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Writings By Community Members

Do Participatory Grantmakers Have More Fun?

Last week Derek Bardowell asked me “how are your happiness levels?”. Then

Hannah Paterson  tweeted #ParticipatoryGrantmakersHaveMoreFun.

Yes, I am pretty happy. Yes, I do think participatory grantmakers have more fun.


Why is participatory grantmaking more fun?

I haven’t done a survey, I may be the only one having fun, but I don’t think I am. At the risk of sounding like David Brent, I think my colleagues have more fun than traditional grantmakers. My friends within the Participatory Grantmaking Community Of Practice seem to be having fun. So, if I’m right, what’s the magic?


The Joy of Community


I’ve got 3 hens in my little garden, one of them wasn’t looking happy the other day and I mentioned it in a meeting with some community participatory grantmakers. Later that evening one of them text me a load of ideas on how I could cheer up my hen. That hen is looking much happier now, I think she’ll be ok. I wonder how many traditional grantmakers are getting pet advice from the communities they aim to serve?

The person who text me the hen advice, was aiming to help me, they want my happiness to be high and I want their happiness to be high. That’s what community is, it’s two-way happiness-making.

Sure, funders are used to grantees being nice to them because funders hold the power. But relationships with communities, not with grantees, is different, particularly when power sits with individual community members. It means my colleagues and I can be part of more authentic relationships and benefit from the joy that comes with that.




Participatory Grantmaking (PGM) is motivated by many and varied things, but usually there’s a belief that communities (either of place, or of interest), have power, knowledge and skills in such abundance that they can be amplified by fellow community members providing finance for the work that needs to be done.
By contrast, “poverty relief” or “helping the deserving” is isolating work based on trying to work out who is deserving. Being isolated isn’t fun.


The Joy of People


The number of people who I get to work with through participatory grantmaking is joyous. People trying to make the world a better place, and particularly people doing it for the first time, are joyous to be around. For some people, participatory grantmaking is like walking through the wardrobe to a Narnia of social change possibilities. It’s a total shift in how someone sees the world and their place in it, from that flows hundreds of ideas for a better world.

Every time someone new enters Camden Giving’s grantmaking (about 50 times a year), they bring with them a new solution, and every time I think “that’s another stitch in this cloth we’re all building together”. We’re crowdsourcing the best way to weave a community. It’s a lot more fun than running a loom on your own.


But there is pain in PGM


I once heard a grantmaker say “funding is a privilege, not a right”. Statements like that are built to justify that it’s ok to say ‘no’ to people doing good community work, because there’s just not enough money. And there’s never enough money, not where I work anyway. That’s painful, for me, for my colleagues, for the community participatory grantmakers we work with and for communities themselves. It’s a pain that I imagine is easier to shake off if you are a traditional funder, removed from communities.

But, PGM pain is collective pain. Earlier this year we had a funding round that was hugely under-funded, my colleagues and I watched application and after application arrive and a sense of dread crept in, because we knew what we were doing wasn’t enough to meet the scale of the issue. For a fortnight I flipped between sadness, anger and calling up everyone I’ve ever met asking for money. When we met with the community grantmaking panel, one said “this is a drop in the ocean, but we’ll do the best we can with it”. That was a long meeting, prioritising people who they felt wouldn’t be taken seriously by others. But I think we shared that pain altogether.

On that occasion it all ended ok, one of those people I’d called found more funding and agreed to fund anything the community participatory grantmaking panel wanted to fund. That was a very happy day. A very happy day altogether with a community of people.


Does it matter which grantmakers are happy?


Possibly not, there’s enough well-meaning middle-class white people like me looking to find meaning in the funding sector, my happiness should not be the priority. “Being happy” shouldn’t be a reason for embarking upon PGM. But it also shouldn’t be a reason not to do it, being in solidarity with communities doesn’t always need to involve wearing a woollen vest.

I’m of the belief that participatory grantmaking (and all its cousins like participatory budgeting and trust-based philanthropy) have the potential to change how money flows in this country and for the better. If that’s going to happen, then the happiness of the people doing this work matters.






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