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06 Jan

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WFN Receives Ford Foundation Grant to Advance Participatory Grant-Making

January 6, 2020

Last month, the Women’s Funding Network (WFN) team attended the biennial UNITY Summit presented by CHANGE Philanthropy.  We are proud to be a long-time partner of CHANGE which also includes Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP)Asian American/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP)Association of Black Philanthropic Executives (ABFE), Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP)Funders for LGBTQ Issues, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE), and Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAIP).  WFN presented two conference sessions focused on philanthropy with a gender lens and helped to curate the CEO track. The summit was attended by over 1,000 changemakers committed to creating a more inclusive, equitable and just society.

Underscoring this theme was the democratization of philanthropy through participatory grant-making, which was discussed in over 10 workshops.

While the summit attracts a very progressive philanthropic community, the more traditional foundations are also moving from a culture of charity to one of social justice.

This shift coincides with the current political mood, where as a nation we are questioning our identity as a democracy.  In her research report, Participatory Grant Making:  Has It’s Time Come?”  Cynthia Gibson reflects, “Americans of all stripes and political persuasions have come to believe they have little say in guiding public decisions and improving the health and well-being of their communities.”  In his Equals Change blog, Chris Cardona of the Ford Foundation unpacks this further, “Across sectors, elite-driven, top-down decision-making is increasingly viewed with suspicion, if not outright hostility.  Foundations that are unwilling to examine their decision-making practices risk being seen as part of the problem, rather than as the problem-solvers they were established to be.”

The democratization of philanthropy is moving into the mainstream, and WFN and its members are at the forefront of this movement.

With a new grant from the Ford Foundation we will research the participatory grant-making of women’s foundations and other gender equity funders that comprise our membership. This comes on the heals of research we conducted in 2017 with a Fund for Shared Insight grant, in which we explored many aspects of openness and transparency. The majority of women’s foundations we consulted, stated they conduct, or refer to, research to understand the lives of women and girls within their communities.  When it comes to funding gender equity, valuing the voices of those most impacted has been standard practice for many of our members.  They forge deep connections with grantees by embarking on collaborative research, providing access to policy makers, and including community members as grant readers, for example.

I’m proud to represent women’s foundations that were founded on principles of inclusion from their inception. With this research, I know we will find valuable insights to support the adoption of participatory grant-making throughout the philanthropic sector.  Stay tuned for findings as we share them throughout 2020.

Cynthia Nimmo, CEO