Community Grantmaking Committees: Pravalence, Conceptualization, And Funding Decisions
Over the past 50 years, there has been increasing pressure to return human service funding responsibilities to state and local communities. Simultaneously, both philanthropic and government funders have sought to adopt more participatory, community-focused approaches to human service decision-making. However, little is known about (1) the extent to which locally based human service funders engage community in funding decisions; (2) how these community grantmaking committees (CGCs) are conceptualized and operate; and (3) whether they can deliver on the promise of a “front-row take” on community problems and the organizations best suited to address them. This three-paper mixed-methods dissertation aims to address these gaps in both academic and practitioner literature.
Using both funder website research (n=2,029) and a survey (n=462), Paper 1 investigates the nationwide use of CGCs, finding that such committee use is prevalent nationwide, although committee members are largely white, professional, older, and lacking human service expertise. Paper 2 uses qualitative methods to examine the experiences of community grantmakers (n=20) and grantmaking staff (n=5) among six Washington State human service funders. Findings suggest challenges with achieving the goals of more participatory grantmaking, stemming mainly from committee member motivations to serve as grantmakers and sensitivity to staff involvement. Finally, Paper 3 analyzes the grant applications (n=291) and funding awards of a single municipal-level funder using a CGC. Contrary to hypotheses grounded in the purported merits of more participatory grantmaking systems, community needs and program capacity were inconsistent predictors of grant receipt.
Taken together, these papers provide insight into the use, composition, practices, and funding outcomes of CGCs. Beyond just contributing to the limited scholarly literature on participatory grantmaking within human services, this dissertation also has practical implications for funders currently using or exploring use more community-based granting processes. These include recommendations for making funding approaches more transparent and accessible to community members, considerations for organizational policies that influence CGC member engagement, and adjustments to the funding deliberations process.