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Charities Aid Foundation's Giving Thought podcast explored the big issues, themes and news stories relating to philanthropy and the work of civil society. 

This podcast is no longer produced.


Jul 13, 2021

In this episode Rhod sat down with Gemma Bull and Tom Steinberg, authors of new book "Modern Grantmaking: A Guide for Funders Who Believe Better is Possible". In a wide-ranging conversation, we discussed:


Humility & Funder Ego

  • Why is humility such a key part of Modern Grantmaking?
  • Is part of the problem that traditionally our idea of what it means to be “good at grantmaking” has revolved around attributing genius to funders and grantmakers in terms of their choices/program design, rather than on the extent to which they nurture grantees?
  • Do we need to redefine what counts as success and failure in grantmaking?

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

  • Does grantmaking have a diversity problem?
  • Are funders more effective when they reflect more closely the people and communities they serve? In what ways can they achieve this?
  • Do some grantmaking practices exclude people from already-marginalised communities? (E.g. focus on the written-word, invitation-based grantmaking etc.)

Privilege & Power

  • Is traditional grantmaking paternalistic, and too often about decisions being made about communities rather than by them?
  • The book emphasises that modern grantmakers should see themselves as serving the people and communities they fund– what does this mean in practice?
  • Why is it so important for grantmakers to check their privilege, and what does this mean in practice?
  • How do you navigate power dynamics within a grantmaking org- e.g. between trustees and grantmakers, or between philanthropic donors and the staff of a foundation?

Participation & Movements

  • There is a growing amount of focus on participatory approaches to grantmaking at the moment as part of the solution to the criticisms being levelled at philanthropy. How much of the rhetoric is reflected in reality?
  • Would all grantmaking be participatory in an ideal world? Or are there limits to participatory approaches? i.e. are there some situations in which it is better for expert funders to set aims and design programs? Or are there cause areas in which participatory approaches are not suitable for other reasons?
  • Would it help if more funders supported grassroots organisations and movements?

Funding practices

  • Are there signs that funders are changing their behaviour during the current crisis? (Moving to unrestricted funding, trust-based grantmaking etc.) Is this likely to lead to longer-term changes?

Risk and Innovation

  • Many have argued that a key function of philanthropic funding is to drive society forward by taking risks and funding things that the state and market cannot – but how much current philanthropic grantmaking do you think meets this criterion?
  • Is there a danger that “being innovative” becomes an end in itself, and results in continual chasing after shiny new things, rather than funding things that are already known to work?

Evidence and Impact

  • The book argues that modern grantmaking requires more of a focus on evidence-based decisions- what kinds of evidence should grantmakers be considering?
  • Do we need to ensure that different kinds of evidence and expertise are considered equally, in order to avoid perpetuating inequalities?
  • What role can data play in making grantmaking more effective and equitable?



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