Giving with Impact:
Transcript of the podcast:
MICHAEL GORDON VOSS: Welcome to the fourth season of Giving With Impact, an original podcast series from Stanford Social Innovation Review, developed with the support of Schwab Charitable. I’m your host, Michael Gordon Voss, publisher of SSIR. In this series, we strive to create a collaborative space for leading voices from across the philanthropic ecosystem to engage in both practical and aspirational conversations around relevant topics at the heart of achieving more effective philanthropy.
If you’re a frequent listener of this podcast or have attended any of our SSIR conferences, you probably know that one of the maxims about social innovation that I believe strongly is the one that states the most affected are the most effective, that those who are closest to the problems are often the ones with the greatest insights into what needs to occur to address them. In many ways, this is the ethos behind the idea of participatory grantmaking. Participatory grantmaking encompasses a range of models and methods. At its core, this approach to funding cedes decision-making power about grants to the very communities impacted by funding decisions. As with so many other sectors, the philanthropic sector has seen a heightened demand for greater accountability and transparency, with people wanting greater voice in the decisions affecting their communities. But as with any other approach, what does this strategy look like in action? And what can we learn about our individual approach as donors from organizations that have adopted a participatory grantmaking strategy?
To help me unpack these questions and share their learnings and insights about participatory grantmaking, we’re joined by two remarkable organizational leaders.
Maria De La Cruz, is the president of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice, a Minneapolis based grantmaking organization, dedicated to amplifying the power of community to advance equity and justice by investing in grassroots organizations across Minnesota. Maria leads HFJ’s fundraising, leadership development, and grantmaking strategies, in addition to serving as co-chair on the impact-driven philanthropy collaborative and on the design team for Freedom Funders. Maria earned her bachelor’s degree at Metropolitan State University and her master’s degree and Juris Doctorate at Hamline University. Her years of experience came from working at organizations like TakeAction Minnesota, and OutFront Minnesota.
Also joining us is Irene Wong, founding director of the local grantmaking program at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, where she oversees investments to community groups in five counties here in the Bay Area, which totaled over $25 million last year. Irene has over two decades of community leadership and philanthropic experience, and has worked for corporate, community, and family foundations, including serving as the inaugural Executive Director and CEO of eBay Foundation, building the first ever corporate services practice at the Silicon Valley community foundation, and managing a diverse portfolio of grants as a program officer for the MetLife Foundation in New York City. Irene holds a BA from the University of California at Berkeley and an MPA from Columbia University. She’s a frequent speaker on philanthropic giving in the Bay Area.
In addition to our other two guests, we’re joined once again by Mary Jovanovich, Senior Manager for Relationship Management at Schwab Charitable. Mary joined Schwab Charitable in 2015, and has more than 10 years’ experience with Charles Schwab & Company. Mary is involved as a board member with Dress for Success Indianapolis, and also serves on both the boards of the Integrating Women Leadership Foundation and Indiana Wesley University’s Alumni Group. Maria Irene, Mary, thank you all for joining me today and helping us learn about this approach to funding.
Let’s get started.
Mary, let me ask you to start us off on today’s conversation.
MARY JOVANOVICH: Sure. Thanks, Michael. I would be happy to. For a lot of our listeners, the idea of participatory grantmaking may be new, but community-driven giving practices have been around for a long time, including the mutual aid networks established by Black communities in the US, centuries ago. The ability to have authentic participation and deep trust conversations, and really knowing the community and being responsive to community’s needs, as you mentioned, are cornerstones of this approach. I’m really looking forward to hearing how our guests today are putting this strategy into action, and I know we will learn a lot in the next 20 minutes.
MICHAEL: I’m sure that we will, Mary. So with that in mind, let’s bring in Maria and Irene.
Maria, before we get started talking in earnest about our topic, would you tell us a bit about Headwaters Foundation for Justice?
MARIA DELACRUZ: Thanks, Michael. Absolutely. Headwaters Foundation for Justice is a social justice community foundation that’s based in Minneapolis and serves the state of Minnesota. Since our founding in 1984, we have been using participatory grantmaking as our core grantmaking strategy.
We’ve worked with hundreds of volunteers to make grantmaking decisions, and we feel like this has really been the core value that we are able to add into our community.
MICHAEL: That’s great background, Maria. Thank you. How would you define participatory grantmaking and how is that approach applied at HFJ?
