Testing Another Form of Participatory Philanthropy

Author: Megan MacDavey

Participatory philanthropy, according to the new Participatory Philanthropy Toolkit from the Fund for Shared Insight is defined as: 

A philanthropy practice that explicitly includes the participation of community members with lived expertise in a relevant issue area (non-funders) and shifts power from traditional foundation decision makers to participants during any part of the philanthropy process and in the organization more generally…

Over the last four years, the Foundation has brought young people with lived expertise in our focus areas to the table in a variety of ways, experimenting with different elements of participatory philanthropy: 

  • Initially, the Foundation brought together a group of young people with intellectual disabilities from Western New York to review a subset of grant proposals as members of an advisory team.
  • The Foundation evolved this work by expanding our advisory team to include young people with lived expertise across all four of our focus areas and from both New York and Massachusetts.
  • The Foundation hired an intern with shared lived experiences to bridge between the advisory team and the Foundation. 
  • The advisory team members’ role evolved from one of an “advisor” to a decision maker in 2022 when the Foundation’s Board of Trustees approved $200,000 for the team to award through their own Request for Proposals process. 
  • This “Community Experts Team” is now in its second go-round of inviting proposals to fund the issues most important to them and their communities. [For more information, see their 2023 RFP here.]

At every point in this journey we have learned and adapted our model. Over the years, we have focused a lot of our attention on accessibility, centering inclusion in the team experience, and fine-tuning supports and stipends for team members. 

This year, we are focused on testing a new approach to Participatory Philanthropy: bringing on two community members with lived expertise in our fields of focus, to review grants alongside Foundation program officers in the fall Programs & Services grant cycle. 

The Foundation has selected two individuals to contract with the Foundation as Community Grant Consultants: Catherine Baz and Phillip Mason. Catherine Baz has dedicated her life to helping individuals with substance misuse and who are in domestic violence situations. Previously from Massachusetts, Cat now resides in South Carolina. Phillip Mason is a healthcare administrator and disability rights advocate from Essex County, Massachusetts. Both Catherine and Phillip both have a wealth of experience with nonprofit organizations.

Together the Community Grant Consultants and Program Officers will work to determine which applicants will go on to submit full proposals, ultimately recommending $1.1 million worth of funding opportunities to the Tower Foundation’s Board of Trustees in October, 2023. 

We look forward to sharing with you the lessons learned from this experience from the perspective of both the program officers and the Community Grant Consultants. 

Photo by Lance Grandahl on Unsplash.