February 9, 2017
From the President

The Two-Way Street

By Hilary Pearson

There has been much recent talk in philanthropy, especially south of the border, about the need for more dialogue and inclusion. This is being driven, it seems, by the concerns about the rise of angry populism. And this talk is generally well-motivated and sincere. But it may stay just talk, without hard thinking about how to build truly effective and inclusive dialogue. How do we all walk and talk this concern about building better communication between different communities?

In the philanthropic field, the audience for our question is our grantees, and would-be grantees, both those who hope and those who were denied foundation support.  The questions we need to ask this audience are:  how do we listen, do we listen enough and do we hear all who want to speak?  None of these questions are new. Indeed, just last summer, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and the Stanford Social Innovation Review collaborated on a terrific series of short articles, Putting Grantees at the  Center of Philanthropy in which several foundation leaders discussed how to talk to grantees and to include them more effectively in decisions and discussions about the shared work.

Some of these articles pose excellent questions. One suggested question in starting a better conversation with a grantee is: “what are we (funders) getting wrong?””Getting people to weigh in on what grantmakers don’t know helps break the ice and reminds grantees of their own expertise. It establishes that the purpose of the conversation is to learn from people doing the work on the ground, and it affirms that the grantmaker-grantee relationship is a partnership established to tackle problems and move toward solutions.”

Here are a few more good questions from this series:

  • Is the level of grantee inclusion in our organization sufficient?
  • Is there a gap between our organization’s behaviour and its values?
  • Are there gaps between what we say we care about and how we behave?

One of the most important questions that most contributors to this series agree on is the question that funders often ignore. It’s the open-ended question:  How can we help?  This question is one that moves away from the power differential between funder and grantee to a relationship based on partnership.

Another way to define this form of open-ended communication between a funder and a grantee is participatory grantmaking.  Grantcraft is planning to explore participatory grantmaking in a new guide that it is exploring this year.  In a post on this initiative, Grantcraft explains that it understands  participatory grantmaking as : “a paradigm shift in how we work with our grantees as agents of change in their communities rather than simply as beneficiaries of aid. It goes beyond grantmaking into the importance of advancing public and democratic participation in decision making.”

PFC is going to focus on this set of questions in our 2017 symposium in Montreal. The questions we are asking :

  • How can Canadian philanthropy rise to the challenge of listening more effectively to our community partners?
  • How do we hear the voices of those least privileged in our communities? How do we find and share what works in community?
  • And how do we go about enabling our community partners to share their best ideas?

There are probably many other good questions out there to promote a better dialogue with grantees and communities. Let us know what your questions are.  We can all engage in better conversations!

Related Posts

  • Listen. Learn. Act: Further Reflections on Philanthropic Practice
    In her latest blog piece, PFC president, Hilary Pearson, reflects further upon the “community of practice” that has developed over the years through various PFC Fall events.


  • 2017: The Year We Talk About Listening and Belonging?
    Despite Canada’s favourable global attention in 2017, PFC President, Hilary Pearson, questions if our supposed social harmony is as harmonious as all that and what is organized philanthropy’s role in moderating the pressures and conflicts brought about by urbanization and immigration, in her latest blog post?


  • New Thinking About Philanthropy and Inequality
    There is much talk about inequality, but how much do we know about its drivers? We know philanthropy can’t solve the problem of inequality, but it can do what other can’t.


  • Valerie Lemieux

    As a long time “participatory grant maker” we recognize that those we partner with are truly agents of change in their communities. We see our role as ensuring that they have the supports/space to effect the change needed to build a just society. Sometimes it means a deeper level of engagement. At other times it means getting out of the way.

Add Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.