If we are doing Participatory Grantmaking by just inviting people to engage in the work that we do, in the way that we do it, without any wrap-around support we are always just setting them up for failure. The most exciting and rewarding part of my role is working with community members to help them make funding decisions.
“If you share power, people will step up. If you don’t also share support, they will fall down.” — Josh Lerner
This work isn’t a one size fits all, there’s no play book or check list to work though. It works around the needs of the decision makers I support. I get to prioritise spending time with them, checking in, coaching, encouraging and problem solving, sharing opportunities with them outside of their panel role, and sign posting them to support as and when they need it.
For those doing Participatory Grantmaking it is vital that funders understand the importance of supporting a decision maker, it’s not a ‘nice to have’ it’s a fundamental aspect of the ethos of Participatory Grantmaking that enables the process to run efficiently. For decision makers to thrive and effective decisions to be made, the process has to be well resourced through staff time and budgets.
This is also where the magic can happen. I get to work every day in an iterative way that can help facilitate friendships to bloom, people’s confidence to grow and amazing work be funded. We’ve seen panellists become grantees as they’ve learnt about how funding works, and the needs and the possibilities of communities, equipping them with the tools and knowledge to start their own projects. I’ve watched as a 17 year old panellist has grown and developed into her role as a chair managing decision making for a £3.5million fund and then go on to join our staff team at Camden Giving.
I’ve supported decision makers to stop asking us what the priorities should be from a funder’s perspective and instead start to dictate those themselves through constant reassurance that they’ve got this. It is beautiful to see, but at the same time it’s a reminder of the divide between grassroot communities and those in the funding world. There is often an insecurity and fear that residents in Camden experience when they start the process — they feel the need to conform to an ideal that we are trying to dismantle. Some panellists feel they have to perform like a funder, and code-switch to fit into a system that isn’t created for communities or diversity of experience.
Because of this I work to source, develop and deliver training that supports the needs of decision makers. For each decision making cycle this might look or feel different. Before Covid this involved lots of ice breakers in our quirky Camden office, with plenty of snacks and multiple opportunities for us to get to know each other. Once we moved to remote working, this piece of work required even more sessions focusing just on building relationships and trust, as well as time spent making sure decision makers had access to tech, tools and the knowledge to engage with us online. Covid has really highlighted what we already knew — that this stuff is intimidating. Joining a group of strangers to make collective decisions about your area is a lot, we’ve realised that so much of the work is about developing connections and making sure we support people to move past the awkwardness of meeting over Zoom. We encourage people to talk about their pets, kids, neighbourhoods; local landmarks and history; where in the borough would be best to host a massive party (the Roundhouse is a popular choice). We have to be deliberate in how we build community and trust before we even get to the decision making. As we start to build relationships and confidence with our decision makers we also work hard to make sure they understand the context in which they are making the decisions. We explore different funding approaches, what’s available to groups outside of Camden Giving, glossaries of the terms that might come up,and useful data and insights about the topic they will be funding — we try to do all this in an interactive and fun way to help inform the decision making. By working in an iterative and responsive way, we’re able to expand on topics or issues that arise by providing extra training sessions, this also allows us to provide extra one-on-one calls if a panellist missed a session. We know people are super busy and have multiple commitments such as school and work, so we design our approaches around decision makers rather than trying to get them to fit into our schedules.
Our support doesn’t end once panellists have awarded the grants. A lot of the community members we work with are looking for long-term career opportunities, so we work hard to ensure that we continue our relationship with them and share relevant job vacancies and training sessions with them. We’ve also developed ‘Panel Plus’, a two month programme for our alumni of panel members who wanted to know more about philanthropy. We introduced them to other funders, they were able to follow up with grantees and projects they’ve funded, and explore the wider context of inequality that exists in Camden. We hope this programme, and our work in general, helps to diversify our sector and also create pathways into leadership roles.
It’s important the funders know the importance of providing this care and support so that they build this work into their budgets, operational plans and grants if they are funding onward granting. It’s a vital part of the work that can’t be neglected.