Learning, news and grant-making from the first year of our £1.6m Grassroots Movements pilot fund

The Grassroots Movements fund has made grants to 12 groups working for transformative change. The programme managers share learning and news from the first year of the participatory grant-making pilot.

In April, members of the Grassroots Movements fund gathered in Birmingham, where our Movement Assembly, a group of people who have direct experience and knowledge of movements and of the issues of injustice the fund seeks to address, made their first grant decisions.

In total, just over £616,000 was granted to 12 grassroots movements groups working for systemic change. Since then we have been building relationships with our new grantees, finalising grant paperwork and taking feedback from them on their experience of the process.


Ensuring equitable funding

We had initially budgeted £500,000 for the first round.  However, the Movement Assembly agreed that an increase on this was required to ensure that all our grantees had the resources they needed to do the work effectively, including being able to take care of the wellbeing of those carrying out the work. We know that grassroots groups often ask for less than they really need and so asked each of them to look at their budgets again and consider what they needed to do the work effectively and sustainably, centring the care of all those involved. Not surprisingly, many of the groups increased their budgets, mostly for costs related to wellbeing and infrastructure. Some of them shared that they had purposefully lowered their budgets in an attempt to make their application more appealing to us as a funder, often leaving them short. 

In July, we requested an increase in budget from the trustees to cover the additional amount required for round one and to ensure that a similar amount was available for the second round. We are grateful that this was agreed, increasing the original budget of £1 million to £1.6 million.

Learning from our first funding round 

Over the summer our focus has been to learn from and reflect on the first round, with support from Inchange, a social change consultancy. As a pilot fund, learning, transparency and accountability have been central to the process and we have been logging feedback and thoughts around what has worked and what has not throughout the whole process.

We have carried out reflective one-to-one debriefs with Movement Assembly members (pictured below with staff) who are integral to our learnings.  They not only made the final decisions but were involved in, and helped design, the majority of the grant-making process and collectively have many decades of experience of movement work. On the whole, the assembly were happy with the process and the decisions made. They have expressed appreciation for the thoughtfulness of the process, the meetings which helped the group to form relationships, the resourcing of their time, and the learning and connections made.


They have shared valuable insights and considerations for our second round.


  • We received 65 applications which were then shortlisted to 30 for our final collective decision making. Movement Assembly members therefore had a huge workload to read and comment on applications, which disadvantaged those members who had less capacity due to work, organising and childcare responsibilities

  • Movement Assembly members were thoughtful and conscientious in their discussions about applications, working from their frontline knowledge of grassroots movements. At times there may have been an over-focus on budgets and some additional thought may need to be given on how to facilitate conversations that don’t replicate traditional grantmaking assessments

  • Applications from community-led action were chosen over infrastructure, often because the work was understood to be more urgent and directly reaching those impacted

  • There were differences in interpretations of criteria (particularly transformative change) in the room

  • Some people were more confident and able to take part than others 

  • Race, class and gender influences may have influenced participation, and as a staff team we needed to create more space for acknowledging and responding to these power dynamics.   


  • Creating separate funding strands for infrastructure and community-led work 

  • More time for Movement Assembly members to get to know each other and to understand each others’ values and politics  

  • More checking in and support to enable equal participation (particularly those who don’t speak English as a first language)

  • More clarity on what the criteria mean in practice

  • More targeted outreach to groups.

Listening to those who applied

Inchange have run three focus groups with grantees and applicants.  Participants include those who applied and those who expressed an interest but did not apply as they were not eligible. Twenty-nine people attended the focus groups and Inchange have shared some preliminary learnings and suggestions.

Alongside the focus groups, we carried out a survey about the application process that could be filled out anonymously; we received 30 thoughtful responses. During the funding round we also consistently collated feedback received through emails and phone calls. We are hugely grateful to all those who shared their experiences and challenged us.

Considerations for funding round two

While those involved with the fund expressed pride in being able to distribute resources where they don’t usually go, we are also aware that our process was still inaccessible to many. We are considering:

  • Providing more clarity on our funding criteria; this may involve slight re-wording but mostly through further explanation using case studies, videos and webinars

  • Having two strands; infrastructure and community-led action, to help ensure more essential infrastructure groups and resources are supported

  • More targeted outreach to groups, putting more of the work on the funder

  • Asking for more information in the initial eligibility survey and only inviting groups to have a call with us where eligibility is unclear (in the first round many ineligible groups booked calls with us which meant there were fewer opportunities for eligible groups and we had to close the round early)

  • Clearer communication around the deadline for expressing an interest in applying, limits around how many requests we can take and what will happen if we reach that limit

  • Providing more support on submitting applications, particularly with putting budgets together

  • Shortlisting fewer applications to aid the final decision-making

  • Re-considering our role as programme managers and how we might offer more guidance and support to the Movement Assembly. 

Bringing social movements together and sharing learning

In developing the pilot fund, we agreed to principles which included the need to be accountable to grassroots groups, to be transparent and to share our learnings. A report will be put together at the end of the two funding rounds.

We were also pleased to hold an in-person meeting in Sheffield with our 12 grantees, exploring the challenges they are facing. We intend to hold more movement-led gatherings in 2024, to support cross-learning and reflection time for grassroots groups.

The team is also continuing to create further spaces for learning and collaboration with other funders. This included a reflection workshop with Civic Power Fund where we compared grant processes, outreach practices and how to facilitate decision making spaces.

These themes were also explored at the annual assembly for activist-led participatory grantmaker, Fund Action, who have now been running for five years and are in the interesting stage of moving out from being fiscally hosted by EDGE Funders Alliance to becoming an independent organisation. The team also spoke at an event run by Social Change Lab on “How philanthropists can support social movements and why it matters”. 

- Further updates about the fund will be shared via our newsletter, social media and via the website