MARIA: At Headwaters Foundation, we refer to participatory grantmaking as community-led grantmaking, and that’s really intentional on our part. Our board of directors has delegated final decision-making power to our volunteers through all of our community led grantmaking funds. So what that means for us is our volunteers review applications, they conduct site visits, and they, ultimately, do all of the deliberation and final decision-making for all of our grants. Similar to what you said in your opening remarks, we believe that the people most affected really should be at the center of our grantmaking decisions here at Headwaters Foundation. And that’s because what we are supporting through our grants are strategies through community organizing, movement building, and advocacy work that we think is actually going to change, not just the Twin Cities, not just Minnesota, but, actually, have the potential to change our country. So we are really proud of the fact that we have volunteers that are doing this work for us. But it really is about where do we locate that power and decision-making? And that really clearly sits with our volunteers.
MICHAEL: That’s perfect. Thank you, Maria. And I think that that local approach that also has potential national ramification is really important. And so, with that, let me bring Irene into the conversation, too. And, Irene, thank you for being a part of today’s episode. Can you tell us a bit about the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and its work and your work?
IRENE WONG: Before beginning, let me just say thank you for having me here today. I’m honored to join you, Maria, and Mary for this conversation.
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation is a nearly 60-year-old family foundation based in Los Altos, California, just outside San Francisco. Packard Foundation’s vision is one of a just and equitable world where people and nature flourish. We work with people across the globe to create enduring solutions for just societies and a healthy, resilient, natural world.
The foundation has roughly 130 staff and grants over 400 million a year to support myriad issues utilizing a range of grantmaking approaches, including the one we’re going to discuss today.
MICHAEL: Irene, since we’re going to talk about participatory grantmaking, how would you define that strategy, and how does it fit in with Packard’s overall funding approach?
IRENE: I’ve heard people use the term participatory philanthropy, participatory grantmaking, and as Maria said, community led grantmaking and community philanthropy describe similar actions. My definition of participatory grantmaking comes from a practitioner perspective. And for me, participatory philanthropy is about getting those closest to the problem set you want to solve for engaged in the solution you’re seeking.
This participation extends not just to grantmaking, but to other important decisions—how grantees want to be engaged in terms of the process, how grantees want us to help communicate their stories. And so, for us, it’s one of the ways in which we partner with communities.
MICHAEL: Thanks Irene. Maria, you mentioned that HJF, since its founding in 1984, has embedded this work or this approach. So, obviously, participatory grantmaking is nothing new, but I think we all have a sense that it’s gathering momentum. What would you say is driving interest in participatory grantmaking as an approach?
MARIA: That’s a great question, Michael. Since 2020, since the murder of George Floyd, I think that community has really been demanding a lot more of philanthropy, including transparency, access to power and resources, and ways that I think philanthropy hasn’t always done very well. And what I’m seeing, from my colleagues in the field is that they’re really heeding that call in thinking about how can they put into question some of the longstanding power dynamics that have existed in thinking about new ways to engage community in decision-making around local investments, around grantmaking.
I see my colleagues testing out new ideas around a participatory approach, trust-based philanthropy, things like that, through initiatives and projects that are really meant to seed these ideas within their institutions, and really to test new ideas, and to bring into the fold different kinds of relationships within those institutions.
Really it’s about, the community grantees and leaders really holding philanthropy accountable saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got all the money. We need it to make the kind of change we all want to see in the world. But we also want to be a part of the decision-making process about where and how those dollars are granted out.’
MICHAEL: Absolutely. Irene, let me ask you, how have you seen philanthropy evolve in its understanding and use of community participation?
IRENE: Michael, I’ve worked at five different foundations over the course of two decades and witnessed many ‘trends.’ There have been certainly early iterations, I think, of participatory grantmaking from use of, community advisors and grant committees to determine grant decisions. But, something feels really different today, and I think Maria really said it best. Our current context is demanding greater transparency on funding, decision-making, and accountability on impact, and I think that’s what’s fueling interest in participatory grantmaking. And there’s so much more recognition that those closest to solutions are really key in the decision-making and they need to be at the table to help make those decisions, or, actually, just make those decisions.
MICHAEL: I think that’s a great point because, you know we always talk about, the impact of the work that’s being funded, and, in many ways what’s more important than to get the community’s feedback when you’re trying to gauge what that real impact is, too?
IRENE: In the spring of 2020, it became clear that the pandemic and its economic repercussions were severely impacting Monterey County, particularly in the census tracks homes of a large number of Latinx, immigrant, and farm-worker households. Latinos accounted for 81% of hospitalizations and 80% of deaths. Yet at the same time, they comprised only 60% of Monterey’s population.
Concurrently, we were hearing from community-based organizations, working in highly-impacted communities that they did not feel their voices were being heard when it came to the public health response to stemming COVID-19 in their communities. Given our long-standing focus on investments in Monterey County, we knew we had step up our engagement and be a part of the solution set, but we also knew we needed to not just hear from the experts on the ground, but to engage them in the decision-making on how to allocate resources and really turn it over to them.
So we partnered with a trusted local consultant, who worked closely with community-based organizations to support them in crafting their recommendations for funding. We were transparent about our grantmaking parameters, letting folks know we had a budget of about a million dollars for groups to work with, and we let the groups tell us what is it that we need to fund. ‘You know best what’s most needed, so how should the funding be deployed?’
Fast-forward today, we just completed an evaluation of this participatory grantmaking process. And for the evaluation, we also consulted community groups asking them what would be helpful to learn in the evaluation? What questions would it be great to have answered? And when we go out to actually put out the information, we’re going to consult the community groups that made these decisions. So, Michael, in doing this work I should also add that we also compensated the people, because that was a really important part of the process. They were doing the work. And our job was to make it easy for them to do this work and figure out what we needed to provide in terms of support, what barriers we needed to remove.
MICHAEL: I think that point you made about compensating the people is an important one to also remember, because that is one of the foundations of equity, is recognizing people for the work that they’re doing on our behalf. So thank you for sharing that example in total, Irene.
Maria, Irene addressed how large funders are approaching this. How can individual donors think about this approach as they pursue their granting strategies?
MARIA: I think at the core of a participatory process of any kind of decision is relationships and trust. And when I think about the work that individual donors can do, certainly I’ve had instances of working with individual donors who’ve said, ‘You know what? I want to talk with organizational leaders, community leaders, and have them help me make some of those decisions.’ That is really much easier said than done, though. When I think about this, I think about what does it look like to be in relationship with the folks that you want to bring into that work? And I think from that perspective, it takes a lot of time. So inviting people into a decision-making process, whether it’s an individual or a family that’s working on giving their wealth away, I think it’s about really taking the time in advance to build that trust. And, frankly, the work can only, go as quickly as the speed of trust, and so it might take some time to do that.
For some of us in the social justice fund sphere, we have donors that pay really close attention to our grantmaking, and oftentimes at Headwaters, we’ll have people that will write us emails and say, ‘Hey, I really appreciate that you just published your grantee list from your community-led funds, and I took that and actually made decisions based off of what your volunteers recommended.
MARIA: It not only speaks to I’m really grateful that the people have the trust in Headwaters and in our processes, but it’s also about the trust in the community members who’ve made those decisions. And we regularly publish ‘Here are the volunteers that we worked with,’ so that the public will know exactly who is sitting around the table discussing these potential grantees and making those final decisions. And so there’s ways for folks to get really deeply connected to that work.
MICHAEL: And sharing that information also reinforces what you were saying earlier about transparency too, obviously.
MICHAEL: And I love that phrase, you know, moving forward at the speed of trust. That’s going to go into my list of great maxims.
Irene, I know Packard was one of the local foundations supporting Magnify Community. Can you tell our listeners about that initiative that I believe recently sunsetted and what it accomplished?
IRENE: Sure, Michael. Magnify Community was a collaborative donor network created in response to the Giving Code Report we commissioned that highlighted this disconnect in Silicon Valley between local giving and local needs. And I think what Maria said, it was really this disconnect in the relationships that were not mechanisms to bring people from different walks of life together. And the report also found that upwards of 60% in contributions were leaving the area. ‘Community-based organizations were not getting a significant share of Bay Area philanthropy, yet that philanthropy was growing. So what Magnify sought to do was really bridge this gap and encourage greater local investments.
And it did a terrific job helping donors to get proximate and connected with community leaders, and really build that relationship that Maria talked about. Their forums brought community leaders and philanthropists together to talk about the needs and to explore them. And this was during the height of COVID, so we were all on Zoom, as well, too. But there was something magical about bringing people in the room together, finding that connection, and really building this relationship with community leaders that you want to empower. And I think that is really the start of the basis of this participatory grantmaking. It’s really building trust and building strong partnerships, and understanding of issues and who’s working on what and how, together, we help build the solutions for the future that we envision for everybody.
