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flow funding

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What is it?

Marion Weber

Flow funding is an innovative philanthropic practice pioneered by Marion Weber.  It is part of a growing movement to democratize philanthropy by sharing the ability to give money away.  The basic idea is very simple.  People with more resources than they need (flow funding donors) give money to social innovators, visionaries, and connectors (flow funders), so that they can “flow-it- forward” to people and projects which are transforming the world in creative and positive ways, but might not be noticed or supported by mainstream institutions.  Marion sometimes refers to flow funding as “capillary philanthropy,” and here is her inspiring explanation:

I was never drawn to the foundations that my grandfather and father and uncles setup. My sense was that I needed to get money out there beyond the places where proposals are required.  In mammals, the nutrients go out through the capillaries to each cells in our body and after this exchange the blood returns to the heart. In flow funding, the people who are carrying the money are nurtured as well as the ones who are receiving it. It’s a wonderful idea to think of philanthropy delivering nutrients to the most remote parts of society. So the flow funding idea is a sort of bio-mimicry; it works like a living organism. 

“Returning to the heart” is possibly the most important aspect of flow funding.  Flow funders are encouraged to trust their heart and intuition in making funding decisions, because these parts of us are more prone to let the larger intelligence of life guide our steps in a way that serves and nourishes the whole.

Flow funding circles

Flow funding can take many forms, but the one which has been most widespread so far is the creation of circles of 5 to 40 flow funders sourced by one donor.  The circles might focus on a particular theme (organic food, sustainable development etc.), be based in a particular region or country (e.g. Brazil), or support an existing group of change-makers  (e.g. the Tipping Point Network, or the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grand-mothers).  Each member of the circle is given a certain amount of money to give away as they feel inspired, and all members get together in person at least once a year to share about what they funded and what they have learned.  They also write up an overview of how they have allocated resources.

Crowd funding and flow funding

Version 2.0 of Aya’s Rivers is basically a crowd funding variation of the original flow funding model.  It was partly inspired by a story posted on the flow funding website about a young woman who asked her friends to give her money in place of gifts for her birthday, so that she could support her favorite philanthropic projects.  The advantage of this version is that it makes flow funding feasible for people who may never be chosen as a flow funder by a high net worth donor, but can nevertheless ask their friends and connections for small financial contributions that could end up adding up to a larger river.  This model can be explored on any scale (as the birthday story indicates) by anyone wishing and willing to invite their social network to fund them to give money away, or join them in funding a particular project directly.  Think about what online platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter are now making possible.

Learning more

You can learn more about the origins and benefits of flow funding on the Flow Funding website.   Donors usually give their money to flow funders when they:

  • want their money to reach people and projects they could never find on their own.
  • prefer their money to flow to people who are outside the normal structures of proposal-based grantmaking.
  • know that social innovators, visionaries and grassroots activists can recognize situations where a financial gift could have a transformative effect on people’s lives.
  • choose to give money within a framework of gift-giving, rather than proposals and evaluations.
  • believe in a more democratic form of philanthropy in which not only wealthy people have the power to decide how money is distributed.
  • hope to experience community rather than isolation in their philanthropic work.