Participatory grantmaking (PGM) has become an increasingly popular approach to shift decision-making power of grants from private foundations to the recipients of the funding. It distributes power using a democratic decision-making process. Fenomenal Funds took a unique approach to PGM, creating a unique opportunity for the private foundations and women’s funds to get to know each other, learn from each other, and figure out how to exercise equal power in a decision-making process.
The Advisory Committee of Fenomenal Funds was charged with designing and guiding the Collaboration Lab process, then after reviewing the collaboration plans, making funding recommendations to the Steering Committee. This group of five women’s funds, two private foundation representatives and a member of the Prospera Secretariat, started by asking themselves what principles would guide the process and what experience they wanted women’s funds to have. They designed a process that centered the self-determination of women’s funds, creating space for them to explore and choose (discover); co-create their approach and activities (define); and to finalize their plan (refine). The design process was guided by a collective visioning; working in pairs to design specific aspects; and then coming back together as a full group to consider the ideas and integrate them. The Advisory Committee recommended non-competitive grants. Consistent with our Resilience Grants funding stream, this meant that every collaboration group that was formed and developed a plan aligned with the objectives of collaboration grants, would get funded. Solidarity over competition.
The implementation of the Collaboration Lab was an ongoing engagement among and between women’s funds, the facilitation team, the Advisory Committee, Steering Committee, and the Fenomenal Funds team. The facilitation team held the space and gave their reflections on how the process was going. Women’s funds co-created their vision and plan. They also gave their feedback on each phase. The Fenomenal Funds team supported the process with coordination, documentation, and facilitating decisions. When women’s funds said they wanted more time to connect and explore ideas, the timeline was increased from three weeks to three months. When women’s funds asked if they could join more than one collaboration group, we engaged the Advisory Committee and they increased the limit to two. When two of the groups lost members—thus not meeting the minimum threshold of three women’s funds in a collaboration—the Advisory Committee considered the reasons and consented to the group continuing. And ultimately, when they reviewed the overall budget for the collaboration plans, instead of cutting budgets, the Advisory Committee recommended fully funding all 13 collaboration groups. By centering the needs and priorities of women’s funds, the Steering Committee agreed!
Often when you apply for a grant from a private foundation, you don’t always know what they are looking for when they review your applications. We did something different. We developed the guide for the collaboration plan, as well as a guide for the review process. Once we finalized it with the Advisory Committee, we shared it with women’s funds. The process was not about judging and competing. It was about supporting and connecting. It was about dreaming and defining what really mattered to you. Where they had questions, the Advisory Committee posed them in a way that supported reflection. If they had a suggestion, they offered it for the group to consider. If they had a concern they expressed it as an area for further consideration. In this way, the women’s funds did not have to act on it. They could decide, if, when, and how they might make use of the offerings from the Advisory Committee. Women’s funds had the power to decide!