MICHAEL: That’s a great point. And even though the work of Magnify Community was, focused on the Bay Area, as was the original Giving Code Report, which, when it first came out several years ago, was… I hesitate to say surprising, but definitely, reinforced things that many of us working in the sector already suspected was happening here. The report says a lot not just about the Bay Area, but reflects what might be happening in philanthropy in other parts of the country, too.
So, Maria, let me ask you a question. We’ve been talking about all the things that help make a participatory approach successful, but what barriers, if any, do you see to a broader adoption of participatory grantmaking?
MARIA: I think one of the number one things that can be a barrier is time. And it’s everything from the trust building that I talked about earlier, to simply the planning and building of a new initiative like this. What we tend to find is it takes anywhere from nine, 12 months to really think through what the criteria is, who gets invited to the table, how we hold those relationships both during the project, as well as after the project, both with the volunteers and the grantees.
But it’s also the time it takes to simply go through a participatory project. We think about one of our initiatives called the Giving Project, which brings together a multiracial and cross-class group of individuals that not only are making grants, but are also raising the money for those grants. And, on average, we find that those volunteers are giving over 100 hours of their time to the entire process over about a six-month period. And what it takes for the staff to really support that is not just the meetings that they’re facilitating, but it’s all the in between work of coaching, encouraging, connecting people, right?
When I think about that time barrier, it really is about all the stuff that we do when we’re planning new initiatives, but it’s also about the space that we’re holding for community, to make sure that they feel very authentically invested in, and that their voice really has power in the decisions that they’re making.
I think the final piece I will say is for, larger institutions, some of the nimbleness that’s required in a participatory grantmaking process might be a challenge. I’ve talked with lots of larger institutions who are really thinking about what is the best way to go about bringing community members into our work? And I’m sure Irene can attest, in larger institutions there may be some more bureaucracy that program officers and program managers might need to navigate that isn’t necessarily the fun stuff that is the result of really good relationship and community building, but is nonetheless some of the things that folks have to deal with. Of course, here at Headwaters, we are a small social justice foundation, and so this has really been baked into our DNA since day one. And so when we are thinking about the ways that we can be creative and nimble, I think we have a little bit more leeway of what that can look like. So, I think again, it’s that time aspect, and then it’s about how flexible can your institution be to meet the demands or innovations that are possible through this process.
MICHAEL: And I would hope that the last two years have forced many of us to realize how flexible we really can be. So maybe that is a positive indicator helping to lower that one barrier to adopting a participatory approach.
Irene, same question for you, barriers that you see to more organizations adopting a participatory grantmaking approach or strategy?
IRENE: I absolutely agree with what Maria said about having time and having flexibility that’s really key. Participatory grantmaking approaches may not be right for all donors or foundations. It can be complex, expensive to execute, and particularly as Maria said, time intensive for donors and nonprofits alike and logistically challenging. I have in the back of my mind this 100 hours Maria just talked about and that’s an astounding amount of time. I think one needs to be really intentional about the way they approach participatory grantmaking and really think before engaging, if it’s the right thing for that particular strategy and weigh the benefits of doing so, be clear about the goals to ensure that participatory grantmaking is a real value add both for donors and for the recipients as well.
MICHAEL: The one thing that comes through from what I’m hearing from both of you is that you need to be authentic when you are engaging the community in this decision-making because if it isn’t authentic, then it can end up having a net negative affect. net negative effect.
So we’re getting close to the end of our time, but before we wrap up, I want to give you both a chance to share any closing thoughts or observations, especially with those of our listeners who might be interested in investigating or adopting a participatory approach. Maria, let’s start with you.
MARIA: Thanks, Michael. I’ve just really enjoyed this conversation today, and it’s so fun to talk with Irene and to learn from her, as well.
A couple of closing thoughts I would have is, community-led grantmaking really forces an institution to think and question where power lies and how it’s wielded within your institution, or whether it’s you, as an individual or a family, thinking about your philanthropy. My advice always is take the time to really ask the hard questions and to interrogate. ‘Why? Does this add value?’ And, oftentimes, for folks that are funding within a local region, whether it’s a city, county, or a state, it’s really important, as Irene said, to think about how you’re ensuring that your volunteers or your institution are thinking about local investments, and, also, thinking through relationships through this lens of proximity. I really appreciated that point that Irene made.
Ultimately, community members, have a really strong and accurate sniff test. Volunteers and other community leaders will know and will say if a process feels inauthentic, if a process isn’t really challenging some of the long-held power dynamics that exist within philanthropy. And, ultimately, this isn’t only about a donor or a funder wanting to do good work, but what I also find is this is a way for donors and funders to have some credibility, right? It’s a way for them to say, ‘Yes, I’m living out my values. I’m living out the mission of my institution.’
