Shifting Power in Storytelling and Grantmaking

The words "POWER SHIFT" in large black text displayed across a repeated background made up of "power shift" in a smaller font.

For far too long, grantmaking has been a top-down process, with funders wielding the power to decide which organizations receive funding and which do not. However, there is a growing recognition that this approach is flawed, and that true social change requires a shift in power towards those most impacted by social challenges. 

Shifting power means prioritizing community leadership and recognizing that those closest to the problems are often best positioned to identify and implement solutions. It means valuing lived experience and centering the voices and perspectives of those who have traditionally been marginalized or excluded from decision-making processes. 

One example of shifting grantmaking power comes from the Climate Justice Resilience Fund. In late 2022, CJRF announced the formation of a new governing board comprised entirely of practitioners and climate activists. This marked a significant departure from traditional models of fund governance, which typically involve a small group of appointed experts and funder representatives making decisions on behalf of a larger community. The board is now fully operational and guiding the development of CJRF’s revised grantmaking strategy.

Minerva Strategies had the privilege of assisting with the announcement of CJRF’s practitioner-led governing board. The announcement made it to philanthropic media with the publication of an opinion piece for Alliance Magazine by CJRF Director Heather McGray. CJRF’s efforts to divest power mirrors how Minerva works with clients. Rather than dictating what message we think is best to share with audiences, we worked with our clients (in this case, CJRF staff members) to articulate the rationale behind this move and the efforts behind it. We also sought input from CJRF’s new board members who are working diligently to guide the Fund in this direction.  

Of course, shifting power is not always easy. It requires a willingness to let go of traditional decision-making models and embrace a more collaborative and inclusive approach. It also requires a recognition that the expertise and perspectives of those traditionally excluded from power are just as valuable as those who hold positions of authority—and in many cases more so. These are the voices that Minerva and our clients are working to uplift through all our communication efforts.  

By prioritizing community leadership in grantmaking and storytelling, we can create more equitable and just systems and ensure that resources are allocated in ways that are responsive to local needs and priorities. We can also build stronger relationships between funders and grantees based on trust, respect, and a shared commitment to achieving social change. 

Whether communicators or funders, we are responsible for prioritizing community in our work. This means listening to and learning from those most impacted by social challenges, and recognizing that our role is not to impose solutions, but rather to support and empower those best positioned to drive change. We can build a more just and equitable world by shifting power towards community leadership.

About The Author

Elise McGlothian

Elise McGlothian


Elise thrives when creating a positive social impact through communications. She has a passion for equitably relaying information and moving people to support organizations tackling critical social challenges – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about Elise.