Community-Based Decision-Making

Are you seeking stronger trust-based partnerships with your grantees? Ready for a journey of deep personal transformation? Are you having trouble identifying the most innovative community initiatives? If so, this approach may be for you.

Community-Based Decision-Making can be a personally rewarding and challenging Indie Philanthropy approach. You will keep your hand on the pulse of the communities you support. You will help grow community leaders and you will see the world with new eyes as you build relationships with unlikely allies and people from diverse walks of life.

You should try the Community-Based Decision-Making approach if you are ready to share your power, value inclusion and want the real community experts at the decision-making table.

  • What is Community-Based Decision-Making?

    With this approach, community members join your funding decision-making team. They help you decide what is valuable for their own community and ultimately what to fund. Other names for this grantmaking style are participatory grantmaking, peer-review grantmaking, community funding and activist funding.

    The word ‘community’ may refer to many different kinds of communities. A community could be geographic (such as a local community) or thematic (such as the environmental justice community or the arts community). It could also refer to an identity group such as the LGBTQ community.

  • Why is Community-Based Decision-Making important?

    Community-Based Decision-Making offers many gifts. This approach can:

    • Enable the true experts–the people who live a community’s challenges every day–to direct funds to the most effective and important work.  Often community leaders know what their communities need and can identify high impact projects and individuals long before someone who is not from the community.
    • Build leadership capacity WITHIN communities.  When you invite community leaders to the decision-making table, you strengthen their voice, their contacts and their skills. As they grow, leaders become more valuable to the community, and can better continue the work even after you are gone.
    • Harness the amazing talents of diverse communities.  When you level the playing field, you open more room for creativity and genius to emerge from people across income levels.
    • Help navigate community landmines.  When you begin funding in a community, you change the power dynamics. Having guides to help you understand the community’s history, culture and personalities can help you avoid problems down the line. Curiosity and open-mindedness are essential qualities that support successful collaborations.
    • Build strong and creative relationships between people who rarely sit together at the decision-making table: community power holders and financial power holders. When you take the leap and bring community members in as equal partners, you create opportunities for deep personal relationships, dynamic collaborations and greater impact.
  • What are the limitations of Community-Based Decision-Making?

    Community-Based Decision-Making also may have pitfalls. This approach can:

    • Contribute to corrosive power dynamics within communities by increasing the power of particular community activists.  To avoid negative fall out, choose who you invite carefully and seek out individuals who are well respected by those you serve. Be alert for potential conflicts of interest and local politics.
    • Take more staff time.  Community members may not be familiar with grantmaking processes, they may be busy and difficult to get ahold of, and it can take extra time to coordinate decision-making meetings with groups of people who don’t all work in the same office. Offering an orientation and having clear agreements about time commitments and processes can help streamline the work.
    • Feel confrontational and lead to loss of control.  Making decisions together with leaders who may represent disenfranchised communities could be difficult. Issues of race, class and privilege can come up. Stay open to the process, and let it transform you. Help your group agree to core values to guide your decision-making.  Even if you don’t agree with every grantmaking decision, you can feel good that your collective values are upheld.
  • How do I start?

    Whether you are an individual or part of a foundation, you can use Community-Based Decision-Making. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

    For Foundation Representatives
    Transform your institution. If you are part of a foundation, you can diversify your decision-making structures.

    1. Invite community members to sit on your board. If your foundation already has a diverse board, make sure you have representatives from the most disenfranchised communities you serve.
    2. Invite community members onto foundation grantmaking committees.
    3. If you are legally able to and are ready to take the leap, you might consider a ‘jury of peers’ approach, in which your entire board or grantmaking committee consists of community representatives.

    For Individuals
    Whether you generally give through your checkbook, or via a Donor Advised Fund, you can create your own giving vehicle or contribute to an existing one.

    1. Contribute to (or through) an Existing Organization. Give money or volunteer time to a foundation that is committed to this approach and accepts public donations. Note that only public foundations take public donations.
    2. Do It Yourself. Pool funds with friends and then invite community representatives to distribute the money. If you take this do-it-yourself approach, be sure to consult with a financial or legal professional to ensure you launch your initiative appropriately.

    If you want community input, but don’t want to establish a full Community-Based Decision-Making model, consider engaging Community Advisors in your giving process.

    Community Advisors are trusted allies who provide input, guidance and expertise to you as a funder. These individuals may be grantees, or they may be other community leaders, experts, researchers, or creative thinkers. Community Advisors can also be your eyes and ears on the ground, having their hands on the pulse of what is emerging within a specific community or field.

Community-Based Decision-Making empowers community representatives to help make funding decisions.

Read stories of other funders who have mastered this method

One piece of advice would be not to narrow your social change goals. It’s imperative to think big.
-Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice