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‘Participatory grantmaking’

Putting funds in the community’s pocket

Posted 2/25/23

A program called “participatory grantmaking” was launched in 2021 by The Healing Trust, and since then, they’ve created a committee of diverse community residents to disperse over …

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‘Participatory grantmaking’

Putting funds in the community’s pocket


A program called “participatory grantmaking” was launched in 2021 by The Healing Trust, and since then, they’ve created a committee of diverse community residents to disperse over $153,000 in both 2021 and 2022 to multiple organizations in Bedford County.

The program is rooted in the idea that communities know what is best for them and should get to decide what they need.

“Traditionally, philanthropy operated in a top-down way - foundation boards and staff making decisions about funding and the way the nonprofit industry and communities should operate,” explained Program Officer, Catherine Smit

Participatory grantmaking adopts the “never for us without us” mentality. That is, communities are the experts on their own strengths, opportunities, and what the future should look like, Smith explained. Participatory grantmaking puts “real money” in the hands of community representatives.

Smith said there is gap in investment from philanthropy in rural areas.

“Rural counties are vital to our state and country. Communities in rural areas have significant strengths, organizations, non-profits, and ideas that will benefit us all if we listen and replicate the models from smaller towns that don’t always get the attention they deserve,” she said.

So under the leadership of Vincent Peppers and Fredia Lusk, Executive Director of the Community Clinic of Shelbyville a program was started here.

The Community Clinic is a longtime grantee partner. According to Lusk, this will be their third year to receive the participatory grant.  

“It is a financial blessing for the community and the various non-profits,” said Lusk. She said small grants have been awarded based upon the needs of the community, while a committee of concerned Bedford County individuals research and decide which non-profits would benefit from the grants.  

“I am grateful to work with Catherine Smith, Abby Hyman, and the Healing Trust Foundation staff to accomplish their mission. 2023 will be another awesome opportunity to the Foundation to ‘heal our community,” Lusk added.

Smith said, “Fredia’s experience in the school system, perspective as the Community Clinic executive director, and commitment to Bedford County makes the clinic a great local fiscal sponsor and community connector. Fredia’s staff is top notch – they are at every local meeting I attend and are passionate advocates for their clients.”

They also worked with Peppers in 2021. “He did a great job working as a consultant to shepherd a community grantmaking committee and help us get this work off the ground at the very beginning of the process,” Smith said.


The Healing Trust has been serving Middle Tennessee for 20 years and was formed out of the sale of Baptist Hospital to Ascension.

Smith explained The Healing Trust grant funding is broken down into three grant programs – Strengthening Democracy, Resilient Families, and Thriving Communities.

We distribute around $4 million in grants per year and run programming for non-profits such as technical assistance, self-care retreats, and leadership support,” she said.

This $4 million comes from a corpus fund, that is, when one nonprofit hospital sells to another nonprofit hospital. And Smith said they use that “bucket of money” until there’s none left each year. For instance, there’s an allocated amount $153,000 a year that goes to Bedford. 

“During a strategic planning process, our team looked closer at health disparities,” Smith said.

Their new mission statement is, “to support and partner with communities to advance racial equity and eliminate health disparities through advocacy and strategic investments.”

“We learned that health outcomes for black Americans are far worse than white Americans, even when socioeconomic status and location are considered. If we wanted to make a lasting impact, we needed to get serious about tackling racial health disparities head on.”

For much of the nonprofit’s history, they have funded the 40 counties of Middle TN.

“As we were making this mission shift, we made the decision to go deeper in fewer counties. Essentially our previous approach was an inch deep and a mile wide,” she said. “This new ‘place-based’ approach is a mile deep in fewer places.”

In addition to Bedford, their new focus is also in Davidson, Maury, Montgomery, and Rutherford.

Over the past two years, committees consisting of local leaders distributed more than $200,000 to local non-profits.

As far as requirements, Smith said The Healing Trust representatives try not to impose restrictions or requirements on the committee.

“This is intended to be organic where local leaders decide on fund distribution and the process to do so,” she said.

Future plans

To ensure many different perspectives inform this process, the committees include different participants each year.

The upcoming 2023 Participatory Grantmaking (PGM) committee isn’t formed yet, but Smith said they are committed to investing more than $100,000 in Bedford County again this year.  

“We want to build on the momentum of the past two years, while also digging deeper to include representatives that have been traditionally left out of many decision-making processes such as people that have been incarcerated or people that have been or are unhoused,” she explained.

In addition to Lusk and Peppers, Smith said she has been working with Denise Hobbs Lindsey, Jo Anne Gaunt, Aricindy Guzman, Terry Looper, and Heather Warden to name a few of the participants who supported this effort.

“Shelbyville has strengths, assets, and people that are working hard to build a bright future. We’re listening, learning, and trying to be a good partner. The Community Clinic will be the fiscal sponsor for the PGM effort again this year, and we are excited to work with Ms. Fredia closely again!” Smith said.

Also, in March, they will launch the Thriving Communities grant program. This grant program is focused on supporting non-profits serving the 37160-zip code to address “the root cause of poor health outcomes and disparities.”

To learn more specifics about this grant program, visit healingtrust.org.