Information for OCF-Hosted Groups who would like to issue out grants to recipients.

Open Collective Foundation is closing down in 2024. All funds must be paid out by September 30, 2024. Read more here.

Open Collective Foundation is excited to offer our Collectives the opportunity to give grants to individuals in furtherance of their mission. For all of the details of how it works, make sure to take a look at our Grantmaking Policy.

Want to make a grant to a 501(c)(3) organization or contribute to another OCF Collective? You don't need to make a formal grant. Reach out to us and we'll be happy to help.

How does the grantmaking process work?

Any recipients who receive more than $600/year through grantmaking payouts, invoices, and/or cash assistance (though not for reimbursements) will be asked to fill out a W9 form (for US citizens or residents), or a W8-BEN form (for foreign-born nationals). These forms will be required on the OC platform.

Read the Grantmaking Policy, and specifically the Grantmaking Process section for a deep dive. Here's a quick tour:

What sorts of things can we make grants for?

Taxes and receipt availability

The OCF grantmaking policy is very narrowly scoped to enable grants that:

  • Won't be taxable income to the grantee, and

  • Enable us to pay people upfront instead of needing receipts beforehand.

This is because if these two aspects aren't a barrier for the payee, you can already pay people via normal expenses without all this extra process.

If receipts are available, they can submit a reimbursement expense. If it's okay for them to get a 1099 for this income, they can submit an invoice expense.

If those options aren't a good fit and they fit the criteria for a grant, you can proceed to make a grant.

Mission/purpose alignment

Grants must fit the IRS definition of charitable purposes, fit OCF's defined charitable purposes, and be aligned with the overall mission of your Collective.

OCF only accepts Collectives that fit within this remit, so if your Collective is hosted by OCF you can safely assume your activities are covered. OCF's purposes are quite broad and are detailed here.

You have a responsibility to ensure that all funds donated to your Collective go toward your Collective’s mission, including grants. If you have an idea for something completely different, consider expanding your focus or start a new Collective.

What do you mean by the IRS definition of charitable purposes?

Generally, grants by our Collectives have to fit within the exempt purposes set forth in Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3): charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.

The term charitable can be confusing. The IRS uses the term in its generally accepted legal sense, and it includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erection or maintenance of public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.

Rapid response grants

In emergencies, rapid response can make a tremendous difference.

The policy we have developed for grantmaking streamlines the process for applicants and Collectives. One added benefit of this is that Collectives can respond quickly to their community's needs. If all the info is submitted and the contract is signed quickly, we can turn around grant payments within a few days.

Traditional grantmaking by large foundations can drag on for months, and usually requires everything about the intended impact and budget be known upfront. OCF's approach to grantmaking enables a lower up-front barrier because we hold the funds as you spend the grant and check each expense instead of requiring a detailed budget ahead of time.

Best practices for responsible grantmaking

Traditionally, grantmaking is an arena of the rich and powerful. OCF's grantmaking policy allows communities to distribute money to individuals in a way that is compliant with the tax code and also centers the on-the-ground needs of those communities. We respect and trust your relationships with and understanding of your own communities, and put you in the driver's seat when it comes to making grants. We streamline the process as much as possible, and handle the IRS reporting side for you, and try to create a system that encourages equitable grantmaking practices.

Trust-based grantmaking

As the Whitman Institute has written, "efforts to create social, political, and economic equity will be more successful if funders proactively work to alleviate power imbalances in the sector by embedding trust, dialogue, and relationship-building in its practices with grantees." By using certain practices, and centering equity, humility, and transparency, grantmakers can build trust with their grantees.

While our hosted Collectives may not be huge foundations, there is still an inherent power imbalance between a grantmaker and its grantees. Our platform and processes minimizes that imbalance: many aspects of trust-based philanthropy are baked into the grantmaking process through Open Collective Foundation:

  • All transactions are transparent by default (but grantees can keep their real names private if they wish)

  • The platform makes it easy for grantees to request payouts of funds

  • The application and final reporting processes, defined by the rules IRS, minimize administrative burden for grantees as much as possible, placing Collective admins in a supportive role alongside grantees

  • Grantees have the opportunity to update the grantmaker and the public on their work through Updates

  • It's easy for grantees to extend or adjust their project as required

The ability to make grants is just one piece of the puzzle. While OCF holds the line on the outer bounds of compliance, you and your team still have to work together on creating a grantmaking practice that centers equity and justice, and accounts as much as possible for the power imbalance inherent in the grantmaker-grantee relationship. Thankfully, there is a great deal of information out there to help you cultivate an efficient and equitable process.

Trust-based philanthropy, along with advocates within the grantmaking world like Vu Le and Edgar Villanueva, have suggested that grantmakers:

  • Offer multi-year grants and/or the option to renew funding

  • Offer grants for general support, rather than for a specific project (NOTE: this is only possible for grants to individuals in cases of poverty relief)

  • Limit the amount of information requested and the length of the grant application as much as possible (or use something like JustFund’s common proposal). This is something we do by default!

    • The burden of researching a potential grantee (i.e., due diligence) would then fall on you, the grantmaker

  • Accept applications online (yes, some foundations still request applications by mail)

  • Be open and transparent about their decisionmaking process, and solicit feedback

  • Offer ways they can support grantees outside of just financial assistance

We recommend that our Collectives engage with grantees generously and responsibly using many or all of the practices listed above. Have any suggestions? Let us know!

Participatory grantmaking

Even with all of the above practices in place, there is still a significant power imbalance between the grantmaker and the grantee.

Participatory grantmaking is an essential tool of the solidarity economy. More than just consulting your community, or involving community members, participatory grantmaking is a form of co-creation. By distributing your grantmaking power to your community, you can turn patronage into solidarity and cultivate a tight-knit network of mutual support.

Participatory grantmaking takes many forms:

  • Inviting community members into the grantmaking process (for example, InCUBATE's Sunday Soup or Accountable's Pitch Perfect series)

  • Inviting grantees to determine how much each receives (much like a participatory budgeting process, using tools like CoBudget)

  • Inviting grant applicants to vote for which applicants should be funded

  • And much more!

Open Collective Foundation fully supports Collectives' exploration of participatory grantmaking. We invite you to explore available guides and tools to cultivate a process that works for you:

Getting started

If you're an existing Collective ready to start giving grants to individuals as part of your work, head over to our Grantmaking Policy. Once you've read through the policy and understand the procedures, you can get started! Just follow the steps detailed in the Grantmaking Process section.

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