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Welcome to the Giving Thought Podcast, a bi-weekly exploration of trends in global philanthropy and civil society from the Charities Aid Foundation’s in-house think-tank, Giving Thought.

In each episode your host Rhodri Davies (formerly with co-host Adam Pickering) explores a big issue, theme or trend and analyses what it means for philanthropy and civil society around the world.

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Jun 1, 2021

In this episode we talk participatory approaches in philanthropy and social investment, with Meg Massey, co-author of “Letting Go: How Philanthropists and Impact Investors Can Do More Good by Giving Up Control” and Hannah Paterson, Senior Portfolio Manager at the National Lottery Community Fund. Including:


  • 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?
  • If there is resistance to adopting participatory approaches, why is this?
  • What’s the core case for adopting participatory approaches: that it democratises philanthropy (and thus helps to answer various critiques) or that it results in better outcomes? Or is it both?
  • What different kinds of models of participatory grantmaking are there?
  • What kind of challenges are there for traditional grantmakers when it comes to bringing communities and people with lived experience into decision making processes?
  • Do participants in a grantmaking decision process need to be representative of a wider community? If so, how do you select them to ensure that representation?
  • How can existing grantmakers transition some or all of their grantmaking to participatory methods?
  • 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?
  • Can participatory approaches be used outside traditional grantmaking too, e.g. in impact investing/social investment?
  • Does the prominence of XR, BLM and other “new power” organisations suggest an unmet demand within civil society for participation and sharing power? What lessons should traditional CSOs and funders take from this?
  • What should we make of criticisms that since philanthropy is to some extent a product of structural inequality, it can never truly be part of the solution? Are some donors and funders recognise the challenges and are genuinely pursuing structural change?


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