Shift the Power. Free the Money. Lessons in Community-led Grantmaking

Shift the Power. Free the Money. Lessons in Community-led Grantmaking

Foundations of all sizes put out racial equity or solidarity Black Lives Matter statements in May 2020 after the lynching of George Floyd.  Many shared a commitment to shifting power to center the voice and experiences of Black people.  

So, how can a foundation begin to shift power in their work?

In recent years, there has been a slow wave of foundations using participatory grantmaking as a demonstration of their commitment to racial equity and shifting power.  CommunityBuild Ventures has facilitated “community-led grantmaking” for a few years for organizations that are providing place-based support in a defined community.  

Community-led grantmaking is an essential strategy of shifting power.  

I have been consistently asked, “How is this different from participatory grantmaking?  How does it work?  How do communities actually make decisions?  How can we get started?”  

Shift the Power.Free the Money. is a reflection on how to effectively shift power and center the voice and experience of Black people especially when a foundation is committed to place-based community support.   In this series, we will share our working definitions, how to get started and provide a spotlight on community-led grantmaking initiatives.

PART 1 – The Basics

What Is Community-led Grantmaking?

We define community-led grantmaking as an intentional, facilitated, power transformational process of centering the lived experiences and voices of Black people in a defined geographical area.  It shifts philanthropy from centering whiteness and power hoarding to power sharing, building and wielding and leadership from communities most affected by inequity.  

We define power sharing, building and wielding as:

Power Building or Building Power

Supporting systemic change by funding and/or supporting civic engagement, advocacy and community organizing among communities facing injustice.

Power Sharing or Sharing Power

Nurturing transparent, trusting, transformative relationships and co-creating strategies with stakeholders facing injustice.

Power Wielding or Wielding Power

Exercising public leadership to create equitable, catalytic change

What Are the Essential Characteristics of Community-led Grantmaking?

Community-led grantmaking must center Black voices and experiences.  It is an intentional mindset of an organization and not a new shiny tactic.  It must be embedded in the full work of a foundation.  Here are the essential characteristics.

Commitment to Community Engagement

We define community engagement as a  process of building, sharing and wielding power with Black, Indigenious, and People of Color to dismantle institutional and structural racism.  A foundation must be clear, unapologetic and committed to community engagement.

Dedicated Multi-year Funding

Centering the voice and experiences of Black people in a defined geographical area is not a one and done commitment.  Foundations must be ready to commit with the most basic way it shows dedication through multi-year funding.  Where the money resides is where the commitment lies.

Healing and Self-care Centered

Black people continue to suffer from historical and current attempted genocide, enslavement and redlining practices that have equated their presence and worth on a monetary value.  Black people need support to heal trauma related to money and the impact on their communities.  They also need to investigate their relationship with money and their bodies and how their power and privilege impacts their presence in the community.

Dedicated Black External Facilitator

You must have a dedicated, highly skilled external facilitator with deep experience and knowledge in project management, healing and self-care, and grant administration. Shifting power in foundations is a new embodied experience for the community.  Typically, the community is asking (even pleading) for support. Community-led grantmaking is a new paradigm for Black communities.  They need facilitation, coaching and resource support to define a new way of identifying and channeling  resources into their communities in which the decisions and direction reside within them.  Black communities also need support on implementing grant decisions and administration.

Grantmaking Strategy, Process and Decisions Are Community Driven

Everything resides with Black people in a defined geographical area.  This means that the funding priorities and criteria, grant application, grant review and scoring, etc. is the responsibility of the Black community.  The community is responsible for naming the opportunity which honors history and legacy.  Think about how you currently make a grant.  The Black community is now the sole leader on this work with a Black external facilitator.

Council of Black Community Members

At a minimum, you must have a council of Black community members that lead the community-led grantmaking initiative.  They must be residents (renters and homeowners) of the defined geographical area.  

Are you curious about community-led grantmaking?  Do you want to know how to get started?

Stay tuned for Part 2: How to Get Started.  I will share the key ingredients to getting started.

CommunityBuild Ventures’ community-led grantmaking work is made possible by the genius of our cooperative members, Neith Sankofa, Sheronde Glover, Trequita Overton, Kysha Cameron, and Natasha A. Harrison.  The lessons from community-led grantmaking are made possible by their expertise, commitment, intuition, passion, and love for Black people.  

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