How Does Participatory Grantmaking Benefit Communities?

July 11, 2024

There’s growing recognition that the traditional top-down approach to grantmaking doesn’t always best serve the needs of communities. On the other hand, participatory grantmaking turns the tables, putting the decision-making power directly into the hands of those most affected by funding decisions.

This approach is based on the concept that those closest to the issues are also the ones best positioned to identify solutions – and could suggest solutions that outsiders may never consider.

In a survey of 148 large foundations, 83% stated they had directly engaged external stakeholders in some form of participation, and 30% reported consulting grantees on organisational priorities.

What’s driving this approach to become more widespread? And how is it implemented? Read on to find out.

Participatory Grantmaking Models

Participatory grantmaking varies in terms of how much power communities have – and there are different grantmaking models that define the extent of this power and the methods by which communities participate.  

The Resident Engagement Spectrum used by CFLeads defines four levels of involvement:

  • Receive/learn: One could argue this is not truly participatory; the community simply receives information from grant makers here.
  • Provide input: At this level, the organisation seeks casual input from residents about community issues and initiatives  – perhaps on an ad hoc basis.
  • Advise/influence: Community members advise the organisation on issues that affect them.
  • Set agenda: Here, the community is a partner, actively involved in decision-making at different parts of the grants lifecycle.

This is similar to the more widely known Gibson’s Framework whereby the corresponding levels are: informing, consulting, involving, and deciding.

In the survey mentioned earlier, ‘consulting’ was the most common approach. ‘Deciding’ was used by 11% of the foundations – that is, in terms of funding decisions; only 10% involved grantees in decisions on organisational priorities, the grants process, and post-grant evaluation. Below are some other models of community involvement.

Representative Participation

With this approach, community members – and/or other individuals with lived experience relating to the issue – are part of committees or boards.

Community Board Models

Here, the decision making board solely consists of members of the community or other individuals with lived experience.

Citizen Juries

Citizen juries consist of a randomly selected group of people, each representing their respective communities – or representing the diversity within a given community. Together, they deliberate on applications and funding decisions.

Direct Transfer

With the direct transfer model, there are no intermediary organisations and no requirements for application, monitoring and reporting. Instead, funds go straight to the community.  

Collective Models

With collective models, the decision-making process for allocating funds is shared among a broad group of stakeholders rather than being controlled a funder/other centralised authority. These stakeholders may include community members as well as previous grant recipients.

Rolling Collective Model

Here, all grant recipients play dual roles as both beneficiaries and decision-makers. Once they receive funding, they become part of the committee that decides on the allocation of funds for the next round. This continuous cycle ensures that those with recent, firsthand experience of the grant’s impact contribute to future funding decisions.

Closed Collective Model

This model is designed for smaller communities or specific sectors where bringing together all relevant organisations can create a comprehensive understanding of local needs. Through consensus decision-making, these organisations collaboratively determine how best to allocate the available funds.

Open Collective Model

This model invites all interested parties, including grant applicants, to participate in funding decisions by voting. As such, it promotes transparency, inclusion, and broad engagement.

Case Studies

The National Lottery Community Fund has been testing participatory funding approaches in Scotland. Since 2016, 17 different trials have been conducted, including those below.

Your Money You Decide

In 2016, community events were held across North Ayrshire, engaging 140 community groups and more than 550 residents. The purpose of the events was to decide how £72,000 worth of funding from North Ayrshire Council, The Big Lottery Fund, and the Ayrshire Community Trust would be allocated. Each community group pitched their idea and funding was distributed to 103 of them.

Pitch Your Project Wishaw

This project assisted small grassroots groups that had not been able to access other funding available at the time. Small grants ranging from £300 to £2,000 were awarded with the aim of improving the local area and were allocated via a voting process. 11 community groups pitched their idea to 200 locals; after casting their votes, the top seven groups received funds.

More Benefits of Participatory Grant Management

Transparency and Trust

Traditional grantmaking is sometimes perceived as being disconnected from the realities of those it aims to serve. However, a participatory approach shows that funders are willing to listen to and act on the input of community members.

It also involves open and transparent decision-making processes and again, community members can be involved in developing the processes themselves, as well as the criteria for evaluating applications.  

On the whole, this trust can lead to more effective long-term partnerships and collaborations, as communities feel respected and valued.


Accountability is another critical aspect of participatory grantmaking. When community members are involved in decision-making, they have a vested interest in ensuring that funds are used effectively and that projects have an impact.

Equality and Inclusion

Participatory grantmaking is a stepping stone on the quest to equality and inclusion, actively involving marginalised and underrepresented groups in the decision-making process.

Involving a broad cross-section of the community can also help uncover and address systemic issues that might otherwise be overlooked.

Empowerment and Ownership

Perhaps one the most profound benefits of participatory grantmaking is empowerment, enabling communities to take charge of their own development.

This empowerment is not just about having a say in how funds are allocated – it’s also about recognising and valuing the knowledge and expertise that community members bring to the table.

This sense of ownership this instils can lead to greater commitment and engagement and, potentially, greater impact. It can also create a stronger sense of solidarity and cohesion.

Ownership also contributes to the sustainability of projects, as community members are more likely to continue supporting and maintaining initiatives that they feel personally connected to.


Participatory grantmaking encourages collaboration – not just between funders and communities, but also within communities themselves. This can lead to the development of more holistic, integrated, and innovative solutions, as different individuals bring their unique perspectives and expertise to the table. This also helps to build stronger networks and relationships within the community, which is helpful for future projects.

Capacity Building

The process of participatory grantmaking itself can have a positive impact by building community capacity. As community members gain experience in decision-making and project management, for example, they develop skills that can benefit them not only in relation to future initiatives but in other areas of their lives as well.

How Does Grant Management Software Support Participatory Grantmaking?

Flexigrant offers a Committee Workspace, further enhancing collaboration. The workspace lets you gather input from numerous committee or panel members when grant decisions are to be made, and makes it easy to share application forms and other documents. 

Flexigrant has a broad range of helpful features which make the entire grant lifecycle much more efficient. From its application form designer to Flexigrant Insights, our analytics tool, it gives grant managers everything they need to carry out their tasks smoothly.


Participatory grant funding brings significant changes to the way philanthropy is practiced, moving from a top-down approach to one that uses the expertise of those closest to the issues.

It has the potential to be more effective than traditional approaches for the many reasons discussed throughout the article – such as ownership, and the fact that transparency may lead to stronger relationships and collaboration among the different parties involved. It also sets communities up for future success by strengthening relationships among members and building capacity.

To find out more about how our grant management software strengthens the management of traditional and participatory grant projects, contact us today to request a demo.

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