Grammars of grantmaking
: exploring the normativity and governance of relational philanthropy within a UK-based foundation

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


    This thesis examines the practice of relational philanthropy, which is premised on a democratic use of giving that brings in grantee voice and participation into grant making decisions (Barman 2017). More specifically, this thesis focuses on relational philanthropy as a grant making approach within UK grantmaking trusts and foundations, in which civic ideas of philanthropy are challenging market ones, as evident in the grey foundation literature (IVAR 2011) (DP 2012) (Buckley and Cairns 2012) (ACF 2020) (Listening fund 2020) (IVAR 2021). These practices warrant further investigation due to newfound discussions surrounding the role of trust, how relational philanthropy can supposedly equalise the power within a giving relationship, and the interpretive, normative value inherent in democratic approaches to grantmaking. Furthermore, there exists a glaring dearth of academic research on the organisational form of ‘the foundation’ in the UK context, especially given that it has no legal form (Jung 2017). Finally, there is a significant gap in philanthropic research that brings in the voice of the grant recipient within the UK context, showing a need for philanthropy to be an act that is received as much as it is given. Because of this, this thesis conducts an in-depth case study within a single UK-based trust and a handful of their grantees to examine how relational philanthropy is brought into practice, what normative forms underpin relational philanthropy for foundations and their grantees, and how relational philanthropy may or may not create more reciprocal and participatory forms of giving. A qualitative and phenomenological study, this thesis draws on interviews, dozens of brief conversations, email communication, document analysis, and online materials, and over 50 hours of observations. By applying the theoretical lens of French Pragmatic Sociology, this thesis demonstrates how a UK foundation and a select group of grantees use a variety of normative forms to justify relational philanthropy practices. Findings show the story of a foundation that has moved towards relational practices over the years alongside the hiring of key players in their organisation; how these key players established emotional and interpersonal relationships with their grantees; and how these relationships formed trust between giver and receiver; all the while being disputed behind closed doors. By pulling from the grantee view, findings show that a variety of normative justifications (both civic and financialised) underpin relational philanthropy that is contingent on much agency grantees are warranted in the relational philanthropy process and the grassroots potential of using relational philanthropy in place-based giving. Findings suggest that the value of relational philanthropy depends on how trusting the relationship is between the foundation and grantee, which ultimately shows that social and sometimes emotional processes of giving (alongside objects of giving) can yield democratic value, therefore contributing to new interpretations of impact beyond cost-benefit analysis; however, given the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic, findings showed the importance of industrious grantmaking, showing that financialised forms of philanthropy still have a place, but not without the added value of flexibility and trust in the grant recipients. While relational philanthropy moves towards a more democratic vision and practice of philanthropy, questions remain if this move is moving at a slower pace than rapidly growing socioeconomic inequality, reaffirming the question of the role of foundations in society.
    Date of Award16 Jun 2023
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of St Andrews
    SupervisorTobias Jung (Supervisor) & Kevin Orr (Supervisor)


    • Relational philanthropy
    • Philanthropy
    • Foundations
    • COVID-19
    • Democratic grantmaking

    Access Status

    • Full text embargoed until
    • 16 December 2027

    Cite this