What if communities held the power to spend grant dollars instead of philanthropic foundations? Seeking to answer that question, the John Rex Endowment decided to “turn philanthropy on its head” through the Kaleidoscope Project.

In 2020, the John Rex Endowment funded the Kaleidoscope Project for a bold experiment in community-driven grantmaking. Rather than funders and nonprofits deciding how grants should be spent, this pilot project engaged community members as the drivers of change. Partners for Impact documented the process in a case study completed in early 2023. 

Beacon Ridge, an affordable housing community developed by DHIC in southeast Raleigh served as the pilot site for this endeavor. As part of the project, the Kaleidoscope Project compensated eight Beacon Ridge residents as  “Ambassadors.” Drawing on their lived experience and community expertise, they identified an intervention that would support the social and emotional well-being of children and families in their neighborhood.

These Ambassadors led the process of assessing community needs, generating ideas for funding, and determining what projects would ultimately receive support. With encouragement but minimal top-down direction from Kaleidoscope and DHIC staff, the Ambassadors chose to invest the $70,000 grant in a vibrant mural designed by local artists and Beacon Ridge children. The process exemplified resident-led change centered on racial equity and disrupted traditional philanthropic power dynamics. As one Ambassador reflected, “Anybody can make a change, like we don’t have to be put in a position to make a change. We have to make that decision and go for it.”

This bold experiment provides an inspirational model for foundations striving to address racial equity by shifting power to the people they seek to serve. Grant makers can use their resources to uplift community voices, and learn from what they hear.