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The Importance of Compensating Lived Experience in Philanthropy

In philanthropy, we often grapple with the challenge of how best to value and recognize the contributions of those we aim to support. At the Jane Bancroft Robinson Foundation (JBRF), we believe in the principle of compensating individuals for their time and expertise, especially when it involves communities that have historically been under-resourced and under-valued. This practice is not just about fairness; it’s about respect, trust, and genuine partnership.

The Need for Fair Compensation in Philanthropy

The traditional approach in philanthropy often overlooks the importance of compensating community members for their contributions. This oversight not only undervalues their input but can also perpetuate systemic inequalities. Community members who spend their time sharing their lived experiences with philanthropic grantors often do so because they love their community. They want to be part of a solution to improve their lives and the lives of their fellow neighbors. This time, which is often substantial, is an investment by the community members that deserves recognition and compensation.

According to a report on “Equitable Compensation for Community Engagement Guidebook” by Urban Institute, people who offer their lived experience deserve to be recognized as experts and colleagues, not just research subjects. Their contributions should be fairly compensated, not viewed as incentives that might manipulate participation. Just like permanent employees, their compensation should be transparent and timely and should reflect the value of their unique expertise.

JBRF’s Approach: Valuing Lived Experience

At JBRF, we understand that involving those most affected by the issues we aim to address is crucial. Paying people for their time is a cornerstone of participatory grantmaking, and it embodies our commitment to trust-based philanthropy. To compensate fairly conveys that we value and trust community input, and it acknowledges the responsibility and real concern we have toward the issues at hand. 

N’kechi Feaster, community advocate, and Black Women Thriving East of the River (BTWEotR) member, shares:

“I wanted to do something more and started looking for other ways that I can give back. How could I do that? And I found that showing up where I can give my perspective, where my lived experience is the expertise, that it is valued is what I was looking for at that time. And JBRF was really the first time I was able to find it.” 

This approach is particularly relevant in our work with BWTEotR, where the insights and experiences of community members have shaped the interventions we intend to implement. 

The Impact of Compensating Lived Experience

Compensating individuals for their time leads to deeper engagement and more meaningful contributions. It ensures that participation in philanthropic initiatives is not limited to those who can afford to volunteer their time. This practice can also lead to more effective and sustainable solutions, as it draws upon the rich, diverse perspectives of those directly impacted by the issues we seek to alleviate.

A Future of Equitable Philanthropy

As we move forward, let us remember the importance of valuing lived experience. Compensating community members for their time and insights is not just a matter of fairness but a testament to the respect and value we place on their contributions. This practice is essential for creating a more inclusive, responsive, and impactful philanthropic sector. We urge other organizations in the philanthropic sector to join us in this commitment. By compensating individuals for their time and expertise, we can create a more equitable and effective field of philanthropy. This investment in people is an investment in the authenticity and impact of our work.

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