling a committee and asking its members to review applications.
True participatory grantmaking means investing time, energy, and money into relationship building. It means a long-term commitment to develop deep, authentic relationships with communities, applicants, partners, and grantees. It means taking the time to actually meet with grantees instead of spending it crafting opaque, burdensome, and data-heavy grant applications; trusting groups to know best how to use their grants without demanding that they spend valuable hours putting together (useless) documentation; and welcoming (encouraging!) honest feedback and being willing to act on that feedback to make things easier, not harder for them. Finally, it means we need to be open to failing, as that is the only way we learn and grow.
“Traditional” funders have failed in getting the job done: we are no closer to solving the profound social, racial, economic, and environmental injustices that plague our communities than we were 100 years ago. Philanthropic wealth continues to rise, but most of the money sits in tax havens while our communities suffer. The process of participatory grantmaking takes longer, requires more effort, and its impact may be harder to quantify, but I think it’s time to do things differently, try something new.
This is not to say that PGM has it all figured out or that those who practice it know how to do things perfectly, but the practice has been and continues to be effective because it requires doing it with those we fund and to whom we hope to always be accountable. Despite its flaws, participatory grantmaking is rooted in all the things status-quo philanthropy has rejected: trust, collaboration, democracy, and liberation.
We undoubtedly have our work cut out for us in resourcing our movements and sustaining our grantees in their work. I hope you’ll join us in congratulating and supporting Seeding Justice’s newest grantees, the living proof of what can be achieved when our communities (not program officers or trustees) lead the way.
Grantees by the numbers
95 – total number of applicants
20 – number of organizations funded
$290,100 – total amount distributed this Cycle
$59,100 – amount of granted money that came from DMFs
75 – percentage of BIPOC-led organizations funded
55 – percentage of LGBTQ-led organizations funded
65 – percentage of organizations funded that work outside of Portland Metro
45 – percentage of organizations that are receiving a grant from Seeding Justice for the first time