And so, again, just being thoughtful about how are you entering into this work? What long-held assumptions, or policies, or practices that you might be holding onto may need to be questioned or put to the wayside?
And, finally, I think community-led grantmaking leaves the door open for so much innovation and transformation within an institution for an individual, but moreover, for a community. So I’m really excited that more people are really trying to think about how can they integrate this work, whether it’s through a project or across their entire grantmaking strategy.
MICHAEL: That’s great, Maria. And I like the point you made about the values alignment from the donor’s perspective, too. I think that’s a great one to reinforce. Irene, any closing thoughts you’d like to share?
IRENE: I loved Maria’s comments about authenticity, sniff tests, and the values alignment, as well. I think I would offer the suggestion of, if you’re thinking about participatory grantmaking, there’s really no need to go it alone, learn from other people’s experience. Particularly for individual donors, a great way to begin is to work with an intermediary like Maria’s group, the Headwaters Foundation, which has the experience, community relationships, context, and understanding of the complexities involved with participatory grantmaking.
And I think the second thing I would offer is to really think about it as long-term, and it’s not just, ‘Let’s try participatory grantmaking for this one project.’ It’s about building the relationships, building the change you want to see, doing it together, and investing for the long-term.
MICHAEL: Absolutely. That long-term perspective is something we can, sometimes lose sight of as we’re racing to try to create impact in the issue areas and in the communities that we’re working with.
Let me give Mary a chance to rejoin us. I’ll ask you to come back in and help us wrap up today’s discussion with some closing thoughts.
MARY: I’d be happy to, Michael. There’s so much we can learn from the great work that both of our guest organizations are doing to really empower and support local communities. As a national donor-advised fund, we, at Schwab Charitable, don’t engage in participatory grantmaking, but we definitely do facilitate the ability of our donors to support a grantmaking strategy that leverages some of the ideas we heard today.
MICHAEL: Hear, hear. Well thank you for that, Mary.
Well, Maria, Irene, thank you, both, for your time today. I started this episode with one of my favorite quotes, so it’s only fitting that I end with another that I think might be appropriate, and that’s, ‘Nothing about us without us.’ I think that’s another way to think about this work. And I thank you both for helping us all understand how and why a participatory approach is something we should be seriously considering in our thinking as donors.
MARIA: Thank you Michael for having us today, and just deep appreciation for folks listening. These are really big questions to ask. So please do reach out to me or anybody who has taken on this process. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to talk about.
IRENE: Thank you Michael for having us today. And it’s been terrific to be in conversation with you, Maria, Mary, on such an important topic. And I really appreciate the conversation.
Thank you for listening. We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. Please consider leaving us a review on Apple Podcast or your favorite listening app, as it helps others discover the show. We encourage you to listen to other episodes in this series, as well as other podcasts from SSIR. This podcast series is made possible with the support of Schwab Charitable, who played an important role in the selection of topics and speakers. For important disclosures and a transcript of this episode, visit schwabcharitable.org/impactpodcast.
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Giving with Impact: Season 4 - Episode 3
Participatory Grantmaking: A Shared Approach to Effective Change
If you're a frequent listener of this podcast, or have attended any of our SSIR conferences, you probably know that one of the maxims about social innovation that I believe strongly is the one that states "the most affected are the most effective" – that those who are closest to the problems are often the ones with the greatest insights into what needs to occur to address them. In many ways, this is the ethos behind the idea of "participatory grantmaking". Participatory grantmaking encompasses a range of models and methods. At its core, this approach to funding cedes decision-making power about grants to the very communities impacted by funding decisions. As with so many other sectors, the philanthropic sector has seen a heightened demand for greater accountability and transparency, with people wanting greater voice in the decisions affecting their communities. But as with any other approach, what does this strategy look like in action? And what can we learn about our individual approach as donors from organizations that have adopted a participatory approach?
Moderator: Michael Gordon Voss, publisher of Stanford Social Innovation Review
Maria De La Cruz, Headwaters Foundation for Justice
Irene Wong, Director, The David & Lucile Packard Foundation
Mary Jovanovich, Senior Manager for Relationship Management, Schwab Charitable
Download the Schwab Charitable Giving Guide to discover information, resources, and activities to help you maximize your philanthropy.
Learn more about Headwaters Foundation for Justice and The David & Lucile Packard Foundation.
Giving with Impact is an original podcast from Schwab Charitable and Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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