How Knight Money is Taking a Participatory Grantmaking Effort To a Whole New Level

We’ve been interested in the Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table initiative since we first heard about it. This is an outside-the-box giving strategy combined with a community approach that’s gotten some really unexpected people involved in philanthropy in Chicago.

Well, it turns out that we aren’t the only people who have been watching this initiative unfold and been intrigued by its potential to elevate participatory grantmaking at the local level.  

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has been watching, too, and clearly impressed with the results that CCT has reported with On the Table. Last year, over 55,000 residents of Chicago participated in the program, discussing local issues and suggesting actionable ideas that might merit grant funding, and Knight now wants to take this initiative nationwide.

With a $1.15 million grant, Knight has made an investment for expanding On the Table to 10 other communities. Now, remember that while Knight is a national funder, it is focused on the communities where Knight newspapers were once published. There are 26 of these communities on Knight’s grantmaking radar, and 10 of them are involved with On the Table right now. 

These are the cities that will be getting their own On the Table programs thanks to the new Knight grant: Akron, Ohio; Charlotte, North Carolina; Columbus, Georgia; Detroit, Michigan; Gary, Indiana; Lexington, Kentucky; Long Beach, California; Miami, Florida; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and San Jose, California.

Lilly Weinberg, Knight's program director for community foundations, said:

We are excited by the promise of this initiative. On the Table's focus on building community connections will engage local residents in working together to create a more successful shared future. And it all starts with food — a basic need that is essential to life itself. By scaling On the Table, we will advance conversations on difficult topics while fostering a national network of shared lessons and insights that will uplift our democracy.

Every city will have its own theme for the one-day event, based upon specific local needs. But there are some common themes that we expect to see discussed across the nation. Key topics of interest are affordable housing, race relations, urban planning, and public space improvements. Local community foundations in each of these places will be helping to get the conversations rolling.

Participatory grantmaking is still not very common among foundations, despite its potential to stimulate civic dialogue and generate new ideas. So expanding On the Table to 10 cities seems like a pretty big deal. 

Ultimately, Knight’s hope out of all of these community meetings is to create a national network of shared lessons to uplift our democracy and the people in it. The meetings will take place between March 15 and fall 2017, so stay tuned for updates about how Knight’s move is mobilizing local communities around the country.