A word from FGM – April 2024

Earlier this year, we discussed the recent round of funding from the Collective Fund for Social Equity (CFSE). This edition has allowed FGM to support a number of organizations helping asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants without status or with temporary or precarious status in Greater Montreal. For our team, this edition of the Fund also provided an opportunity to explore different ways of integrating the principles of trust-based philanthropy and participatory grantmaking into our practices. Today, I’d like to share some of the insights we’ve gained from this experience.

The commitment of our team and the valuable collaboration of the members of the participatory advisory committee have made it possible for us to hold honest conversations, experiment, and develop processes that align with the needs of the community, as well as our values and mission as a community foundation. Incorporating the principles of trust-based philanthropy into the implementation of the CFSE has allowed us to deepen our relationships with the region’s community, philanthropic, and institutional sectors − including organizations firmly committed to helping people we wanted to support, but were not yet well acquainted with. Some of these organizations were already well established, while others were emerging. We have also had the opportunity to advance our vision of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion by further involving these community representatives in our internal processes.

Taking the time

To determine the Fund’s parameters, including funding priorities, we met with a wide range of organizations, institutions, and individuals involved in frontline and advocacy services. These conversations have been key to deepening our understanding of the issues and mapping the sector’s ecosystem. Based on our experience, we believe that this start-up phase requires time and should be at least a few months long, to build trust with the organization’s representatives and the credibility of this philanthropic approach.

More broadly, one of the most important lessons we have learned is that the trust-based approach to philanthropy demands a huge investment in not only time and energy, but also in empathy. Our in-depth conversations with organizations were so much more than passive information gathering. They allowed our team to better understand the scope of their work, their challenges, and their needs, as well as the diversity, complexity, and intersectionality of the issues faced by the organizations and the people they serve. This look into their realities and lived experience came with a significant mental load, which our team had to learn to manage in real time. By taking a less transactional and more relationship-based approach, our team also chose to take on some of the administrative burden that organizations typically bear (e.g., writing funding applications).

Placing the relationships front and center

Generally speaking, every stage of the process was based on our conversations with the organizations. Hearing their input was foundational to understanding not only how their initiatives work, but also the context in which they operate and the needs they aspire to meet. In addition to strengthening our relationships with these organizations, this enhanced understanding of their realities allowed us to provide individual feedback to those who wanted it so that they could better understand our decisions.

The participatory advisory committee, who was mandated with sharing expertise and evaluating projects, was also delegated with all final decision-making on the awarding of grants by FGM. This doesn’t mean we’re not still involved! Our team organized, led, and supported the committee’s work. We have had to strike the right balance between delegating power and remaining actively involved, as the Foundation’s team contributes specialized expertise and a holistic view of the approach.

What comes next?

While we have learned a wealth of lessons throughout the process, a number of questions and concerns remain. How can we mitigate the emotional and administrative burden of these processes for the teams and volunteers involved? How can we communicate about our initiatives in a way that will reach individuals and organizations outside our usual networks? How can we solicit and include the expertise of people we aren’t used to consulting without asking too much of them?

Also, how can we reduce our blind spots and ensure that the available funds are awarded fairly? How do we structure the active participation of the advisory committee members? Who would serve on the ideal committee? And how can we support organizations that have not received funding and maintain the relationships we have built with them in the long term? Our experience has brought these questions to the forefront, but not yet revealed all the answers. We’re only just getting started!

This exercise in trust-based philanthropy was as enriching as it was demanding. It’s a paradigm shift that redefines the ways in which funders engage with the funding process while reshaping the community and social impact they aim to achieve. Our hope is that the applicant organizations and groups, members of the participatory advisory committee, and other funders that have participated in this process alongside us will become our partners in implementing other initiatives, thus contributing to a new philanthropic ecosystem that puts human relationships and community needs at the heart of its approach.

Scroll down and keep reading to get the perspective of some organizations that participated in the Foundation’s trust-based processes.

Marie-Andrée Farmer
Director, Strategic Initiatives and Community Partnerships
Foundation of Greater Montréal

FGM’s Stories of the Month

April 2024

The Climate Justice Organizing HUB

The Climate Justice Organizing HUB supports a network of young Montreal activists working towards climate and ecological justice.

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The mind.heart.mouth community garden offers a space for learning and a model for sustainable urban agriculture and fighting food insecurity.

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The Refugee Center

The Refugee Centre supports asylum claimants and refugees’ access to public services, education and legal aid.

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