A sign that says open

Weeknotes: Understanding Open Philanthropy

This week, as we start to recruit to our pop-up foundation panels, Lily and the wider team reflect on what we understand by “open” philanthropy, how we are applying it, and we invite you to get involved.

Our understanding of “open”

Our grants process aims to demonstrate open ways of doing philanthropy. At the outset of the programme, we defined “open philanthropy” as a version of philanthropy that is transparent and inclusive. Through research and consultation with the sector, we soon found numerous key themes within this definition. The graphic below represents some of these themes. We hope it gives a flavour of the various elements we’ve discovered, and an idea of the most prevalent ones.

A collection of the key elements of open for the team

In current practice, participatory grant making is the most common example of open philanthropy being used, but it is operationalised in a huge variety of ways, ranging from Red Umbrella Fund’s entirely sex-worker led funding process, to Fem Fund’s convening of applicants to make decisions, to the Guys & St Thomas’ Foundation which commissions community-led research and analysis to understand need.

Newer and emerging forms of practice include:

  • regenerative grant making – where funding is used to create new (and overhaul existing) financial systems in order to address systemic wealth inequalities and provide ongoing resourcing to social movements. At Resource Generation, for example, philanthropists pledge to redistribute 7% of their assets per year (to prevent accumulating more wealth from existing wealth) to allow grantees to acquire land and make capital purchases.
  • shared strategy making – where multiple funders and stakeholders design a collective strategy that coordinates action and funds change at a systemic level. The Firelight Foundation is working in this way to achieve community driven systems change. In this initial scan we found the most examples of participatory approaches, and less for more emerging practices such as regenerative grant making, and shared strategy making.

The organisations we’ve researched in relation to Open Practice

A collection of logos for organisations working on financial hardship

Open practice in our funding cycle

Accessibility is a crucial part of our programme, and we aim to make grant-making inclusive and accessible for all, including those groups that may be most impacted by financial hardship. We’re looking at how to make our panel meetings as accessible for everyone as possible by prioritising accessible venues, online tools, and providing support for those involved. We will also be financially reimbursing everyone involved in the programme as a panellist of advisor, with a flat rate that will be offered equally to everyone.

We are taking a participatory approach as we involve people with lived experience in each stage. First, designing the process of the funding cycle, then setting the criteria, and finally deciding on the deployment of the funding. Knowledge sharing and production will take place through bringing research into the programme and inviting existing practitioners to give evidence to the panels.

To include a service delivery perspective, we are inviting practitioners to be part of the panel groups. Transparency is integral to each step of our programme; from sharing our internal processes, and how these are arrived at, publishing our proposed strategy/approach online for open feedback, and making sure all our grant making data is published.

For other themes, we’re still learning how best we can include them in our fund cycle, as well as planning to incorporate learning in the toolkit and community of practice that will be a legacy of the Open Philanthropy programme. We hope that we can incorporate advocacy in the process by sharing what works, and we will offer everyone to opportunity to get involved with telling their story to the wider world. A focus on sustainability means we could and should consider unrestricted grants to enable organisations or individuals to spend the funds strategically. It is of course also possible that funding decisions may take an interventionist, emergency crisis relief approach, given the hardship many will be facing this winter.

How can we take the best from trust-based approaches? Building trust applies to the ways in which we fund, encouraging unrestricted grants that trust and empower grantees to make the best decisions for need. It also applies to our process, where we will invest time in building trust with panellists, holding space for people to meet outside of panel discussions and providing access to a known and trusted advisor. We as the NPC team we will be stepping back from decision making conversations, attempting to tackle power dynamics by using an external facilitator and taking our lead from the panels themselves.

As well as these practical examples of incorporating openness in grant making, there are also key principles we will abide by. These include holding the dignity of grantees as a core value and ensure it informs grant making, responding to data and evidence in designing the foundation and allocating funds, and listening to user voices and having that lead further research.

Come and join us

Interested in getting involved with the Open Philanthropy programme?

We’re still recruiting for our panels: if you’d like to nominate someone to take part, or find out more about becoming a panellist or advisor yourself, please get in touch at Jane.Dodson@ThinkNPC.org.

We’re interested in speaking to those who are already adopting open practice: listening to and learning from organisations who work in this way, allows us to critically reflect on the development of our practice and build learning to share with others. Get in touch to set up a chat

If you’d like to stay in touch with the programme developments more generally, let us know and we will add you to our mailing list.

Stay tuned, over the coming weeks and months we will be opening up the weeknote platform to panel members to share their thoughts on the funding process, and to capture learning from beyond the Open Philanthropy team.